Category: Recent picks

Residual Impact – Recent History Picks for November

In this month’s picks the story of the return of an American prisoner of the North Korean War intersects with a North Korean woman’s harrowing escape from the modern day regime to Canada. These stories reveal the devastating power of struggles that have gone unnoticed; voices unheard that are starting to confront the residual traumas that affect the present day.

Syndetics book cover30-second ancient China : the 50 most important achievements of a timeless civilization, each explained in half a minute / editor, Yijie Zhuang ; contributors, Qin Cao [and others].
“In the West, the story of Ancient China is less familiar to us than that of Ancient Egypt or Rome, but it is no less absorbing, and its rollcall of achievements is easily as impressive. [...] 30-Second Ancient China becomes the perfect introduction to one of the great ancient civilizations.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe crime and the silence : confronting the massacre of Jews in wartime Jedwabne / Anna Bikont ; translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles.
“A monumental work of nonfiction on a wartime atrocity, its sixty-year denial, and the impact of its truth Jan Gross’s hugely controversial Neighbors was a historian’s disclosure of the events in the small Polish town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, when the citizens rounded up the Jewish population and burned them alive in a barn. The massacre was a shocking secret that had been suppressed for more than sixty years, and it provoked the most important public debate in Poland since 1989.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe war came home with him : a daughter’s memoir / Catherine Madison.
“During his years as a POW in North Korea, “Doc” Boysen endured hardships he never intended to pass along, especially to his family. Men who refused to eat starved; his children would clean their plates. Men who were weak died; his children would develop character. They would also learn to fear their father, the hero. In a memoir at once harrowing and painfully poignant, Catherine Madison tells the stories of two survivors of one man’s war: a father who withstood a prison camp’s unspeakable inhumanity and a daughter who withstood the residual cruelty that came home with him.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe hidden people of North Korea : everyday life in the hermit kingdom / Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh.
“Drawing on decades of experience, noted experts Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh explore a world few outsiders can imagine. In vivid detail, the authors describe how the secretive and authoritarian government of Kim Jong-un shapes every aspect of its citizens’ lives, how the command socialist economy has utterly failed, and how ordinary individuals struggle to survive through small-scale capitalism.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKatrina : after the flood / Gary Rivlin. Katrina: After the Flood
“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana–on August 29, 2005–journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure–but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAfghan modern : the history of a global nation / Robert D. Crews.
“Rugged, remote, riven by tribal rivalries and religious violence, Afghanistan seems to many a country frozen in time and forsaken by the world. Afghan Modern presents a bold challenge to these misperceptions, revealing how Afghans, over the course of their history, have engaged and connected with a wider world and come to share in our modern globalized age. Always a mobile people, Afghan travelers, traders, pilgrims, scholars, and artists have ventured abroad for centuries, their cosmopolitan sensibilities providing a compass for navigating a constantly changing world.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStars between the Sun and Moon : one woman’s life in North Korea and escape to freedom / Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland.
“Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household–her parents worked hard, she bowed to a photo of Kim Il-Sung every night, and the family scraped by on rationed rice and a small garden. However, there is nothing common about Jang. [...] With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang’s fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSapiens : a brief history of humankind / Yuval Noah Harari.
“One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. [...] How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? In Sapiens, Professor Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical–and sometimes devastating–breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRywka’s diary : the writings of a Jewish girl from the Lodz Ghetto, found at Auschwitz in 1945 and published seventy years later / Rywka Lipszyc ; edited by Anita Friedman ; translated from the Polish by Malgorzata Markoff ; with annotations by Ewa Wiatr.
“Moving and illuminating, told by a brave young girl whose strong and charismatic voice speaks for millions, Rywka’s Diary is an extraordinary addition to the history of the Holocaust and World War II.”  (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe crossing : my journey to the shattered heart of Syria / Samar Yazbek ; translated by Nashwa Gowanlock and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.
“Samar Yazbek was well known in her native Syria as a writer and a journalist but, in 2011, she fell foul of the Assad regime and was forced to flee. Since then, determined to bear witness to the suffering of her people, she bravely revisited her homeland by squeezing through a hole in the fence on the Turkish border. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, she offers remarkable snapshots of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women simply trying to stay alive…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Hardened Ground – Recent History Picks for October

