In this episode of Biographers in Conversation, Brett Mason chats with Gabriella about the choices he made while writing Wizards of Oz: How Oliphant and Florey helped win the war and shape the modern world. The story is an account of a friendship between two Adelaide men, the nuclear physicist Mark Oliphant and medical researcher Howard Florey and how their scientific discoveries profoundly impacted the course of  World War II. Wizards of Oz is an electrifying tale of secret missions, international intrigue and triumph against all odds.

Shortlisted, 2023 Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award

Brett Mason explains why he felt compelled to write Wizards of Oz and why he opened the book with a gripping prologue about Mark Oliphant and Howard Florey’s high stakes, top secret missions to garner support and funding from the American Government and US businesses for their scientific projects. He also discloses his research strategy and how he learned complex scientific information in sufficient detail to be able to translate it into a captivating story for non-scientists. Life is a tapestry and a science biographer’s role is to balance the subject’s scientific life with their personal life and interiority. Brett shares the choices he made to ensure he balanced scientific information with Oliphant and Florey’s human stories and how he portrayed Oliphant and Florey’s passion for research. He also explains how he presented Oliphant and Florey’s lives with immediacy and intertwined their individual stories to craft a cohesive story.

Two Australian scientists played a vital yet largely unknown role in the Allied victory in the Second World War. Almost eight decades later, Wizards of Oz finally tells their story.

In this fast-paced and compelling book, Brett Mason reveals how childhood friends from Adelaide — physicist Mark Oliphant and medical researcher Howard Florey — initiated the most significant scientific and industrial projects of the Second World War: manufacturing penicillin, developing microwave radar and building the atomic bomb. These innovations gave the Allies the edge and ultimate victory over Germany and Japan.

Mason tells how Oliphant and Florey were also instrumental in convincing a reluctant United States to develop and deploy the three breakthrough inventions in time to change the course of the war. These two Australians not only helped win the war but shaped the peace, with their war-time contributions continuing to influence international politics and the health and wealth of nations.

Brett Mason
Brett Mason

Brett Mason is Chair of the Council of the National Library of Australia and Adjunct Professor in the School of Justice at the Queensland University of Technology. He was formerly a Senator for Queensland and served in the Ministry, before being appointed Australia’s Ambassador to The Hague and Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He is the author of Privacy Without Principle and co-editor of Future Proofing Australia.

Learn more:

The two Australian scientists who changed the course of WW2:
In conversation with Brett Mason. ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author series:
Brett Mason, author - Wizards of Oz:

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