Blog Archives

A prime ministerial primer, Simon Upton

New Zealand’s Prime Ministers: From Dick Seddon to John Key
Michael Bassett
David Ling Publishing, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927305294

New Zealand’s Prime Ministers is a very large volume. It is also an extremely ambitious one that is challenging as a through-read. Twenty-four prime ministers (PMs) dispatched chronologically, from Dick Seddon to John Key, is not an easy assignment. Many will, I suspect, explore this celebrated roll call randomly. You might pick out a shadowy, short-lived incumbent of whom you know little (like Thomas Noble McKenzie, whose three and a half month reign in 1912 brought the curtain down on the great Liberal era that began in 1891); or ferret in the (voluminous) footnotes to tie down the manoeuvrings of a contemporary survivor like Michael Moore or Jenny Shipley.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

A place on my bookshelf, Helen Anderson

Disobedient Teaching: Surviving and Creating Change in Education
Welby Ings
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927322666

One of the marvellous inventions found in my favourite libraries is the software that locates the book you are looking for and shows you the other books sitting on either side on the shelf. The notion of every book having its companions is a compelling one for the reader who enjoys building a “string” of connected and related books. Welby Ings’s Disobedient Teaching certainly caught my attention with its provocative title, and I was promptly on a hunt for books that were in its lineage.

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Posted in Education, Non-fiction and Review

Fiasco, Jon Johansson

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton & Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

As someone who has been around the political traps a fair while, my heuristic for judging political actors in and outside party politics is not the colour of their political stripe. Rather, there are people one would want to share a trench with; others, one would not – and, although rare, the odd person best sent to the enemy trench for the chaos they would cause. My trench is very multi-partisan as a result, and Nicky Hager, a friend, is emphatically in it. He’s exhibited, over a long time, courage and commitment when challenging the unequal power of the state over matters mostly concerning their coercive powers, as well as showing strength of character to withstand the blowback for doing so.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Changing times, David Grant

>The New Zealand Labour Party 1916–2016
Peter Franks and Jim McAloon
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560745

Researching a history of conservative political parties in New Zealand would be relatively straight-forward. The Reform/National Parties have, from their early beginnings to the present day, varied little ideologically – from centrist, to centre-right, to right – leaving the “far-right” tag essentially to those on that fringe, such as the Democrats in the 1930s, and ACT in more recent years. The same cannot be said of the New Zealand Labour Party, which veered from doctrinaire socialism under its first leader Harry Holland to, at the other extreme, unabashed neo-liberalism under David Lange (but led essentially by Roger Douglas) in the mid-to-late 1980s.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

Revisiting the 1930s, Tony Simpson

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928–1939
Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322260

In 1968, I left my home town of Christchurch and came to Wellington to work as a producer in radio in what was then the NZBC. I mostly spent the next three years writing and producing talks and historical radio documentaries. One thing that struck me as curious in retrospect was that, although I had spent six years at Canterbury University studying history (among other things), no-one had ever mentioned the 1930s Depression or WWII. It was only when I began talking to older New Zealanders that these two sets of events came into focus as the principal markers by which they measured the significance of their own lives. I therefore began collecting both written and oral recollections of the 1930s (mostly the latter); in 1974, these were published as The Sugarbag Years. I then waited for someone to follow my lead and publish a narrative history of the same events which placed the lives I had recorded in their economic and political context, but no-one did and so I did it myself, as The Slump in 1990. This second book made little impact, the world moved on, and those with personal experience of the 1930s have now almost all passed away.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

New Zealand’s bloodiest campaign, Steven Loveridge

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
Ian McGibbon
Bateman, $80.00,
ISBN 9781869539269

Efforts to explain and/or convey WWI’s Western Front have endured for a century. Libraries could be stocked with military histories investigating the operation of armies, the performance of commanders and the fortunes (often the misfortunes) of this critical centre of the war. Social and cultural studies contemplating subjects ranging from soldiers’ experiences, interpretations rendered in memoirs and monuments, and the wider legacies etched on belligerent societies, have flourished as avenues of inquiry. Popular cultural representations have likewise worked in establishing and transmitting a sense of the subject – the humour within Blackadder’s irreverent summation (“the mud, the noise, the endless … poetry”), for example, hinges on evoking accepted and shared touchstones with the audience.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Town and country, Simon Upton

The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities 1840-1920
Ben Schrader
Bridget Williams Books, $60.00,
ISBN 9780947492434

I live in a very large city – Paris. It is a melting-pot of anonymity, dynamic and dangerous. There are futuristic experiments in eco-design and saturated motorways; new season glitz on the cat-walks and terrorist attacks. The Bataclan attacks started just five minutes from my apartment. It is all very exciting. But I am not a city person.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

The long and the short of it, Jock Phillips

A Peculiar Gentleman: George Rusden – A Life 
John O’Leary
Australian Scholarly, $50.00,
ISBN 9781925333404

The World, the Flesh and the Devil: The Life and Opinions of Samuel Marsden in England and the Antipodes, 1765-1838
Andrew Sharp
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408121

There are many similarities between these two books. Both are biographies, both are well-written, intelligent works, and both treat subjects with unusual ideas about race relations. More significantly, both books concern men, Samuel Marsden, missionary, and George Rusden, historian, who were English-born, but spent much of their lives near Sydney (before Rusden moved to Melbourne), and then achieved their greatest fame and influence through an involvement with New Zealand.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

A most “vigorous afterlife”, Roger Blackley

Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The  Māori Portraits
Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope (eds)
Auckland University Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408565

This extremely elegant book, with its unusual, tall-and-thin “hyper-portrait” format, brings the artist Gottfried Lindauer and the principal collection of his works into the 21st century. It achieves this by foregrounding Māori perspectives, by emphasising Lindauer’s involvement with photography, and through the diverse range of scholarly perspectives by which the collection is explored. With contributions from Czech and New Zealand art historians, curators and conservators – both Māori and Pākehā – the book is a scholarly triumph for the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Posted in Art, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

The unnerving detritus of what was, Jane Westaway

The Shops
Steve Braunias and Peter Black (photographer)
Luncheon Sausage Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780908689941

Once upon a time, I met people who owned a shop. I was young and impressionable and, on my first visit, was dazzled by a window display of ladies’ and gents’ watches, silverware and jewellery. The door pinged when you pushed it. Once inside, glass shelves and counters gleamed with promise, and the watchmaker’s wife stood behind the counter. It was a small place in a small town, but I was thrilled, not so much by what these people were offering for sale, as by the concept of shop-keeping itself.

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review
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