Lost cities, forgotten wars and starved earth make up some of the dark subject matter in this month’s selection. Despite this, titles such as in Remembering Christchurch, 1 Dead in Attic and Black Earth focus their lens on the social histories that have kept people alive through unimaginable struggle, resistances to letting these traumas repeat, while honouring the human spirit of survival.

Syndetics book coverKūpapa : the bitter legacy of Māori alliances with the Crown / Ron Crosby.
“The Treaty of Waitangi struck a bargain between two parties: the Crown and Māori. Its promises of security, however, were followed from 1845 to 1872 by a series of volatile and bloody conflicts commonly known as the New Zealand Wars. Many people today believe that these wars were fought solely between the Crown and Māori, when the reality is that Māori aligned with both sides… Kūpapa addresses those realities, the complex Treaty-related reasons for them, and the cynical use of Māori by the Crown for its own purposes.” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverRemembering Christchurch : voices from decades past / Alison Parr with Rosemary Baird.
“What remains when a city vanishes? Remembering Christchurch captures the human heritage that survives the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes. In evocative interviews, older citizens share their precious memories, bringing Christchurch back to life [...] Woven through these stories, a social history of Christchurch emerges, exposing shifting attitudes to class, race, religion, sex and the place of women. Vivid and revealing, these rich memories create a lasting legacy for a much-loved city.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover1 dead in attic : after Katrina / Chris Rose.
“Full of the emotion, tragedy and even humor-which has made Chris Rose a favorite son and the voice of a lost city-these are the stories of the dead and the living, of survivors and believers, of destruction and recovery, and of hope and despair. With photographs by British photojournalist Charlie Varley, 1 Dead in Attic captures New Orleans caught between an old era and a new, New Orleans in its most desperate time, as it struggled out of floodwaters and willed itself back to life.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverParadise of the Pacific : approaching Hawaii / Susanna Moore.
“Susanna Moore pieces together the elusive, dramatic story of late-eighteenth-century Hawaii–its kings and queens, gods and goddesses, missionaries, migrants, and explorers–a not-so-distant time of abrupt transition, in which an isolated pagan world of human sacrifice and strict taboo, without a currency or a written language, was confronted with the equally ritualized world of capitalism, Western education, and Christian values.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPacific crucible : war at sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 / Ian W. Toll.
“On the first Sunday in December 1941, an armada of Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of the tiny atoll of Midway, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sent into the abyss. Toll tells the epic tale of these first searing months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history and seized the strategic initiative.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBlack earth : the Holocaust as history and warning / Timothy Snyder.
“By overlooking the lessons of the Holocaust, we have misunderstood modernity and endangered the future. The early twenty-first century is coming to resemble the early twentieth, as growing preoccupations with food and water accompany ideological challenges to global order. Our world is closer to Hitler’s than we like to admit, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was — and ourselves as we are. Groundbreaking, authoritative, and utterly absorbing, Black Earth reveals a Holocaust that is not only history but warning.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNorth Korea : state of paranoia / Paul French.
“Drawing on an impressive range of insider sources and previously unseen archival material, Paul French examines the nation and its ruling regime in forensic detail. He offers a close analysis of the history and politics of North Korea; Pyongyang’s complex relations with South Korea, Japan, China, and the United States; and the troubling implications of Kim Jong-Un’s increasingly belligerent leadership in the years since his father, Kim Jong-il, died.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe worst hard time : the untold story of those who survived the great American Dust Bowl / Timothy Egan.
“The American West got lucky when Tim Egan focused his acute powers of observation on its past and present. Egan’s remarkable combination of clear analysis and warm empathy anchors his portrait of the women and men who held on to their places–and held on to their souls–through the nearly unimaginable miseries of the Dust Bowl. This book provides the finest mental exercise for people wanting to deepen, broaden, and strengthen their thinking about the relationship of human beings to this earth.”  (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFarthest field : an Indian story of the Second World War / Raghu Karnad.
“In riveting prose, Karnad retrieves the story of a single family – a story of love, rebellion, loyalty and uncertainty – and with it, the greatest revelation that is India’s Second World War. Farthest Field narrates the lost epic of India’s war, in which the largest volunteer army in history (2.5m men) fought for the British Empire, even as its countrymen fought to be free of it. It carries us from Madras to Peshawar, Egypt to Burma – unfolding the saga of a young family amazed by their swiftly changing world and swept up in its violence.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBackstairs Billy : the life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s most devoted servant / Tom Quinn.
“William Tallon, who died in 2007, was a shopkeeper’s son from the Midlands who rose through the ranks to work for the Queen Mother for more than fifty years. [...] Billy adored her and she adored Billy; perhaps because of his high-camp style and outrageous remarks about the well-born equerries, royal press people and advisers, but mostly because he made her gin and tonics just the way she liked them–nine-tenths gin and one-tenth tonic. Outrageously funny, scandalous, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating, this is the royal family through the eyes of one of its most extroverted servants.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Vulnerable protagonists – Recent History Picks for September

