Scoop Review of Books

Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr’s favourite climate related fiction book of all time: The Lorax


The Lorax by Dr Seuss is Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr’s choice for the best fiction book relating to climate change in the inaugural Carbon News Climate Change Summer Reading list.

Dr Carr chose the Dr Seuss classic when asked for nominate four works for climate change publication Carbon News’s summer reading list.

Carbon News sent out emails to dozens of people with an interest in climate change asking them for their picks for the best climate change-related fiction and nonfiction works of 2021, and the best climate-change related fiction and nonfiction of all time.

Carr limited himself to just two of those categories, choosing The Lorax as his favourite work of fiction, and, possibly a little immodestly, the Climate Change Commission’s landmark Inaia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa for best work of nonfiction in 2021.

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The story of Kiwi made bicycles from the 1860s to the present

The Bikes We Built: A journey through New Zealand made bicycles
by Jonathan Kennett (The Kennett Brothers, 2021. 160pp.$49.90)
Reviewed by Jeremy Rose

Kennett book cover It was the Healing 10 Speed that first made me question whether import protection was a good idea.

The Healing was, as Jonathan Kennett writes in his just published The Bikes We Built, “heavy and had brakes that were dangerously ineffective in wet conditions, tiny mud guards, ugly welded joints and handlebars that were less comfortable than traditional commuting bars.”

But despite all those drawbacks it was ubiquitous in the 1980s. And its price – just $277 (about the average weekly wage at the time) – was almost certainly the reason why.

My first bike was a British-built Rotrax from the 1960s which my elder brother, Mick, restored with me for a bike tour we went on in 1978 when I was 13.

It had stylish lugs – instead of those ugly welds – GB brakes, and the tubing was double-butted Reynolds 531.

That will be gibberish to most of you, but for anyone into bicycles at the time, the Reynolds sticker was a mark of true quality, and the double-butted version – where the tubing is thicker at each end than the centre to maximise strength and lightness – was the most desirable of all.

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Family of Fiction

Book Review
The Mirror Book
by Charlotte Grimshaw (Vintage Penguin Random House New Zealand, 2021. 316 pp. $38)
Reviewed by Lindsay Shelton


Grimshaw_CoverCharlotte Grimshaw’s fascinating and relentless family memoir is not only a revelation about life with her famous father C.K. Stead, it’s also a constructively challenging and confronting consideration of the contradictory realities of family life.

She fearsomely and movingly compares the differences between her family’s public face — “the lovely childhood … a house full of books” — and her private experience.

“The family story was, in some ways, mysterious,” she writes. “I believed everything she [her mother] said until I was in my thirties, when I started to get a sense of smoke and mirrors.” At first Grimshaw decided not to question it.  But when she entered the third stage of her life she realised she was not two selves. “I was one, and I would be stronger when I bought my selves together.”  As she got older, she “puzzled her way to a conclusion: all was not as it seemed.”

Grimshaw had read and admired her father’s novels and especially loved his poetry. In his novels she recognised “echoes of experience denied in real life, sublimated, turned into an acceptable form — into art.” When she began writing her own stories, her father was warm and encouraging.  He told her: “It’s material … Go and write a story about it.”  And then she realised that she was telling true stories about “a whole life lived in fiction.”

She describes how she challenged her father for using aspects of her life in his novels. Then, when she published a short story using aspects of her own family life, she was filled with guilt and sadness.

“I couldn’t reconcile the urge to translate these family difficulties into fiction with my place in the family. All my questioning, exploring what it was about the family that was so strangely rigid, so enamelled over with denial, had made me the black sheep … So much had been passed over in silence for so long.”

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A Doctor of Vision

Book Review
A Scientific Welsh Eye Surgeon: the short life of Llewellyn Powell MD (1843-79)
by Geoffrey W Rice (Hawthorne Press & Cotter Medical History Trust, 2020. 144 pp. $30)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Powell cover-001Llewellyn Powell was a bright young Welshman who studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, emigrated to Canterbury in 1865 and started a medical practice in Christchurch. Dr Geoffrey Rice, the author of this short biography, explains that it is the first publication of a larger project to document the activities of medical men in Christchurch during the late 19th century. Although Powell died young, aged only 36, he had an interesting career, intertwined with different facets of early Christchurch.
Powell left behind almost no personal papers or medical records. Dr Rice has been able to put together this readable biography using the National Library’s Papers Past website to search the digitized issues of the Lyttelton Times and the Press. This novel approach works effectively because Powell was a public figure whose activities were regularly reported in the newspapers. He also wrote letters to the papers on issues that concerned him, so the author is able to convey some insight into his personal opinions.
Although Powell worked across several different medical fields, he specialized as an eye surgeon, and was described by one of his contemporaries as “the best oculist in New Zealand”. However Powell’s medical career was partly overshadowed by his wide-ranging scientific interests. He was a skilled microscopist, and one of the first local exponents of forensic pathology. He was an expert in New Zealand spiders, describing new species in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, and was an early member of the Canterbury Philosophical Society, serving for a period as president.

Two drawings of New Zealand spiders by Powell in a paper published in volume 3 of the Transactions of the NZ Institute (1870)

Two drawings of New Zealand spiders by Powell in a paper published in volume 3 of the Transactions of the NZ Institute (1870)

He gave public lectures on scientific topics to the high school and fledgling university college. Although his health was poor as he suffered from chronic tuberculosis, he was clearly a man of energy who actively participated in everything that interested him.
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Good Policy

Book Review
Love you: public policy for intergenerational wellbeing
by Girol Karacaoglu (Tuwhiri, 2020 $27)
Reviewed by George Ritchie
girol_with book

Girol Karacaoglu

We are in the middle of a systemic environmental, social and economic crisis.

So says Girol Karacaoglu, a former Chief Economist at the NZ Treasury who these days heads up the School of Government at Victoria University.  

And he’s not alone – Girol stresses to me over Zoom that this is a view shared by “the most orthodox institutions you can think of” referring to the Treasury in its evidence for the 2019 Budget and the Secretary-General of the OECD, Angel Gurria, in a 2019 speech.

His new book is intended primarily as a challenge to young people: change the way that New Zealand debates and creates public policy. Help us get out of this crisis. 

Thirty years ago, NZ was something of a fashion-setter in terms of giving its central bank statutory operational independence and responsibility to maintain consumer price stability. It was also ahead of the game in terms of the degree of its statutory fiscal management transparency.

The urgent predicament these days is how best to institutionalise greater transparency, inclusivity, and clearer accountabilities for advancing the wellbeing of current and future generations. You might be excused for thinking, well, why get so animated as to release a book about this? Didn’t the Government release a Wellbeing Budget in 2019 and 2020? Doesn’t the Public Finances Act now require the Treasury to produce a long-term report on wellbeing every four years?
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