100 books like The Commonwealth of Thieves

By Thomas Keneally,

Here are 100 books that The Commonwealth of Thieves fans have personally recommended if you like The Commonwealth of Thieves. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Fatal Shore

Ken Banks Author Of The Pursuit of Purpose: Part Memoir, Part Study - A Book About Finding Your Way in the World

From my list on living unusual, adventurous or alternative lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

From a young age, I was not only curious but obsessively driven to find some sort of purpose in life. I was also incredibly sensitive, and always felt I was put on the earth for a reason. My search took me across the world, taking many turns as I grabbed at every opportunity. Thanks to a motorbike accident in Nigeria, scattered pieces of my past suddenly began to fall into place. Finding our own purpose is exploration in its purest form, and I’ve long been fascinated by other curious minds – those that either struggle to find it, and those that find it and live it, or those that turn their back on convention. 

Ken's book list on living unusual, adventurous or alternative lives

Ken Banks Why did Ken love this book?

I thought I’d finish my list with something a little different. Everyone else in the books I’ve chosen made some kind of personal decision to take their life in a different direction, but the people in this last book didn’t. The Fatal Shore is about the earliest convicts, banished to Australia to start new lives in unfamiliar, hostile territory. The first chapter alone is fascinating, documenting peoples from a ‘civilised’ part of the world struggling for survival while aboriginal ‘savages’ thrived. It’s more than just a story of survival in a new world, but also a fantastic example of where we went wrong, turning our backs and our noses up to indigenous knowledge in the assumption that we know best. This book is a brilliant example of where Western civilisation went wrong, and how dangerous assumptions can be. 

By Robert Hughes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Fatal Shore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An award-winning epic on the birth of Australia

In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonise Australia.

Documenting the brutal transportation of men, women and children out of Georgian Britain into a horrific penal system which was to be the precursor to the Gulag and was the origin of Australia, The Fatal Shore is the definitive, masterfully written narrative that has given its true history to Australia.

'A unique phantasmagoria of crime and punishment, which combines the shadowy terrors of Goya with the tumescent life of Dickens' Times


Book cover of Behind Bamboo: Hell on the Burma Railway

Peter Grose Author Of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

From my list on the history of Australia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.

Peter's book list on the history of Australia

Peter Grose Why did Peter love this book?

I was five years old when this book first appeared (in 1946) but I must have been about 12 when I first read it, and the memory has stayed with me ever since. Rohan Rivett was a fine Australian journalist. He was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in February 1942, and stayed as a prisoner-of-war for the duration. It has stuck in my memory ever since, a simple and modest account of the horrors faced by Allied prisoners held by the Japanese.

By Rohan Rivett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


The definitive first-hand account of life as an Australian POW during World War II, particularly on the notorious Burma railway, the setting for Richard Flanagan's Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Rohan Rivett was a journalist in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942.  He escaped south—across the treacherous Bangka Strait—to Indonesia, but was soon captured and became just one of thousands of POWs struggling for existence in a Japanese camp.  The struggle was to last for more than three years. Behind Bamboo is unflinching in its honesty and haunting in its realism.  It is…


Book cover of Cooper's Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback

Joshua Piven Author Of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Apocalypse

From my list on non-traditional stories about survival.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m often asked if my Worst-Case Scenario books are serious or humorous. And my answer is always the same: “Yes!” While inspired by pop culture and the survival situations we see again and again in movies and on TV, the information in my books is real. I spend a lot of time seeking out experts to interview—the people who actually have done this stuff—and then distilling their survival wisdom into the form you see in the books. As humans, we want to be prepared for life’s twists and turns. Even if it’s, you know, when the aliens arrive. I’ve been a survival writer and humorist for 25 years and I ain’t stopping now! 

Joshua's book list on non-traditional stories about survival

Joshua Piven Why did Joshua love this book?

