Archive for the ‘nonfiction’ Category

irector Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick examine the dark side of American history, from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the Obama administration. They ask whether America’s involvement in countries around the globe really reflects its much-vaunted democratic ideals, or self-interested action for poliitcal and economic gain. The Untold History is a meticulously researched and shocking picture of the American Empire, and its influence on the century’s defining events.

Ebury Press

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Every country has a myth that its citizens usually subscribe to. In the United States’ case this is that they are the champions of liberal democracy and democratic freedoms. In this political history, Stone and Kuznick offer a view at odds with this myth by examining the behaviour of several administrations during key events of the twentieth and twenty first century. It is safe to say that the myth does not survive unscathed.

Oliver Stone is well known as a movie director, and is known for his views on the American involvement and conduct in the Vietnam War. Peter Kuznick is a history professor at American University, Washington D.C. with a speciality in Nuclear Studies, often taking a position critical of the American myth. They also assert that the United States is an imperial power, de facto if not de jure.

After the introduction, which lays bare their thesis, the book delves into Wilson’s presidency which they see as being a starting point of US imperialism. It then follows Roosevelt and The New Deal, Truman and successive presidents to Obama. Stone and Kuznick examine the degree various presidents were at the sway of their advisors and whether they had their own agenda regarding foreign and domestic policy. They also point out that US politics is frequently dominated by powerful lobby groups, whose ends and means are often in conflict with the American myth.

This book does a good job of presenting its case; that the American myth is just that and the United States administrations frequently pays lip service to these core ideals. It also explains why North Korea is dogmatically opposed to caving to US pressure. It is a welcome antidote to the Whiggish interpretation of US history that is often paraded before us.

Read this book. Alternatively watch the TV series it engendered.

 

What if the princess didn’t marry Prince Charming but instead went on to be an astronaut? What if the jealous step sisters were supportive and kind? And what if the queen was the one really in charge of the kingdom? Illustrated by sixty female artists from every corner of the globe, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls introduces us to one hundred remarkable women and their extraordinary lives, from Ada Lovelace to Malala, Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls reinvents fairy tales, inspiring children with the stories of 100 heroic women from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams

Particular Books

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

A diverse grouping of one hundred women – from different backgrounds, religions, disabilities, ethnicities, sexualities – is featured in this collection of one page bios.  Each story is illustrated by a female artist from all over the world and all show how brave and determined these women were/are.

There are a few famous names – Michelle Obama, Malala, Venus Williams – but most are women I’d never heard of – a 19th century Colombian spy, the first female doctor in Mexico, an African woman who pretended to be a man to work in the mines, the first taqtooed lady in US carnivals.

This is a must read, not just for girls but boys too, my 60+ aunt couldn’t put it down.  It tells stories of strong women who had the courage to be a bit different and follow their dreams.  Each story being one page also encourages slow readers.

How this book was born is so cool.  The two authors are entreprenurers who understand how important it is for girls to grow up surrounded by female role models. It helps them to be more confident and set bigger goals.  They realized that 95% of the books and TV shows they grew up with lacked girls in prominent positions, so decided to do something about it.  They started a crowd-funding campaign, called for tales of inspirational women, and created Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.  Now Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2 is being vrafted and I can’t wait to read it.

This is the guidebook of Te Araroa: New Zealand’s Trail, a continuous trail running from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Thirty-five years in the making, the trail officially opened in late 2011. The book maps the 3000-kilometre trail in 40-kilometre sections, with maps by leading map maker Roger Smith of Geographx.

Author Geoff Chapple is a modern-day visionary who took the concept of a continuous trail running the length of New Zealand and turned it into a reality. Chapple, the founder of the trail, complements the maps with a running commentary describing the landscape, the flora and fauna encountered along the way, as well as the special features of particular parts of the trail. Photographs of the trail illustrate each section.

Each of the nine regional sections opens with a stunning 2-page 3D map. A short introduction describes the history of the trail as well as the variety of New Zealand’s landscape along the way: forest, farmland, volcanoes and mountain passes, river valleys, green pathways and the urban areas of seven cities. This book is an accessible guide both for those who only want to walk parts of the trail and dedicated trampers who intend to walk its entire length.

Random House

Supplied by Random House  New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

113 walks from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Does what it says on the box, er, cover. A great resource for all trampers and walkers in general, this book lists walks that you can do through urban and park landscapes to proper tramping walks on bush and coast, where you would need to gear up. Gives you a bit of the history about the track as well. It’s all part of a notional trail that goes from Cape Reinga to Bluff. You can walk it, this book shows you how.

 

Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? Why kakapo is the only parrot in the world that cannot fly, or why the kiwi lives here and nowhere else? New Zealand is an extraordinary place, unique on earth, and the remarkable story of how and why life evolved here is the subject of Ghosts of Gondwana.

The challenge of explaining New Zealand’s natural origins is picked up in this fully revised edition of the popular award-winning book. It presents the latest scientific research in highly readable form, highlighting studies that reveal the deep historical background of our landscapes, fauna and flora – from ancient frogs and moa to delicate insects and the magnificent southern beech forests. It introduces the latest discoveries and resolves past issues like the ‘Oligocene drowning’ hypothesis. Exciting fossil discoveries are revealed and new scientific technologies and approaches to the discipline of historical biogeography are discussed – approaches that range from undersea geology to molecular clocks – and it inevitably draws attention to the debates and conflicts that distinguish different schools of opinion in this holistic branch of theoretical science.

This revision incorporates the results of 10 years of intensive scientific research and includes four entirely new chapters to: focus on ‘yesterday’s maps’ to draw attention to the ephemeral islands in our history that have possibly acted as stepping stones for terrestrial animals and plants but today have sunk into the sea; incorporate the author’s own special interest in an ancient group of ‘jaw-moths’, unknown and unnoticed by most people but with a strong message that New Zealand is part of the world when it comes to explaining where our fauna have come from; present recent research findings on our huge flightless birds, the ratites; and include New Zealand’s terrestrial molluscs into the story.

