The best Ned Kelly books for beginners

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with Australian history on a school camp to Beechworth, which was also my first introduction to Ned Kelly. As I got older, after having already tried to establish a career trajectory as an English teacher, I realised my passion for writing and history could help me create the books and media that I wished I could access, as well as be a place to store all those decades of research sitting in my head. My fascination with psychology, true crime, and Australian colonial history naturally reached a meeting point with the Australian bushrangers: the bandits that terrorised Australia for over a hundred years, the most infamous of whom was Ned Kelly.

I wrote...


By Aidan Phelan,

Book cover of Glenrowan

What is my book about?

Glenrowan tells the story of the destruction of Ned Kelly and his gang of bushrangers. It follows Kelly’s spiral into madness as the search for the gang intensifies and he becomes more desperate. He hatches a plan to destroy his pursuers by sabotaging a train, which involves he and his mates wearing bulletproof armour made from farming implements. Everything culminates in a police siege in the township of Glenrowan and Ned’s legendary capture. It's a novel, but follows history as closely as possible.

Nothing in the book contradicts the historical record, and even the scenes I created that fill the gaps in our knowledge are based on oral history. There’s something for everyone in here: action, drama, romance, and an incredible true story that holds a special place in Australian culture.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ned Kelly: A Short Life

Aidan Phelan Why did I love this book?

This is treated like a Bible by “Nedheads” (Ned Kelly buffs) for its detail as much as Jones’ compelling writing style. This was the culmination of decades of Jones’ own research into the Kelly saga that involved sifting through the many disorganised archives and even interviewing people who knew the key players personally. It is the book that set many people off on a journey to find out as much as they could about this incredible period of Australian history and helped revitalise the Kelly legend.

By Ian Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ned Kelly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every nation has a lovable bandit/rebel/folk hero in the mould of Robin Hood and Rob Roy. But Ned Kelly is an uncomfortable hero - he killed policemen, robbed banks, stole horses from squatters...But he became a champion of the rural underclass and an enemy of arrogant officialdom.
Ned Kelly was of Irish stock - to some, he embodied the splendid rebel spirit of the Irish, to others he was the awful example of what the Irish Australian was capable of in opposition to British law.
Ned Kelly became increasingly prominent in Australia's artistic life - in paintings, literature, poetry, drama,…

Book cover of Ned Kelly

Aidan Phelan Why did I love this book?

This is the book I usually recommend these days to people wanting to get into Ned Kelly as it covers a much broader view of the Kelly story than Ian Jones’ books while still retaining that almost novelistic approach to the text. It’s a sort of one-stop shop for those who want to know a little about a lot when it comes to Ned, and ties together a lot of different areas of research on the subject.

By Peter FitzSimons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ned Kelly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Love him or loathe him, Ned Kelly has been at the heart of Australian culture and identity since he and his Gang were tracked down in bushland by the Victorian police and came out fighting, dressed in bulletproof iron armour made from farmers' ploughs.

Historians still disagree over virtually every aspect of the eldest Kelly boy's brushes with the law. Did he or did he not shoot Constable Fitzpatrick at their family home? Was he a lawless thug or a noble Robin Hood, a remorseless killer or a crusader against oppression and discrimination? Was he even a political revolutionary, an…

Book cover of Ned Kelly's Last Days: Setting the Record Straight on the Death of an Outlaw

Aidan Phelan Why did I love this book?

This book was revelatory for me as it was the first book about Ned Kelly I read that was neutral about Ned himself. Every other book I had come across to that point was focused on either lionising Ned or demonising him, while this was more concerned with the legal processes which put him on the gallows. It really highlighted for me the way that, in many ways, Ned was his own worst enemy but the cards were well and truly attacked against him by the end.