Two decades ago, I was preparing for my first book promotion trip to Australia and New Zealand. I asked my (Aussie) publisher to recommend two books to learn more about Australia and its history.

The first was In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson, which I had heard of. The second was Cooper’s Creek, which I hadn’t. It’s a stunning, scary, edge-of-your-seat short history about an expedition in 1860 that set out from Melbourne into the vast, empty, broiling interior of the country, with the mission to find a route to the lush northern coast. Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned.

The book is taken from first-hand accounts by the explorers, and is novel-like in its dramatic twists and turns. 

By Alan Moorehead,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cooper's Creek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1860, an expedition set out from Melbourne, Australia, into the interior of the country, with the mission to find a route to the northern coast. Headed by Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills, the party of adventurers, scientists, and camels set out into the outback hoping to find enough water and to keep adequate food stores for their trek into the bush. Almost one year later, Burke, Wills, and two others from their party, Gray and King, reached the northern shore but on their journey back, they were stranded at Cooper’s Creek where all but King perished. Cooper’s…


Book cover of The Singing Line

Peter Grose Author Of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

From my list on the history of Australia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.

Peter's book list on the history of Australia

Peter Grose Why did Peter love this book?

This really is quite an extraordinary book, published on 1 January 1999. Alice Thomson is a British journalist who came to Australia to write a history of the overland telegraph line connecting Darwin to Adelaide. The line was built by her great-grandfather Charles Todd, a young English engineer. It is partly a touching love story, part a great historical narrative, and part a fascinating travel book. To do her research, Alice Thomson and her husband came to Australia and drove the length of the old telegraph line, picking up anecdotes and atmosphere along the way. As an aside, I mention that a seamless line of women in Alice Thomson’s family have borne the name Alice. Alice Springs was named after Charles Todd’s young wife Alice. The dry river that runs through Alice Springs is called the Todd River.

By Alice Thomson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work charts the author's journey in the footsteps of her great-great grandfather, Charles Heavitree Todd, the man who strung the telegraph across Australia. It brings together a mix of family history and exploration with a young couple's trek, as they follow the same line 150 years later.


Book cover of The Soldier's Curse

David Cairns Author Of The Case of the Wandering Corpse

From my list on 19th century murder, mystery and mayhem.

Why am I passionate about this?

History has always been a captivating adventure for me, a stage to rekindle the echoes of times long past. My journey began amid musty archives in Hobart, where I stumbled upon a handwritten prison record about my wife's feisty ancestor, transported in the 1830s. There and then, I resolved to breathe life into the fading embers of her existence, and after extensive research, I wrote my first novel, a tapestry of historical events intertwined with the resurrection of long-forgotten souls. Since then, I've applied lessons from masters like Conan Doyle to create exciting, atmospheric stories that turn us all into time travelers on an exhilarating voyage.

David's book list on 19th century murder, mystery and mayhem

David Cairns Why did David love this book?

This is a gripping, suspenseful, atmospheric mystery set in colonial Australia with an enigmatic pairing of a convict and a housekeeper who investigate a series of murders in the penal colony of New South Wales.

It has an intricate plot that keeps the reader guessing and is built upon a historical foundation that adds authenticity to the tale. The brutality of the transportation system contrasts with the humanity and tenacity of those who rail against it. 

As my stories all have a colonial Australian focus, with a commitment to accurate history, this book rings a bell for me. There is much about the background, the atmosphere, the setting, and the language that resonates with me, and it is a cracking good read to boot. 

By Meg Keneally, Tom Keneally,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Soldier's Curse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime opener to The Monsarrat Series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg

In an Australian penal colony at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat has risen from convicted forger to trusted clerk of the settlement's commandant.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife Honora falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. And when Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and perceptive housekeeper Mrs Mulrooney feel suspicious as regards the motives…


Book cover of Papillon

Robert Louis DeMayo Author Of The Wayward Traveler: A young man searches the pre-internet world for meaning in this real-life, coming-of-age story.

