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Moss, C K Stead

Maurice Gee: Life and Work
Rachel Barrowman
Victoria University Press, $60.00
ISBN 9780864739926

When I was young, New Zealand fiction had three Maurices. Duggan (“Maurice”) was the maestro, Gee (“Moss”) the dependable tradesman, and Shadbolt (“Morrie”) the showman. The maestro wrote mostly very slowly and with difficulty; the tradesman was more fluent and produced new work with what appeared to be near regularity; the showman was always ahead of the pack, prolific and catching the public eye, but was felt by some to be a bit of a sham. All three were in varying degrees neurotic – to be a writer in the 1950s, you had to be.

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Necromancy and piety, John O’Leary

A Blighted Fame: George S Evans 1802-1868, A Life
Helen Riddiford
Victoria University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780864738967

For Gallant Service Rendered: The Life & Times of Samuel Austin
Barbara Mabbett
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 9781877577710

Biography is a strange genre, despite our familiarity with it. There’s something uncanny about it, in that it’s a kind of necromancy – a raising of the dead, so to speak. It can also be an act of piety, a way of honouring those who have passed on – an assertion, in the face of oblivion, that an individual’s life had meaning and significance. Piety of this kind lies behind the two books reviewed here, which describe the lives of two colonial New Zealanders who have slipped into the historical twilight.

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Exploring the biographers, Tom Brooking

Frank Worsley: Shackleton’s Fearless Captain
John Thomson
Craig Potton, $50.00
ISBN 9781927213124

Dumont d’Urville: Explorer and Polymath
Edward Duyker
Otago University Press, $70.00
ISBN 9781877578700

Here we have two very different approaches to writing about the history of European exploration: one concentrating on heroism and adventure and the other adopting a more nuanced and academic approach. Both books succeed as excellent examples of almost completely different genres and will appeal to a broad readership, especially to anyone interested in the history of exploration of the Pacific and Antarctica. Both come highly recommended as ideal autumn reading.

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Just perk up your ears, Barbara Else

The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd
Finlay Macdonald
Penguin, $50.00,
ISBN 9780143567967

A tousle on spindly legs has conquered the world. How did it happen? Finlay Macdonald’s biography of Lynley Dodd describes her journey from childhood in the Kaingaroa Forest in the middle of the North Island to her creation of the tousle, Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s dairy, as if you needed to be reminded) and on to the sale of many millions of picture books.

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A veritable Pooh-Bah, Edmund Bohan

Dear Tyrant; An Extraordinary Colonial Life
Barrie Allom
Wairarapa Archive/Fraser Books, $39.50,
ISBN 9780992247522

Albert James Allom (1825-1909) always described himself in his numerous and usually self-justifying writings as “Gentleman”, a title that frequently in his latter years brought down on his unbowed head some derision. Not that derision ever seems to have bothered this most resolute self-publicist and controversialist. He was certainly a colourful character, and Barrie Allom, his great-great grandson, strives hard to bring his story to life through copious quotations from Albert’s numerous autobiographical writings. Yet the author cannot quite avoid the conclusion that, although one must admire Albert for his sheer determination, industry and courage in battling adversity, he was not the most likeable of our 19th-century colonial personalities. Nevertheless, his story is worth telling.

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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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The effort at reasonableness, Miranda Johnson

Paikea: The Life of I L G Sutherland
Oliver Sutherland
University of Canterbury Press
ISBN 9781927145432

The critical theme of Oliver Sutherland’s biography of his father, Ivan Sutherland, is the rational pursuit of an understanding of others. The theme is developed in several ways: through a description of Sutherland senior’s own intellectual development in New Zealand and Britain; via an extensive examination of his engagement with and writing about Māori in the 1930s and 1940s; and in Oliver Sutherland’s own attempt to make sense of his father’s life, cut short by his suicide in 1952 when Oliver was eight years old.

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Planet Key, Jack Vowles

John Key: Portrait of a prime minister
John Roughan
Penguin Books
ISBN 9780143570752

The early to mid-career prime ministerial biography has become an established genre of publishing well represented in New Zealand. This is one of the better examples. The publisher commissioned The New Zealand Herald editorial writer John Roughan, and the book was written with the co-operation of John Key. But it is not an authorised version: Key did not see or comment on the text prior to publication.

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Moral force, John Campbell

The Mighty Totara: The Life and Times of Norman Kirk
David Grant
Random House, $50.00,
ISBN 9781775535799

I was 10 when Norman Kirk died. It was the first death I had ever registered. When the news came through, my parents became so silent (our house was never silent) that I remember it 40 years on: the radio and an absence. My memory also contains a physical location. It is the staircase between the living-room and our bedrooms. I am sitting on it, looking down, and my parents are below me at the big table. It is a photo in my head. An external sense, as if someone else was there to describe it, of me waiting for them to make sense of it all, as parents always do. But they can’t. I tell that story now because Norman Kirk’s death often seems to occasion the sharp remembrance of a closer loss, even in people who never met him. Mine is an almost story book recollection that I carry with me.

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Refugees and New Zealand compassion, Verica Rupar

Refuge New Zealand: A Nation‘s Response to Refugees and Asylum Seekers Ann Beaglehole Otago University Press, $45.00, ISBN 9781877578502 Andris, Where are You? From Latvia to New Zealand: The Family Story of Andris Apse Ron Crosby Craig Potton Publishing, $40.00,

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