By Alex C Castles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ned Kelly's Last Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ned Kelly - Australia's beloved national icon - was once just a bushranger who had to be punished for his crimes. In 1880, everyone wanted him dead. There are many stories that form the Kelly myth. But the side of the story rarely told is what really happened in the 137 days between Ned's last stand at Glenrowan and the day the hangman's noose was placed around his neck. Who was with him in his last hours, and why did he have so many powerful enemies? Ned Kelly's Last Days exposes the blatant cover-ups, the corruption and the rampant press…

Book cover of True History of the Kelly Gang

Aidan Phelan Why did I love this book?

 A controversial pick, but I believe this is the finest fictionalised version of Ned's life story written so far. Carey captures a very authentic sense of Ned’s voice and character by basing the book heavily on Ian Jones’ work and the Jerilderie Letter that Ned wrote with gang member Joe Byrne. It retains enough of the truth to craft a realistic world for his creations to exist in, and blends so well with his inventions, that someone unaware that the book is fiction will have a hard time working out some of the fact from the fiction. It is lyrical, powerful, and helped turbo-boost interest in the Kelly legend at a time when it had begun to taper off somewhat.

By Peter Carey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked True History of the Kelly Gang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Extraordinary . . . So mesmerising and moving.' Mail on Sunday

'Vastly entertaining.' New York Times

To the authorities in pursuit of him, Ned Kelly is a horse thief, bank robber and police-killer. But to his fellow Australians, Kelly is their own Robin Hood. In a dazzling act of ventriloquism, Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel of adventure and heroism brings the famous bushranger wildly and passionately to life.

Book cover of The Kelly Hunters

Aidan Phelan Why did I love this book?

What sets this book apart from Kieza’s other book on the Kelly story, Mrs. Kelly, is that it concentrates on telling the stories of the men who tracked the outlaws down, many of whom were largely forgotten, including the Aboriginal trackers who were employed to track the gang in the Australian bush. As is the trend in such books, the history is written in a style more akin to a novel which makes it easy to digest. Kieza also positions himself firmly on the side that opposes the notion of Ned Kelly as a folk hero, which creates a good counterpoint to the majority of books on the subject.

By Grantlee Kieza,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kelly Hunters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The desperate manhunt to bring down Australia's most notorious outlaw

When Ned Kelly and his band of young tearaways ambushed and killed three brave policemen in a remote mountain camp in 1878, they sparked the biggest and most expensive manhunt Australia had seen. The desperate search would end when Kelly and his gang, wearing suits of armour, tried to derail a train before waging their final bloody gun battle with police in the small Victorian town of Glenrowan.

In the 20 months between those shootouts and aided by a network of informers, hundreds of lawmen, soldiers, undercover agents and a…

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Book cover of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

Nev March Author Of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author History lover Scriptwriter Reader Nature lover

Nev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An entertaining mystery on a 1894 trans-Atlantic steamship with an varied array of suspects, and a detective who must solve his case in six days to prevent international conflict.

Retired from the British Indian army, Captain Jim is taking his wife Diana to Liverpool from New York, when their pleasant cruise turns deadly. Just hours after meeting him, a foreign diplomat is brutally murdered onboard their ship. Captain Jim must find the killer before they dock in six days, or there could be war! Aboard the beleaguered luxury liner are a thousand suspects, but no witnesses to the locked-cabin crime.

Fortunately, his wife Diana knows her way around first-class accommodations and Gilded Age society. But something has been troubling her, too, something she won’t tell him. Together, using tricks gleaned from their favorite fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Jim, and Diana must learn why one man’s life came to a murderous end.

By Nev March,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Spanish Diplomat's Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Spanish Diplomat's Secret, award-winning author Nev March explores the vivid nineteenth-century world of the transatlantic voyage, one passenger’s secret at a time.

Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife Lady Diana Framji are embarking to England in the summer of 1894. Jim is hopeful the cruise will help Diana open up to him. Something is troubling her, and Jim is concerned.

On their first evening, Jim meets an intriguing Spaniard, a fellow soldier with whom he finds an instant kinship. But within twenty-four hours, Don Juan Nepomuceno is murdered, his body discovered shortly after he asks rather urgently to…

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