From my list on travel for those who want to feel the road.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first time I left home, at 21, I ran out of money after three months, but I was so dead set on staying abroad that I pushed on. I ended up being gone for 18 months and traveled through 40 countries. Before I turned 30, I completed 10 six-month trips abroad, each with a long overland journey built-in, and hit close to 100 countries. Most of my travel was in the last decade before cell phones and the internet. I’ve been a member of The Explorers Club for twenty+ years and chair its Southwest Chapter.

Robert's book list on travel for those who want to feel the road

Robert Louis DeMayo Why did Robert love this book?

Maybe the best way to feel the road is through the eyes of someone deprived of his/her freedom. I’ve never been in a foreign prison, but I have sat in a few jails, and the prospects of long-term confinement always terrified me.

In the early 1930s, Henri Charriere was sentenced to life imprisonment in the brutal penal colony of French Guiana for a crime he didn’t commit.

In this memoir, I yearned for blue skies and open roads as I followed Henri’s desperate escape attempts and refusal to accept confinement. I’ve never wanted someone to get away so badly.

By Henri Charriere,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Papillon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An immediate sensation upon its publication in 1969, Papillon is a vivid memoir of brutal penal colonies, daring prison breaks and heroic adventure on shark-infested seas.

Condemned for a murder he did not commit, Henri Charriere, nicknamed Papillon, was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. Forty-two days after his arrival he made his first break for freedom, travelling a thousand gruelling miles in an open boat. He was recaptured and put into solitary confinement but his spirit remained untamed: over thirteen years he made nine incredible escapes, including from the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island.

This edition…


Book cover of The Secret River

Rebecca Hazell Author Of The Grip of God: Book One of The Tiger And The Dove

From my list on by women that sweep you to another time and place.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved fairytales, myths, and history since childhood. After graduating with honors in Russian and Chinese history, I’ve been researching and writing for decades. My work ranges from educational materials to award-winning nonfiction books for children on the theme of heroism. I’ve traveled the world, partly for research, but mostly out of a passion for discovery. My last nonfiction work was a book about women writers. I also penned a historical trilogy that started out as one book, plotted out when I was eighteen. It grew. And, returning full circle to my first loves, my most recent book for children is a traditional Buddhist tale from ancient India.

Rebecca's book list on by women that sweep you to another time and place

Rebecca Hazell Why did Rebecca love this book?

This book was my introduction to Australian literature. I loved its eloquent evocation of a world totally new and mysterious to its characters. Although I was vaguely familiar with Australia’s penal colony past and with the destruction wrought on Aboriginal lives and culture, this book brought it home. I deeply appreciated the way it took me into the minds of men and women, most of them well-meaning but ignorant, and showed me how they missed the point of where they were and how to thrive there. The tragedy of that ignorance resonates with me, since I see it all around the world. 

By Kate Grenville,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE 2006 COMMONWEALTH WRITERS' PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE IMPAC DUBLIN PRIZE

London, 1806. William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly.

His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. Soon Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life.


Book cover of 1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet: The Biggest Single Overseas Migration the World Had Ever Seen

Victoria Twead Author Of Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and Death in the Hills and Hollows of Bygone Australia

From my list on Australia (to read before you visit).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Victoria Twead, the New York Times bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and the Old Fools series. However, after living in a remote mountain village in Spain for eleven years, and owning probably the most dangerous cockerel in Europe, we migrated to Australia to watch our new granddaughters thrive amongst kangaroos and koalas. We love Australia, it is our home now. Another joyous life-chapter has begun.

Victoria's book list on Australia (to read before you visit)

Victoria Twead Why did Victoria love this book?

David Hill’s research is incredible and results in a mind-blowing account of how not only convicts, but their guards and sailors, would colonise Australia, enduring the most brutal hardships. The transportation is described, and it is a miracle that anyone ever reached the destination in the leaky, unseaworthy ships. The enterprise was poorly-planned and underfunded, resulting in appalling suffering.

