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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

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

Larger than life, Simon Upton

Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own – The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Longest-serving Prime Minister
Tom Brooking
Penguin, $65.00
ISBN 9780143569671

I grew up in a very complacent country which didn’t really take its history seriously. New Zealand was the way it was (and it was the best of all worlds) and momentous history happened abroad. I recall the librarian at my secondary school pronouncing with lapidary finality that “New Zealand history is all out of date current affairs”. In the 1960s and 1970s, the evolution of the Cold War was much more exciting and, for the purposes of history teaching, the first two decades of the 20th century were devoted to the causes of WWI. New Zealand was a footnote.

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Posted in Biography, 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

A certain political autism, Simon Upton

Palmer: The Parliamentary Years Raymond Richards Canterbury University Press, $45.00, ISBN 9781877257926   For Geoffrey Palmer, politics was a serious business. It was about legislating for a better society and demanded the serious-minded attention of elected politicians. This sense of

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Otherwise fine, Simon Upton

Poles Apart: Beyond the Shouting, Who’s Right About Climate Change Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal Random House, $39.99, ISBN 9781869790455 When I learnt that Gareth Morgan was writing a book on climate change I groaned. Out of politeness, it was

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Science

A view from afar, Simon Upton

My Father’s Shadow: A Portrait of Justice Peter Mahon Sam Mahon Longacre Press, $39.99, ISBN 9781877460173 I like Sam Mahon’s writerly qualities. This book confirms the literary reputation inaugurated with The Year of the Horse and broadened with delicious malice

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Posted in Biography, Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

The high ground, Simon Upton

Whose High Country? A History of the South Island High Country of New Zealand  Roberta McIntyre Penguin Books, $45.00,  ISBN 97801430084125 At the risk of irretrievably mixing one’s metaphors, it is dairy farmers who are today on the sheep’s back.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Watering down debate, Simon Upton

The Water Thieves Sam Mahon Longacre Press, $34.99, ISBN 1877361518 New Zealand is a largely debate-free zone.  A couple of years ago, I co-authored an article on the Resource Management Act. Three of us – a partner in a national

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Not quite Camelot, Simon Upton

For the Record: Lange and the Fourth Labour Government ed Margaret Clark Dunmore Publishing, $34.95, ISBN 1877399108 The hold-a-conference, publish-a-book industry continues in full swing with the appearance of For the Record: Lange and the Fourth Labour Government. This volume,

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review
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