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Reviewing the reviewers

Matthew Wright reflects on the ethics of book reviewing

It’s some years since New Zealand Books published a wonderfully nasty litany of my supposed failures in a book I’d written on South Island settler society where, the reviewer insisted as an opening declaration, his own work had never been challenged in 30 years.

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Posted in Comment

Hitting the mark, Matthew Wright

Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh
Peter Cox
Exisle, $35.00,
ISBN 9781921966705

Mention Sidi Rezegh to most New Zealanders today and there is a good chance they will look at you strangely. A few, probably, will nod and perhaps name a relative who was lost there. This is predictable: in many ways, the New Zealand battle for that bleak North African ridge – part of the Crusader campaign of November-December 1941 – stands in the shadow of better known 20th-century  battles such as Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. This status as poor cousin has been rectified in Peter Cox’s Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh. The book emerged from his earlier work on his father’s war experience at Sidi Rezegh, and covers the wider New Zealand experience in the Crusader operations of November-December 1941.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Moving historiographical boundaries, Paul Moon

Man of Secrets: The Private Life of Donald McLean
Matthew Wright
Penguin, $40.00,
ISBN 9780143572213

At the Margin of Empire: John Webster and Hokianga, 1841–1900
Jennifer Ashton
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408251

Those of us interested in reading about the past are increasingly confronted with history as abstraction or abstruse argument. Dense theoretical postulations tend to trump reasoned accounts of events, and entangled academic prose can displace engaging narrative. Here, though, are two biographies which in quite different ways are both antidotes to the creeping sterility of some history-writing, and which provide important perspectives on New Zealand’s maturation as a nation-state during the 19th century.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

A rowdy lot, Julia Millen

Convicts: New Zealand’s Hidden Criminal Past Matthew Wright Penguin, $40.00, ISBN 9780143567646 We New Zealanders have always been complacent, even smug, about our nation’s origins. Unlike our nearest, much bigger, neighbour, New Zealand was never a penal colony, having been

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

When worlds collide, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

Guns and Utu: A Short History of the Musket Wars Matthew Wright Penguin Books, $42.00, ISBN 9780143565659 From the time the first accounts of New Zealand’s native inhabitants began to reach Europe, Maori pugnacity and military prowess have featured high

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction, Review and War

Myth and memory, Edmund Bohan

Shattered Glory: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front Matthew Wright Penguin Books, $45.00, ISBN 9780143020561   The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WWI  Stevan Eldred-Grigg Random House, $55.00, ISBN 9781869792633   In 2007 the

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Slow learners, Les Cleveland

Behind Enemy Lines Enemy Lines: Kiwi Freedom Fighters in WWII Matthew Wright (ed) Random House, $39.99, ISBN 9781869790691   A doggerel satire circulating among New Zealand troops in the desert campaigns of 1941-2 complained that General Rommel’s Afrika Korps “chased

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Drawing-room stories, Stevan Eldred-Grigg

Old South: Life and Times in the Nineteenth-century Mainland Matthew Wright Penguin Books, $50.00, ISBN 9780143006510 Old South is a work that should be a welcome newcomer to the growing list of leading titles in New Zealand history. The book

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Wrighting it, Chris Hilliard

Two Peoples, One Land: The New Zealand Wars Matthew Wright  Reed, $39.99, ISBN 079001064X Military fortifications, like oceanic navigation, the archaeology of New Zealand, and the commercial and maritime policies of the early modern Spanish and Portuguese empires, are a

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction, Review and War

Delicate flowers of the wasteland, Les Cleveland

Love in Time of War: Letter Writing in the Second World War Deborah Montgomerie Auckland University Press, $35.00, ISBN 1869403363 Freyberg’s War: The Man, the Legend, the Reality Matthew Wright Penguin Books, $35.00, ISBN 0143019856 Western Front: The New Zealand

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War
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