With such a shocking start, it is a wonder that Australia ever developed into the wonderful, successful country that it is now.

By David Hill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1788 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set against the backdrop of Georgian England with its peculiar mix of elegance, prosperity, progress, and squalor, the story of the First Fleet is one of courage, shortsightedness, tragedy, but above all, extraordinary resilience. Separated from loved ones and traveling in cramped conditions for the months-long journey to Botany Bay, the first European Australians suffered the most unbearable hardship upon arrival on Australian land, where a near famine dictated that rations be cut to the bone. Questions such as Why was the settlement of New South Wales proposed in the first place? and Who were the main players in a…


Book cover of For the Term of His Natural Life

Paul Wood Author Of How to Escape from Prison

From my list on escaping prison and helping you change your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was imprisoned for murder as an 18-year-old. I was a high school dropout who was addicted to drugs and didn’t have any hope for the future. Each of the books recommended contributed to my own journey of transformation. I read them all while I was in prison. Some of them while I was in maximum security or solitary confinement. Each recommendation helped me escape that life and its horrors. 

Paul's book list on escaping prison and helping you change your life

Paul Wood Why did Paul love this book?

This is a novel about the savagery of convict life in the Australian penal colony.

It made me realize that the idea of escape is often better than the reality. That sometimes you are better off with the misery you have than the consequences of trying to escape it. This was particularly relevant to me as I was planning a prison escape around this time. Had I followed through with that escape my life would not be what it is today.

By Marcus Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For the Term of His Natural Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) is a novel by Marcus Clarke. Inspired by a journey taken by the author to the penal colony of Port Arthur, Tasmania, the novel was originally serialized in The Australian Journal between 1870 and 1872. For its depictions of the brutality and inhumanity of Australia's penal colonies, the novel has been recognized as a powerful realist novel and one of the first works of Tasmanian Gothic literature. In the year 1827, a young British aristocrat is implicated in the murder and robbery of Lord Bellasis, his birth father. Sent to Van Diemen's…


Book cover of The Face of the Waters

Mike Dubisch Author Of The Earthlings

From my list on thought provoking science fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a lifelong reader of science fiction and fantasy from all eras, coming from a family that was obsessed with both science and speculative fiction. I am the co-creator of Forbidden Futures magazine, the world’s only full color, fully illustrated genre fiction periodical, and I have been writing and publishing science fiction and horror comics, art, and stories for over four decades. I have contributed to the worlds of Star Wars, Aliens VS Predator, Dungeons and Dragons, DC and MARVEL comics, and The Wheel Of Time. I am an instructor teaching fantasy illustration, comics, and graphic novel writing at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Mike's book list on thought provoking science fiction

Mike Dubisch Why did Mike love this book?

In this book the people and families of a human penal colony on a water-covered alien world are driven from their homes and into open waters after offending the indigenous alien species.

Out in the planet-wide ocean on a flotilla of ships, they encounter bizarre creatures and odd experiences. As the community falls apart, individuals come together, but ultimately, they will find that the planet itself is guiding them towards total unity.

This book will make you consider the bond between all living creatures, the need for forgiveness and progress forward, and succumbing to what is inevitable.

By Robert Silverberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"This is hard sci-fi done right." -Publishers Weekly (starred review). "One of the enduring classics of science fiction." -George R.R. Martin

Deep in the future, natives of the planet Hydros, an ocean planet whose inhabitants live on artificial floating islands, force the entire human population of the island of Sorve into exile, leaving the outcasts to ponder their fate, their past, and the true purpose of humanity.

After a human offense against the natives of Hydros, the human population of the island of Sorve are ordered to leave. Forbidden on all other islands, in a flotilla of ships they seek…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in penal colonies, prisoners, and Australia?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about penal colonies, prisoners, and Australia.

Penal Colonies Explore 12 books about penal colonies
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Australia Explore 314 books about Australia