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Best of 2016 – Books and BWB Texts

Here is James’s list of top books for the year. The BWB Texts are obviously books too, but have been split into a seperate list, as it’s kind of not fair to compare them to some of the bigger books on the list. Note: a number of books would probably make the list – Bloomsbury South, A History of New Zealand Women, The Great War For New Zealand etc – but James hasn’t actually finished them yet, and can’t in good faith recommend something he hasn’t read. He’s hoping to get some serious reading done over summer…

5. The Big Smoke by Ben Schrader (BWB)

An expert history of the foundation and growth of our biggest cities. Not always an easy read, as it tends towards the inclusion of all the facts uncovered during meticulous research, even though they sometimes get in the way of a compelling narrative.

listen back to James’s interview with Ben here

4. Murder on the Maungatapu – Wayne Martin (CUP)

The first half of this book races along, detailing the lives of the various criminals in the book as they leave a trail of destruction from London to Australia, into Otago and onto the West Coast. Would have been higher on the list, but the second half gets a bit bogged down in the details of the trial, and loses some of the urgency and drive of the first half.

listen back to James’s interview with Wayne here

3. Sheep – Philip Armstrong (Reaktion Books)

A cultural history of an animal that is often overlooked, this is a wonderful blend of science, classics, history and anthropology. If anything, it could have been longer. Maybe he’s just saving up for the sequel: Sheep II – the Reckoning.

listen back to James’s interview with Philip here

2. New Zealand Rivers – Catherine Knight (CUP)

Though subtitled as “an environmental history”, Knight uses the river to bring together a number of streams of thought that touch on aspects of colonialism, the Treaty, agriculture, hydropower, industrialisation and conservation. Just in a inner tube and cruise down the river for an enjoyable history of our country.

listen back to James’s interview with Catherine here

1. This Model World – Anthony Byrt (AUP)

Byrt writes about often impenetrable contemporary art in a light and eminently readable fashion that makes it all seem so easy. Much of it is based on conversations with the artists, with insights into the creative process and the end results that will inform even those who think they know it all. Without a doubt the clearest, most concise voice in New Zealand art, with something to say for both art lovers and art noobs alike.

listen back to James’s interview with Anthony here.

Notable mention:

People, Politics, and Power stations: electric power generation in New Zealand, 1880-1998 – John Martin

An incredibly difficult read about a fantastically interesting subject – this book documents EVERY hydro project in the country, with all the technical details, engineering processes, and some of the social history. As dry as the subject is wet, it is just begging for someone to re-write into a more accessible history about this wonderful topic (yes, I am available).

BWB Texts – short books on big subjects from great New Zealand writers. This series has rapidly become a reliable place to go for well-written and timely books on important subjects. James has ranked all the BWB Texts that he’s read this year (with one from 2015). You click on the title to listen back to James’s interview with the author.

9. Christchurch Ruptures

Nominally about the earthquakes, but mainly a ramble about what Christchurch was. Disappointing.

8. The Interregnum

Set itself up to be the big book that would speak for the next generation, but barely managed to elucidate a clear set of questions, let alone set out to solve them.

7. The Bike and Beyond

An ode to the two-wheeled travellers around New Zealand, well written and an enjoyable read – but didn’t really live up to the BWB Text slogan of “short books on big subjects”.

6. First Migrations

A teaser for the bigger BWB book Tangata Whenua, it certainly whet the appetite. Which I guess was the point.

5. Why Science is Sexist?

A timely book on an important subject, but I still had a number of questions about the “why” in the book’s title that weren’t answered at the end.

4. Silencing Science

A study into the public-good notion of scientists in our late-capitalist society. Identifies some worrying trends, and feeds into a wider conversation about experts and the media …

3. Complacent Nation

… which brings us to Complacent Nation, which is in some ways, another part of the story. A look at the state of the media from former Herald Editor Gavin Ellis, and the way that the pace of change in the media industry may weaken some aspects of our democracy.

2. Stolen Island

A fascinating look at a subject that few New Zealanders will know anything about – the trade in slaves in the Pacific, and New Zealand’s role in it.

1. Three Cities: Seeking Hope In The Anthropocene 

Rod Oram is New Zealand’s most lucid voice on business and economic issues, and here is takes a step back from his weekly commentaries to think about some of the global changes to the economy – and how New Zealand could is placed to weather any storms.

 

 

JamesD

December 21st, 2016

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