Hugh Mackay, author of What Makes Us Tick?, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |September 27, 2010

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Hugh Mackay

author of What Makes Us Tick?

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Sydney, classic nuclear family (two parents, two kids), grew up in the bushland of Castlecrag. Attended local public schools and Sydney Grammar School.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12, I had abandoned my childhood dream of becoming a bus driver, and had not a clue what I might do. At 18, I’d already been in the workforce for two years, and was heading uncertainly for a research career – with writing lurking as an ultimate aim. At 30, I was determined to start my own research business, which I did at 33.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Strong and simple religious faith.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

As a young adult, reading the novels of Graham Greene, C P Snow and Iris Murdoch cemented my love of fiction and encouraged my desire to write it. The visit to Australia of the US psychotherapist Carl Rogers inspired me and transformed my approach to research and to communication. The experience of divorce forced me to examine my values, my way of life and my performance as a human being.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

The format may change, and keep changing, but the human appetite for stories (especially stories about ourselves and our place in the world) is insatiable. For the time being, books remain most people’s favourite way of reading stories.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

WHAT MAKES US TICK? The 10 Desires That Drive Us is a book I’ve long dreamed of writing – a distillation of my research findings into a bolder, big-picture approach to the study of human behaviour. It’s an attempt to explain why we do the things we do. (BBGuru: Here’s the publisher’s description…

The book that explains us to ourselves – from one of Australia’s most admired authors.

Why do we talk as if we’re rational, but act as if we’re not? Why do some people always want to take control? What is the true role of religion? Why do we seek change, yet resist it? Why do we want more of the things that have failed to satisfy us? Why are we so passionate about sport? Why do we fall out of love?

As Australia’s leading social researcher, Hugh Mackay has spent a lifetime of listening to people talk about their dreams, their fears, their hopes, their disappointments and their passions. In a series of bestselling books, he has documented the impact of the changes that have been radically reshaping our society.

Now, he reflects on some of the things that don’t change and identifies ten desires that drive us all. Insightful and engaging, WHAT MAKES US TICK? reveals Mackay’s formidable skills as a chronicler and interpreter of our motivations. In his exploration of why we do the things we do, he goes to the heart of some of life’s big questions.)

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Help people to better understand themselves and each other, and to be more tolerant and forgiving as a result.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

The list is long, and private. But I most admire people who can both dream and act – practical visionaries – and those who can stay humble.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To keep writing.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write something every day.

Hugh, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • October 1, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Dear Hugh,

    I listened to your radio interview with Richard Aidy on radio national this morning and thank you very much for giving me an insight of another dimension in my life which clearly explains why I do and don’t enjoy certain things in my life. I am very blessed with a group of about 8 in my own herd and about 30 in my tribe.

    Thank you and kindest regards,

  • Margaret

    October 1, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I agree Jayantha and also listened to you on Life Matters this morning – a program I love. Regards, Margaret

  • bruce

    December 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    dear hugh , your desires made a lot of sense.. hoping to read your book.what makes us tick ..i am not a reader . do remember .i can jump puddles as a kid, and that left a never ending memory in my brain ..may be your book should be in the school system

  • Terry

    January 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Just watched a small segment of one of your interviews on TV.
    I was so in impressed with your view point, I hunted down and bought the book “what makes us tick”
    I’m really looking forward to reading it and I gotta tell you, I don’t often read books.

  • David Hyman

    January 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I was most impressed with your T,V. interview shown last week.. However I disagree with what you said about the computer not working in the same way as the mind. Im my soon to be published seocnd book in the “Us and this Universe” range I show how and why the computer is as exact a copy of the mind as is humanly possible.
    Email me you email address and I’ll be happy to sned you the relevent information. Your feedback would be most appreciated.
    David Hyman

  • David Hyman

    February 2, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Book 2 of “Us and this Universe” – ‘The Hidden Agenda’ puts a completely new slant on how this universe has come into existence and why ‘We’ are here.
    I would love to have th opportunity to get your impression of it before I send it to publishers.


    • February 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Hello David,
      We interviewed Hugh Mackay via his publisher. We have no other contact with him. It is unlikely that he has seen your comments.

  • David Hyman

    March 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Does anyone have a contact for a mainstream publisher who might be interested in the most unique philosophy ever written!

  • Kate

    March 20, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Hi Hugh
    Listening to you at mittagong on Saturday night was just such an inspiration ( for me as always) All my friends agreed with me. it is so great to hjave you living in our part of the world. The comments made about you: measured yet right on the spot!!!
    Thanks again. could only be from a psych9ologist!!!

  • mariana

    January 27, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I would like to purchase this book trnaslated in Portuguese.
    Is there any publication in Portuguese yet?
    thank u

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