Power and politics run deep in this month’s selection. Phantom Terror, Deng Xiaoping and American Warlords cover a vast span, chronicling the internal mechanisms of those in charge. While titles like Petals and Bullets, Nagasaki and The Wisdom Seeker focus on the intense personal reserves used to pick up the pieces of these often violent legacies of power.

Syndetics book coverPetals and bullets : Dorothy Morris, New Zealand nurse in the Spanish Civil War / Mark Derby.
“This book is based on the vivid, detailed, and evocative letters New Zealand nurse Dorothy Morris sent from Spain and other European countries. They have been supplemented by wide-ranging research to record a life of outstanding professional dedication, resourcefulness, and courage. [...] Dorothy Morris’s remarkable and pioneering work in the fields of military medicine for civilian casualties, and large-scale humanitarian relief projects is told in this book for the first time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe two-state delusion : Israel and Palestine– a tale of two narratives / Padraig O’Malley.
“Disputes over settlements [...] have repeatedly derailed peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Renowned peacemaker Padraig O’Malley argues that the moment for a two-state solution has passed. After examining each issue and speaking with Palestinians and Israelis [...] O’Malley concludes that even if such an agreement could be reached, it would be nearly impossible to implement.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Raj at war : a people’s history of India’s Second World War / Yasmin Khan.
“The Second World War was not fought by Britain alone. India produced the largest volunteer army in world history: over 2 million men. [...] Yasmin Khan presents the hidden and sometimes overlooked history of India at war, and shows how mobilisation for the war introduced seismic processes of economic, cultural and social change — decisively shaping the international war effort, the unravelling of the empire and India’s own political and economic trajectory.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPromised you a miracle : UK80-82 / Andy Beckett.
“The early 1980s in Britain were a time of hope, and of dread: of Cold War tension and imminent conflict [...] Here, Andy Beckett recreates an often misunderstood moment of transition, with all its potential and uncertainty: the first precarious years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. By the end of 1982, the country was changing, leaving the kinder, more sluggish postwar Britain decisively behind, and becoming the country we have lived in ever since: assertive, commercially driven, outward-looking, often harsher than its neighbours.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDeng Xiaoping : a revolutionary life / Alexander V. Pantsov, with Steven I. Levine.
“Deng Xiaoping joined the Chinese Communist movement as a youth and rose in its ranks to become an important lieutenant of Mao’s from the 1930s onward. Two years after Mao’s death in 1976, Deng became the de facto leader of the Chinese Communist Party and the prime architect of China’s post-Mao reforms. Abandoning the Maoist socio-economic policies he had long fervently supported, he set in motion changes that would dramatically transform China’s economy, society, and position in the world. Three decades later, we are living with the results.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNagasaki : life after nuclear war / Susan Southard.
“A poignant and complex picture of the second atomic bomb’s enduring physical and psychological tolls. Eyewitness accounts are visceral and haunting… But the book’s biggest achievement is its treatment of the aftershocks in the decades since 1945.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe left side of history : World War II and the unfulfilled promise of communism in Eastern Europe / Kristen Ghodsee.
“Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi-allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson, brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson, and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe wisdom seeker : finding the seed of advantage in the Khmer Rouge / Pisey Leng as told to Jennifer Colford ; foreword by Rob Hamill.
“Pisey Leng miraculously survived the infamous killing fields of Cambodia that claimed the lives of nearly two million people in the late seventies. In the face of unspeakable horrors, a light shined in Pisey that kept her determined to survive [...] You’ll gain insight into one of the darkest points in human history. Yet your eyes will be opened to the unlimited power you have to: find serenity and peace during the worst of times.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAmerican warlords : how Roosevelt’s high command led America to victory in World War II / Jonathan W. Jordan.
“In a lifetime shaped by politics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proved himself a master manipulator of Congress, the press, and the public. But when war in Europe and Asia threatened America’s shores, FDR found himself in a world turned upside down, where his friends became his foes, his enemies his allies.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPhantom terror : political paranoia and the creation of the modern state, 1789-1848 / Adam Zamoyski.
“For the ruling and propertied classes of the late eighteenth century, the years following the French Revolution were characterized by intense anxiety. Monarchs and their courtiers lived in constant fear of rebellion, convinced that their power–and their heads–were at risk. [...] In this magisterial history, Zamoyski chronicles the moment when desperate monarchs took the world down the path of revolution, terror, and world war.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Fragmented Perspectives – Recent History Picks for August

Fragments of perspectives from the shadowy past characterise much of this month’s picks. Stories as painfully recent as Mike Smith’s Boko Haram are included as well as those as culturally imbued as Weegee’s depictions of NYC and the colonial mission of the Pacific in Margaret Pointer’s freshly illustrated Niue 1774-1974. Fragments from these sometimes uncertain and buried histories make for exciting reading that is elucidated here especially by the nuanced and powerful voices of individuals.

Syndetics book coverThe fortunes of Francis Barber : the true story of the Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson’s heir / Michael Bundock.
“This compelling book chronicles a young boy’s journey from the horrors of Jamaican slavery to the heart of London’s literary world, and reveals the unlikely friendship that changed his life. [...] There were thousands of black Britons in the eighteenth century, but few accounts of their lives exist. In uncovering Francis Barber’s story, this book not only provides insights into his life and Samuel Johnson’s but also opens a window onto London when slaves had yet to win their freedom.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA spy in the archives : a memoir of Cold War Russia / Sheila Fitzpatrick.
“Moscow in the 1960s was the other side of the Iron Curtain: mysterious, exotic, even dangerous. In 1966 the historian Sheila Fitzpatrick traveled to Moscow to research in the Soviet archives. [...] Full of drama and colorful characters, her remarkable memoir highlights the dangers and drudgery faced by Westerners living under communism.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWe’re still here, ya bastards : how the people of New Orleans rebuilt their city / Roberta Brandes Gratz.
“The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of the darkest chapters in American history. [...] By telling stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media, We’re Still Here Ya Bastards shows the strength and resilience of a community that continues to work to rebuild New Orleans, and reveals what Katrina couldn’t destroy: the vibrant culture, epic history, and unwavering pride of one of the greatest cities in America.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBoko Haram : inside Nigeria’s unholy war / Mike Smith.
“An insurgency in Nigeria by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has left thousands dead, shaken Africa’s biggest nation and worried the world. Yet they remain a mysterious-almost unknowable-organization. Through extensive on-the-ground reporting, Smith takes readers inside the violence and provides the first in-depth account of the conflict. [...] Interspersed with Nigerian history, this book delves into the roots of the unholy war being waged against the backdrop of an evolving extremist threat worldwide.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe porcelain thief : searching the Middle Kingdom for buried China / Huan Hsu.
“A journalist travels throughout mainland China and Taiwan in search of his family’s hidden treasure and comes to understand his ancestry as he never has before. [...] Melding memoir, travelogue, and social and political history, The Porcelain Thief offers an intimate and unforgettable way to understand the complicated events that have defined China over the past two hundred years and provides a revealing, lively perspective on contemporary Chinese society from the point of view of a Chinese American coming to terms with his hyphenated identity.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNiue 1774-1974 : 200 years of contact and change / Margaret Pointer.
“Tiny Niue lies alone in the south Pacific, a single island with formidable cliffs rising from the deep ocean. [...] Yet Niue has a surprisingly rich history of contact, from the brief landings by James Cook in 1774 through to the 19th-century visits by whalers, traders, and missionaries, and into the 20th century [...] Together, text and images unravel a fascinating and colorful Pacific story of Nukututaha, the island that stands alone.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDancing with the devil in the City of God : Rio de Janeiro on the brink / Juliana Barbassa.
“In the tradition of Detroit: An American Autopsy and Maximum City comes a deeply reported and beautifully written biography of the seductive and chaotic city of Rio de Janeiro [...] this kaleidoscopic portrait of Rio introduces the reader to the people who make up this city of extremes, revealing their aspirations and their grit, their violence, their hungers and their splendor, and shedding light on the future of this city they are building together.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Weegee guide to New York : roaming the city with its greatest tabloid photographer / researched and compiled by Philomena Mariani and Christopher George.
“Take a walk with Weegee and discover New York City through the eyes of its most unflinching chronicler. During his storied career as the quintessential New York photojournalist, Weegee explored the city’s least glamorous pockets, depicting brutal crimes, horrific accidents, tenement dwellers, street vendors, and mischievous kids. And although his perspective was often dark and cynical, he was also tremendously sentimental about his subjects’ hard lives [...]” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fall of the Ottomans : the Great War in the Middle East / Eugene Rogan.
“In 1914 the Ottoman Empire was depleted of men and resources after years of war against Balkan nationalist and Italian forces. [...] The Great War spelled the end of the Ottomans, unleashing powerful forces that would forever change the face of the Middle East. [...] The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands between the victorious powers, and laid the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOut of ashes : a new history of Europe in the twentieth century / Konrad H. Jarausch.
“Konrad Jarausch describes how the European nations emerged from the nineteenth century with high hopes for continued material progress and proud of their imperial command over the globe, only to become embroiled in the bloodshed of World War I [...] Out of Ashes explores the paradox of the European encounter with modernity in the twentieth century, shedding new light on why it led to cataclysm, inhumanity, and self-destruction, but also social justice, democracy, and peace.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Emergent Understandings – Recent History Picks for July

This month’s selection is a reminder of history’s constant unravelling through the uncovering of memories held by personal archives, secret documents and unheard stories. Picks include Louisa Lim’s sharp lens on the collective amnesia surrounding the events in Tiananmen Square in The People’s Republic of Amnesia and the recently published first English translation of Leon Werth’s 33 days excavated by the ambitious Neversink Library. From James Angelos’ pertinent analysis of Greece’s fiscal situation and it’s wider social impacts in The Full Catastrophe to the scientific acknowledgement of aboriginal Australian knowledge and methodology surrounding land management in The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage, this month’s picks demonstrate the capacity of historical knowledge to emerge at radically different speeds.

