Scoop Review of Books

Release: The New Zealand Project

The New Zealand Project by Max Harris (Bridget Williams Books, $40)


bwb1001_max_harris_the_nz_project_cover_300ppi-002It would be tempting to say that Max Harris is a young man in a hurry. Certainly there is a sense of urgency evident in the pages of The New Zealand Project, the title of this, his extraordinary first book: extraordinary in its maturity, its intellectual scope, its creative vision and its – literally – death-defying origins. But to say he is in a hurry would be to mischaracterise his ultimate ambition and the deliberate, careful and often lyrical manner in which he presents and interrogates it. Which is just as well, since his goal for the book is nothing less than ‘rediscovering New Zealand’s lost direction’.

I haven’t lived long enough yet to have lost a sense of hope or a sense of the possible. But I’ve lived long enough to know that things are moving too slowly for those of us with hope, who want to make the impossible possible. And I’ve lived close enough to death to feel like we have no time to lose.
Max Harris, The New Zealand Project


This would be a daunting task for even the most venerable and energetic of scholars. Harris is not yet 30. But he is already widely acknowledged as a brilliant New Zealander with singular talents. Born in and educated at schools in Wellington he went on to study law, history and politics at Auckland University before spending 18 months as clerk to Chief Justice Sian Elias. Oxford University beckoned, interrupted by a period as a consultant in Helen Clark’s Executive Office at the United Nations Development Programme. It was here that Harris suffered a medical episode and received a diagnosis suggesting that he had little time left in a too-short life.

In the dark and uncertain times that followed Harris not only hatched his plan for this project, but earned the rare distinction of a prestigious scholarship at All Souls College, Oxford – a seven-year period of study – and survived the major surgery which would give him an entirely new lease on life. The result is both a gift, and a provocation, that finds generous and stimulating expression in this latest publication from award-winning publishers Bridget Williams Books.

Suffused with Harris’s own personality and background, and characterised throughout by his searching intellect, his empathy and compelling optimism, The New Zealand Project is a highly original achievement, a new sort of book for a new world ahead. It is a world full of challenges, particularly acute for his own millennial generation, laid out with remarkable clarity. Whether it is the future of work, climate change, the politics of love or other pressing issues of the age, Harris not only offers his own prescriptions but, critically, challenges his readers to come up with their own, or join the conversation.

In exploring fresh approaches to policy and politics, Harris aims to create new and larger discussions about the future of this country, a project all the more relevant given the geopolitical context into which it arrives: Trump, Brexit, post-truth politics and a resurgence of authoritarianism. It is an approach that eschews the strait jacket of traditional partisan politics. Instead it focuses on the issues and values upon which New Zealanders can and must find common cause if we, and future generations, are to navigate the challenges that lie ahead – and preserve the essence of what it means to belong in Aotearoa.

About Max

Max Harris is currently an Examination Fellow at All Souls College in Oxford. He completed a Master of Public Policy and Bachelor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford while on a New Zealand Rhodes Scholarship from 2012–2014, and a Law/Arts conjoint degree (with Honours in Law) at the University of Auckland from 2006–2010. Harris worked at the Supreme Court of New Zealand as a clerk for Chief Justice Elias in 2011–2012. He has also completed short stints of work at the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet (in early 2008, as a speechwriting intern), the law firm Russell McVeagh (in late 2008–2009), the Australian National University in Canberra (as a summer scholar, in late 2009–2010), the American Civil Liberties Union in New York (late 2010–2011), and Helen Clark’s Executive Office at the United Nations Development Programme (in July–August 2014).

Max will be appearing at events nationwide over the next eight weeks: