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Sources of discomfort, W K Hastings

Murder That Wasn’t: The Case of George Gwaze
Felicity Goodyear-Smith
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781877578991

Part of me wishes this book had not been written. It makes for uncomfortable reading. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate for an author to induce a sense of discomfort amongst her readers. Some of my discomfort, however, lies in the rather long bow the author invites us to draw from the facts of this deeply sad and, in the words of the author, extraordinary case, that will almost certainly never be repeated. Singular cases do not often form the basis of general inferences, and this case is no exception. But first to the legitimate sources of discomfort.

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

Lifting the lid, Colin Peacock

Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics is Poisoning New Zealand’s Political Environment
Nicky Hager
Craig Potton Publishing, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927213360

The Catch: How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Oceans
Michael Field
Awa Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927249024

“Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.” That zinger, attributed to Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, is still a go-to piece of wisdom today for those pointing out that plenty of nastiness goes on behind the scenes, which most people either ignore, or remain blissfully ignorant of. Some journalists today say the same applies to the unsavoury side of getting a good story. For instance, when Mediawatch asked an Australian reporter about the families of Pike River victims being pressed for exclusive and personal interviews, she fell back on that same saw. Some reporters even call their own workplaces “sausage factories”, pumping out cheap, filling content for public consumption day after day, rather than prime cuts.

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Posted in Economics, Media, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

A poverty of compassion, Rod Oram

Child Poverty in New Zealand
Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple
Bridget Williams Books, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927247860

“New Zealand has the necessary resources to reduce child poverty, and equitable and efficient ways to secure these resources are available. The question is not about our capacity, it is about our political will.” This is the unequivocal conclusion of Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple in their book Child Poverty in New Zealand. They base it on their exhaustive analysis of the scale, complexity and damage of child poverty, and the myriad ways we could tackle it.

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

The cost of living, Don Brash

The New Zealand CPI at 100: History and Interpretation
Sharleen Forbes and Antong Victorio (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739667

To my considerable surprise, I enjoyed this book, and learnt much more than I expected from the diversity of writers who contributed chapters.

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

The Goliath of public opinion, Gyles Beckford

Peace, Power and Politics: How New Zealand Became Nuclear Free
Maire Leadbetter
Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578588

I remember that visit of the USS Truxtun to Wellington in August 1976. It was cold and dreary, matching the battle-grey paintwork of the ship. We were a loose amalgam of students, unionists, peaceniks, and a sprinkling of concerned suburbanites under the umbrella of the Campaign Against Nuclear Warships. We stood outside the Queen’s Wharf gates with banners and placards, and plenty of jeers and abuse for the small knots of sailors coming ashore.

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

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

The liberal leftie who learned maths, Matthew Hooton

Incredible Luck
Don Brash
Troika, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473269081

The tradition, when a New Zealand political book is published, is for our small but self-absorbed political class to rush to the nearest bookshop – often Bennetts at 1 Bowen Street, now sadly closed – to check the index, read any bits pertaining to themselves, and put it back on the shelf. Compared with, say, Craig Potton Publishing, the publisher of Don Brash’s autobiography has been more commercially astute: Incredible Luck has no index. To find out if you’re in it, you’ll have to buy it and read it all the way through.

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

Dressing Wellington’s radicals, David Grant

Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism and Early New Zealand Anarchism Jared Davidson AK Press, $15.00, ISBN 9781849351324 Philip Josephs was a Latvian-born Jewish tailor who escaped religious persecution in his home country. He emigrated firstly to Glasgow – the industrial

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

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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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Sociology

Perseverance and poetry, Barry Gustafson

Reform: A Memoir Geoffrey Palmer Victoria University Press, $80.00, ISBN 9780864739056 Sir Geoffrey Palmer had a distinguished career as a law professor in both New Zealand and the United States and as deputy prime minister and then prime minister in

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