Ghosts of Gondwana identifies New Zealand as one of the most challenging places on earth to explain, but it’s readable, engaging style and revised illustrations render this often-controversial discipline of science into a format that is accessible to any reader with an interest in natural history and the unique environment of New Zealand.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

Ever wondered where the native flora and fauna of New Zealand came from? Were they here from time out of mind, or did they migrate from somewhere else? And where was that somewhere? George Gibbs, a former lecturer in Biology at Victoria University, tries to answer these questions. He also explains why it is so difficult to provide decent answers: a rather poor fossil record. However, there have been some new and exciting developments in Central Otago that Gibbs dips into.

Gibbs has divided the book into four sections: unique Aotearoa, seeking explanations, explanations for New Zealand life, and made in New Zealand. The section titles are obvious: New Zealand has a decidedly unique bioscape, from a scientific point of view this needs to be explained, some theories work better than others for different plants or animals, and there are the biota that that define New Zealand and nowhere else.

Thus Gibbs takes us on a journey through plate tectonics, the disintegration of Gondwana, the slow drowning of the mini-continent of Zealandia and the ridge islands that extended as far as New Caledonia, as well as the competing theories as to what happened here geographically speaking. Throughout the telling, it becomes obvious that New Zealand shares a considerable amount of its biological ancestry with Australia, southern South America, and the currently under-inhabited Antarctica.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Gibbs’s style is easy for the curious layman to follow, and key concepts are explained both verbally and with the aid of diagrams. By the end of it not only did I feel an almost instant expert, but was filled with a desire to contribute to the discussion. Buy it.

 

hand-coloured-new-zealand

In 1945, Leo White, medically discharged from the RNZAF, spotted a niche for a company that could provide not only air travel services and aviation news, but also aerial photography for both corporate and public New Zealanders. White had been involved in photography and aviation for most of his adult life, and he built a team that could handle the firm’s diverse interests. Odd though one may think, though colour photography was available, all the photographs were black and white.

Peter Alsop has done a grand job of charting the rise and gradual decline, of Whites Aviation. He explains why it was Whites and not White’s or even Whites’.  He also explains why hand colouring was preferred over colour photography, with lack of colour fastness being a big issue with early colour film. Hand-colouring, almost invariably done by women, was a cheap and, in skilled hands, reliable method of bringing a black and white print to life. But beyond that, Leo and his team had a great eye for framing their shots, especially the landscapes.

Whites Aviation photos were the quintessential New Zealand landscapes – urban, industrial, rural, and natural. Not only were they sold in picture books, but also as postcards, civic and commercial adornments, and frequently displayed in living rooms. One even made it as a postage stamp. Alsop not only gives the history of the company, but also explores the undervalued art that is hand-colouring. He puts faces to the women, and hand colourists were almost exclusively women, and he follows the art and the influence of Whites photography forward to beyond 2010.

The book is divided into three main sections: the company and key personalities, the photography, and finally a gallery, which comprises approximately 250 photographs from a selection of over 70,000. The colouring of these phots is almost invariably great, though one of early 1950’s Wellington looked a little off.

This is not only a great coffee table book but a great book, and I thank Peter Alsop and Potton & Burton for bring this remarkable chapter in New Zealand art to my attention. If you can’t buy a copy, at least get it from the library and be prepared to be amazed.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

in-the-bush

The fourth book in a popular ‘explore & discover’ series, this explains what activities happen in the bush and illustrates examples.  There first is a description of how plants and animals relate o each other in the forest ecosystem, then beautifully drawn illustrations of the various birds, bats, fungi, trees, and introduced pests.

This book will help children to learn about pests and other dangers to our native wildlife, while catching a glimpse of the animals and plants that make it up.  The illustrations are stunning and the text will delight while educating.  A great present for little people.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Jan

Journey to a Hanging

In 1865, the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner was hanged, beheaded, his eyes eaten and his blood drunk. In January 1872, Kereopa Te Rau, (Kaiwhatu: the Eye Eater), was hanged in Napier as retribution. While the two events were directly related, were there more similarities than just death by hanging?

Wells bookends his story with visits to Opotiki, where Völkner died, and Napier, the scene of Te Rau’s death. He examines the modern day appearance of both (one is now a hostel) with the historical appearance. And he talks to those responsible for the up-keep of the graves of the two men. Völkner’s is seen as a martyr’s grave whereas Te Rau’s is viewed with a degree of shame.

Both men are set in their historical context. Völkner was formerly a missionary for the North German Missionary Society, in part driven to this work by the dire financial situation in Germany at the time. However, after a strained financial relationship with his mother order, he swapped to the Anglican missions – they at least paid regularly. As an Anglican missionary, Völkner considered it part of his job to communicate with both the Church and Government on conditions in his part of New Zealand. And this proved fatal for him in 1865 as war visited his corner of the Bay of Plenty in 1865.

Te Rau’s history is less well known, though he was given a “Christian” name – Kereopa is the Maori version Cleophas (one of a group of Jews who met Christ three days after the Crucifixion). Te Rau at some point converted to Pai Marire, or Hauhau. Personal circumstances placed him on the Kingite side of the Maori Wars, and this enabled him to evade early capture until late 1871. While the demand for revenge for Völkner’s death was loud immediately after, as time wore on more were prepared to see the act as more political than criminal. As a consequence there were a few campaigning for clemency.

Völkner’s killing was an incident that shocked settler New Zealand. There was much satisfaction with the hanging of Te Rau. Wells does a good job of placing both events in both their historical and modern context.

Vintage

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve