Blog Archives

The colony’s resident expert of choice, Simon Upton

James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader
Simon Nathan
Geoscience Society of New Zealand, $45.00
ISBN 9781877480461

Simon Nathan’s biography of Sir James Hector fills a major gap in the nation’s historical bibliography. The reasons why the gap remained unfilled for over a century following Hector’s death are worth pondering. A cursory glance through Nathan’s bibliography reveals full length biographies of several of Hector’s scientific contemporaries, McKay, Haast, Buller, Davis and Murchison among them. But Hector’s life, despite his towering public stature in the development of 19th-century New Zealand, remained confined to an MA thesis in 1936 and a more recent doctoral thesis devoted to his early life.

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Posted in Biography, History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Science

Outstanding achievement or pitiful war? Janet Hunt

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand
Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking (eds)
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781877578526

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand is a revised, expanded and renamed edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 2002). The new title is both more inviting and in keeping with an updated cover that clearly signals what is within: it is in attractive earthen tones and features William Sutton’s painting, Hills and Plains, Waikari 1956, in which the neatly segmented fields of the North Canterbury plains occupy the centre, framed at the top by tan-hued foothills and the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps and, at the bottom, by grey, featureless blocks of farm buildings. The dark shapes of macrocarpa windbreaks are conspicuous in the foreground and in the far distance. The view is devoid of indigenous vegetation, or animal or human life. It is a landscape that has been well and truly remade.

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Posted in History, Natural History, Review and Sociology

Dear familiars, Helen Curran

Creature Comforts: New Zealanders and their Pets: An Illustrated History Nancy Swarbrick Otago University Press, $55.00, ISBN 9781877578618 A New Zealand Book of Beasts: Animals in our Culture, History and Everyday Life Annie Potts, Philip Armstrong, Deidre Brown Auckland University

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Browsing, squawking and squabbling, Janet Hunt

Moa: The Life and Death of New Zealand’s Legendary Bird Quinn Berentson Craig Potton Publishing, $50.00, ISBN 9781877517846 It’s only 10 years since Richard Wolfe’s paperback Moa: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of a Giant Bird (2003) hit the

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Vanished world, Dale Williams

Buller’s Birds of New Zealand: The Complete Work of J G Keulemans Geoff Norman Te Papa Press, $150.00, ISBN 9781877385889 Kids in a sweet shop. Nineteenth-century naturalists given a brand new country to play in gobbled up the apparent endless

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Transformation, Simon Upton

Home in the Howling Wilderness  Peter Holland Auckland University Press, $50.00, ISBN 9781869407391 This book is about what can be learned of the environmental and ecological understanding of pioneer farmers in the southern half of the South Island over the

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Strange Tookish yearnings, David Round

Shelter From the Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint Craig Potton Publishing, $80.00, ISBN 9781877517709 Our ancestors found no tropical paradise here; not even the long settled summers of the American

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Feathers and fins, Janet Hunt

Kakapo: Rescued from the Brink of Extinction Alison Ballance Craig Potton Publishing, $49.99, ISBN 9781877517273 The Tasman: Biography of an Ocean Neville Peat Penguin Books, $62.00, ISBN 9780143011385   Time was when “non-fiction” meant staid, largely black-and-white books on a

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Doing our fair share, Tim Hazledine

The Carbon Challenge: New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry Bridget Williams Books, $39.99, ISBN 9781877242465   You will remember Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623-62) was a French mathematical prodigy and philosopher who suggested that even if

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction and Review

Hotting up, Karen Hartshorn

Melting Point: New Zealand and the Climate Change Crisis  Eric Dorfman Penguin Books, $37.00, ISBN 9780143008682 There are several worthwhile reasons for a book such as this to exist. Firstly, there is no longer any serious scientific debate about whether

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