Scoop Review of Books

Archive for April, 2013

The Inadequacy of a Dependent Utopia

This is an edited version of a lecture given by WH (Bill) Oliver, professor of history at Massey University, Palmerston North, exactly 50 years ago, on 1 May, 1963. The lecture was in memory of a foundation member of the university’s teaching staff, Donald Anderson, who had died two years earlier. It is reproduced here, by permission of Bill Oliver, as an intriguing halfway point between the Maoriland Worker essay competition of 1913 and the current ‘Another World is Possible’ essay competition.

The Inadequacy of a Dependent Utopia

The label Utopia is one I am content to apply to New Zealand, not because I think New Zealand to be a perfect society but rather because I think that the experiment has been essentially successful. Here in New Zealand all may stay alive, all may aspire to the good life, and some will achieve it. That is about enough for any human society. However, our living, and our opportunities for a good life, do not depend upon ourselves alone. There are factors, influential enough to fulfil or frustrate our best endeavours, which are beyond our control: the condition of world prices and of export markets, the terms of trade and the conditions of credit. This condition is one of dependency. We may talk then of a dependent Utopia. The condition is patent enough in economic matters; but perhaps less so in those aspects of our common life we can properly, if vaguely, call cultural…

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Toilet Time

The Runaway Toilet by Jane Buxton, illustrated by Richard Hoit (Puffin, $19.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

toiletYoung children love toilet jokes, and this time the ultimate joke is that Philip the runaway toilet avoids his pre-determined career and ends up doing a more pleasant duty, “…cos I believe life should be fun, not full of wees and poos!”.

Relying as much on Richard Hoit’s lively illustrations as on its punchy rhyming lines, the story is aimed at pre-schoolers through to about age six. I watched a mother read it to her boys aged four and six, and all three of their expressions were priceless. The four-year-old, dressed as a Ninja, was transfixed and solemn throughout the first reading, while his older brother, enticed away from the television, wriggled and smiled gleefully at those special words. Read more »

Typhoid and Mary

Fever by Mary Beth Keane (Simon & Schuster 2013)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

I first heard of “Typhoid Mary” when I was kid; my father’s idea of a relationship with his children was to fire facts at them, sometimes but not always in context. Anyway, I knew enough to always wash my hands.

Little was known about transmission of disease until the late nineteenth century, and chlorination of water supplies didn’t begin until early in the twentieth. The need for sanitation and hand-washing was recognised by many but hygiene practices were not always adhered to.

In Fever, the fictionalised story of professional cook Mary Mallon’s life as a typhoid carrier, there’s back story, front story and everything in between. Read more »