Blog Archives

In the service of one’s country, Mary Varnham

Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand’s Last Battle
Christopher Pugsley
Oratia, $45.00,
ISBN 9780947506490

My father served on the Western Front, having signed up at the age of 17 or thereabouts. He came from a lonely farm in the Akatarawa Valley, so joining a bunch of other young men and sailing to the other side of the world must have seemed alluring and exciting. The use of the word “serve” is interesting, though. I’m sure he had no intention to serve anyone or anything other than himself. It was a great escape. Few of the estimated 74,000 New Zealanders who, like my father, found themselves stumbling through oozing mud, running across open ground under fire, or clambering for miles through torturous forest undergrowth, would have seen this as something they had wanted or expected to do.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, War

Fighting the good fight, Philip Simpson

Fight for the Forests
Paul Bensemann
Potton and Burton, $70.00,
ISBN 9780947503130

This book is a marvellous chronicle of the people, the campaigns, the sorrows and sacrifices and, ultimately, the achievement to protect New Zealand’s unique publicly owned native forests. Set within the context of a brilliant overview by one of the fighters, Craig Potton, Paul Bensemann takes us through each campaign, in astonishing detail.

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction, Science

The good, the bad and the ugly, John O’Leary

Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific
John Dunmore
Upstart Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988516219

William Deans: The Passionate Pioneer
Louise Deans
Wily Publications, $35.00,
ISBN: 9781927167342

Just as Australia’s Outback has its “characters” (according to popular legend, at least), so that other vast open space near us in New Zealand, the Pacific, has or had its eccentrics – people who, for a variety of reasons, found their own settled societies too small, too tight, or too law-abiding, and who preferred the watery immensity of the planet’s largest ocean, dotted with its constellations of islands, as the stage set for their lives.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Believing not belonging, Mike Grimshaw

New World, New God: Rethinking Christianity for a Secular Age
Ian Harris
Mākaro Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994137869

In 1967, Lloyd Geering, Principal of Knox Theological Hall and Old Testament lecturer, was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand – and liberal, mainstream Christianity was never the same. Geering’s heresy was, in the language of the church, actually two different charges of doctrinal error, from two opponents (who did not agree on much). Geering was at this time, as he has told me, actually just “an old-fashioned liberal”, but one with a broad interest across many issues of science, religion, humanism and biblical studies.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review

Prior tense, Paul Morris

Arthur Prior: A “Young Progressive”: Letters to Ursula Bethell and to Hugh Teague 1936-1941
Mike Grimshaw (ed)
Canterbury University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927145593

A N Prior graduated from Otago University in philosophy and taught there and at the universities of Canterbury (1946-58), Manchester (1959-66) and Oxford (1966-69). At Canterbury, he developed a new form of logic, “tense logic” (1949-1954). Standard logic was atemporal, having no place for timed inferences.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review

Melody slithering through the misery, Martin Lodge

Good-bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War
Chris Bourke
Auckland University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 978869408718

For both civilians and the soldiers alike on active service during WWI, music proved a significant and enduring element of New Zealand’s war effort and war experience. This was recognised at the time: a contributor to the onboard magazine of the Opawa, a ship carrying troops to Europe, wrote in 1917 that “A ship without a musical programme is like a dog without a tail.”

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Posted in Māori, Music, Non-fiction, Review

The light, fantastic toe, Jennifer Shennan

Limbs Dance Company – Dance for All People, 1977–1989 
Marianne Schultz
Marianne Schultz in conjunction with DANZ, $40.00
ISBN 9780473407698

This book about Limbs, New Zealand’s brightest modern dance troupe, in its heyday in 1980s Auckland, is dedicated “for Sue Paterson, a dear and true friend”. Sue was the long-term General Manager of the company. How poignant, then, to be reviewing this book in the same week that we have farewelled the lifelong visionary arts administrator, who died after a prolonged illness that devastated her body, but never extinguished her spirit. Quite like Limbs really. Schultz has told the company’s story well, setting it in the context of its times. History will thank her for that and we should, too.

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Posted in Art, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Undercooked, Paul Moon

The Pacific in the Wake of Captain Cook, with Sam Neill
Meaghan Wilson Anastasios
HarperCollins, $45.00,
ISBN 9781460756393

Is there anything new to say about Captain James Cook’s expeditions to the Pacific? Edited accounts of his voyages appeared from 1773 and, in just the last 20 years, over 200 books on this remarkable explorer and mariner have been published. However, it is now 250 years since Cook departed on the first of his great voyages to the South Pacific and, being an anniversary year, what better time to tap into the publicity surrounding his feats? The Pacific in the Wake of Captain Cook accompanies a lavishly-produced television series presented with a comfortable balance of gravitas and intimacy by New Zealand actor Sam Neill. But is this book a cast-off from the television series, or does it stand on its own in any way as a useful contribution to the literature on the topic?

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

The Māori economy, old and new, Gyles Beckford

Heke Tangata: Māori in Markets and Cities
Brian Easton for Te Whanau o Waipareira
Oratia Books, $30.00,
ISBN 9780947506438

In late 1984, a small group of Māori politicians, public servants and their helpers, invented an iwi to welcome hundreds of Māori from around the country to parliament for the Hui Taumata – the Māori Economic Summit. As delegates of different iwi arrived in the old Legislative Chamber, they were welcomed by the “Ngati Beehive”, an eclectic mix of organisers and staff of different tribal and ethnic backgrounds. The Hui Taumata was a less publicised, lower profile version of the newly elected Labour Government’s Economic Summit, at which Sue Bradford made such an impact. But its significance was that it drew together in a forum the collective voice of Māori, highlighted not just the difficulties, the deprivation and the obstacles, but looked at Māori resources, the positives, the solutions, and the future possibilities.

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Posted in Economics, Non-fiction, Review

Wading in the waters, Sam Mahon

Beyond Manapouri: 50 Years of Environmental Politcs in New Zealand
Catherine Knight
Canterbury University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988503042

The battle to preserve our waters in this country has left us, as a nation, almost as bruised and divided as we were during the Springbok tour. There is a moment in the middle of any maelstrom in which you wonder how you got there; by which wrong move; by courtesy of whose malevolent god in particular. As if in answer, Catherine Knight has elegantly traced the evolution of environmental politics from Manapouri in 1972 to the Ruataniwha dam 30 years later. It is an overlay of torn landscapes, muddied waters, greed and broken hearts; it is a paean of lost opportunities.

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Posted in Natural History, Non-fiction, Review
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