The Australian Book Review (ABR) was established in 1961 to provide a forum for the review of new Australian books. Editors, Max Harris and Geoffrey Dutton, planned to 'notice' or review every new Australian book, but this desire proved difficult to realise due to a rising number of books and the difficulty of defining what an Australian book was. Neverthless, ABR employed a range of reviewers to provide general readers with authoritative assessments of important books. These reviewers included Frank Kellaway, Olaf Ruhen, Vale Lindsay, Tom Shapcott, Brian Dibble, Bruce Beaver and Don Watson.
Rosemary Wighton became co-editor in 1962 after acting as associate editor for a short time. She and Harris remained co-editors of ABR until 1973 when the magazine ceased operation after finding it increasingly difficult to meet production costs. An attempt was made by the newly formed National Book Council (NBC) to buy ABR, but, due to legal technicalities, this was not possible at that time. In 1978, John McLaren convinced the NBC to revive ABR and the magazine was adopted as the official organ of the NBC.
John McLaren was appointed editor, proceeding in a manner similar to the first series by attempting to review all Australian books; but he also faced problems of space and definition. In 1986 Kerryn Goldsworthy replaced McLaren as editor, and introduced a stronger concentration on women's issues. Louise Adler followed Goldsworthy as editor in 1988 and attempted to provoke debate by commissioning controversial reviews, but her term concluded within twelve months. Rosemary Sorenson was appointed editor in 1989, bringing a lighter tone and a desire to attract a new readership with younger writers. Sorenson was assisted by major sponsorship from Telecom, allowing her to fund a series of essays. While ABR had always published features on various topics, the sponsorship gave the essays a more significant place. The essay feature has continued with similar sponsorship from the National Library of Australia and La Trobe University.
Helen Daniel edited ABR from 1994 until her death in 2000. She lifted the profile of the magazine by organising several series of public forums and encouraged new writers with competitions for fiction and reviewing. During this time, the NBC wound down its operations after a significant proportion of its government funding was withdrawn. This had an immediate effect on the stability of ABR, forcing the magazine to separate from its parent body and publish independently.
Peter Rose was appointed editor in January 2001 and has since expanded the scope of ABR by actively commissioning poetry and fiction. Rose also developed a sponsorship scheme to support the work of ABR. In 2002 La Trobe University became the Chief Sponsor of ABR, with the National Library of Australia as its National Sponsor. Three years later Flinders University became another key sponsor and in 2007 the wealth management group Ord Minnett took on the role of exclusive corporate sponsor.