Scoop Review of Books

Archive for August, 2014

King Richard

Richard Seddon, King of God’s Own:
The life and times of New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister
by Tom Brooking (Penguin, $64)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

SeddonCover-001My father grew up in Wellington during Seddon’s premiership and was a great admirer of his. I can recall him standing under the Seddon statue in the grounds of parliament and telling me that Seddon had more backbone than Sid Holland and all his cabinet colleagues put together. I now realise that he was referring to the 1951 waterfront dispute, and his belief that the wharfies would never have dared to defy Seddon. Although this interpretation of history may be disputed, it does help illustrate Seddon’s enduring popularity, and why recent polls continue to put him ahead of all rivals as New Zealand’s most popular Prime Minister. Both the right and left sides of New Zealand politics look back fondly to King Dick and claim him as their own.

Despite his popularity, it is amazing that this is the first scholarly biography of Seddon. R.M. Burdon wrote a widely-read biography in 1955, but this was based almost entirely on newspapers and secondary sources. Historians have researched specific aspects, but Tom Brooking is the first to tackle Seddon’s career as a whole and show how his political beliefs and achievements can be assessed on the world stage. The reason why Seddon has been so neglected probably relates to the huge amount of documentary research involved. Seddon was our longest-serving Prime Minister, from 1893 to 1906, and the effort of going through the official files for this period and earlier is daunting. There is more material for Seddon than many other Prime Ministers, both because of his long career and because he had an enormous capacity for hard work.
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Mad Art

Editor’s Note: The original edition of The Curse of Lono was published 1983, but it went out of print. Taschen brought out a signed, limited collector’s re-edition almost around 2005, but sold out before it  hit the stores. The version reviewed here is a hardback in a smaller format than the collector’s edition. 

The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson; illustrated by Ralph Steadman (Taschen, $69.99)
Reviewed by Jim Robinson

CurseOfLonoThis large hard cover opens to one of the best title pages I’ve seen, The Curse of Lono by Hunter S Thompson and Ralph Steadman, all wild black ink scrawl and splatter, jumping off the thick white page. It’s in your face yet artfully presented, which is pretty much how the book carries on, with Steadman’s brilliant illustrations every bit as important as Thompson’s words, and ranging from mildly quirky to full bore weird.

What it’s all about, though, I’m not so clear on. One of the early pages carries a letter from Running Magazine: “Dear Hunter; To keep a potential screed down to a few lines, we would like you to cover the Honolulu Marathon. We will pay all expenses and an excellent fee … Think about it. This is a good chance for a vacation.”

Okay, that bit’s clear then. Thompson and Steadman go on a scam trip to Hawaii to cover the 1980 marathon (this is a release of an out-of-print book first published 1983). As Thompson says, “All we have to do in Honolulu is cover the marathon then hide out in Kona for a while and lash the story together.”

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Poor Economics

Several important books that focus on poverty and wealth inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand have been published in recent months, at least partly in an effort to push these issues onto the political agenda in an election year. Scoop Review of Books is continuing its coverage with the following review of and excerpt from Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple’s Child Poverty in New Zealand (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books)

Review by Marlene Ware of
Closing the Gap

Child_Poverty_CoverBoston and Chapple have based this book on material garnered from  their involvement in the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, established by the Children’s Commissioner in 2012. It draws on the latest evidence which is thoroughly documented in the accompanying notes.

The book is structured around three themes relating to child poverty: why it matters, how to best to reduce it and mitigating its impacts. The stated aims are to make the case for child poverty, its nature and measurement, the causes and consequences, and the myths. Any responses need to be based on logic, ethics and evidence. The authors suggest that there has been inadequate political attention to the increases in child poverty following the reforms of the 1990’s. Currently, the fiscal deficit, but not the social deficit, is under control. There is a moral imperative to address this social deficit which will bring long term social and economic dividends. However, there is a fiscal cost.  They propose various options to reduce child poverty and to mitigate its consequences, suggesting New Zealand has the necessary resources required. It depends on political will to accomplish it.

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Dirty Politics: the Launch

Nicky 2

Nicky 3

Nicky's launch 1

The Fantastic Four



FOUR OUTSTANDING novels have been announced as the finalists for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, which will be presented on 30 August following The Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival. The Ngaio Marsh Award is made annually for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident.

“This has absolutely been the toughest year for the judges in the five-year history of the Award,” says Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “We had eight excellent, incredibly different novels that made up our deepest and most diverse long list yet. Those books illustrate that local writers are exploring questions of crime and mystery in a variety of exciting ways, and providing readers with a great mix of entertainment, fine storytelling, and beautiful prose. It has made our job very hard, but it’s a nice problem to have.”

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