Syndetics book coverThe People’s Republic of amnesia : Tiananmen revisited / Louisa Lim.
“Despite its emergence from backward isolation into a dynamic world economic power, a quarter-century after the People’s Army crushed unarmed protestors [...] in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the defining event of China’s modern history remains buried. [...] In The People’s Republic of Amnesia, NPR’s China correspondent Louisa Lim offers an insider’s account of this seminal tragedy, revealing the enormous impact it had on China and the reverberations still felt today.”– Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book cover33 days / Léon Werth ; with an introduction by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ; translated by Austin Denis Johnston.
“The first ever English publication of important French author Leon Werth. Restored here with the original introduction, long thought to be lost, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince. Story Locale: The road from Paris to the line just beyond Occupied France Series Overview: The Neversink Library champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, underappreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored [...]” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe full catastrophe : travels among the new Greek ruins / James Angelos.
“A transporting, good-humored, and revealing account of Greece’s dire troubles, reported from the mountain villages, idyllic islands, and hardscrabble streets that define the country today. [...] With vivid character-driven narratives and engaging reporting that offers an immersive sense of place, he brings to life some of the causes of the country’s financial collapse, and examines the changes, some hopeful and others deeply worrisome, emerging in its aftermath.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe biggest estate on earth : how Aborigines made Australia / Bill Gammage.
“Reveals the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people in presettlement Australia. Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park, with extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands, and abundant wildlife. [...] Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and this book reveals how. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires Australians now experience. With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, this book rewrites the history of the continent, with huge implications for today.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBuy me the sky : the remarkable truth of China’s one-child generations / Xinran ; translated by Esther Tyldesley and David Dobson.
With journalistic acumen and a novelist’s flair, Xinran tells the remarkable stories of men and women born in China after 1979 – the recent generations raised under China’s single-child policy. At a time when the country continues to transform at the speed of light, these generations of precious ‘one and onlies’ are burdened with expectation, yet have often been brought up without any sense of responsibility. [...] Through the fascinating stories of these only children, we catch a startling glimpse of the emerging face of China. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy appeal to the world : in quest of truth and justice on behalf of the Tibetan people, 1961-2011 … / H.H. the Dalai Lama XIV ; presented by Sofia Stril-Rever ; translated from the French by Sebastian Houssiaux.
“His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is the foremost spokesperson for the people of the Tibetan Plateau [...] As a Buddhist monk, his main focus has been the spiritual life, and the leadership of his people in exile, ensuring their survival and preserving their unique Buddhist culture, while appealing to the world to stop the destruction of their homeland and the six million Tibetans oppressed within it.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRavensbrück : life and death in Hitler’s concentration camp for women / Sarah Helm.
“A masterly and moving account of the most horrific hidden atrocity of World War II: Ravensbrück, the only Nazi concentration camp built for women. On a sunny morning in May 1939 a phalanx of 867 women [..] was marched through the woods fifty miles north of Berlin, driven on past a shining lake, then herded in through giant gates. [..] Far more than a catalog of atrocities, however, Ravensbrück is also a compelling account of what one survivor called “the heroism, superhuman tenacity, and exceptional willpower to survive.”(Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe street of wonderful possibilities : Whistler, Wilde & Sargent in Tite Street / Devon Cox.
“A beautifully illustrated art history and cultural biography, The Street of Wonderful Possibilities focuses on one of the most influential artistic quarters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – London’s Tite Street, where a staggering amount of talent thrived between the 1870s and 1930s, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sargent. It provides a new, fresh perspective on legendary figures in British art and literature and explores the relationship between these artists and their living environment [...]” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDancing with the enemy : the gripping story of the Jewish dance instructor who survived Auschwitz by teaching dance to the Nazis / Paul Glaser. Dancing with the Enemy: My Family’s Holocaust Secret
“Paul Glaser was an adult when he learned the truth about his heritage. Raised in a devout Roman Catholic home in the Netherlands, he had never known his father was Jewish and that their family had suffered great losses during the World War II. When Paul inquired, his father refused to provide details about the war, the camps, and especially Rosie, Paul’s estranged aunt [...] Rosie Glaser was a magnificent woman; despite everything, she remained hopeful, exuberant, and, most importantly, cunning [...]” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last empire : the final days of the Soviet Union / Serhii Plokhy.
“On Christmas Day, 1991, President George H. W. Bush addressed the nation to declare an American victory in the Cold War: earlier that day Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned as the first and last Soviet president. [...] Plokhy’s detailed, authoritative account shows that it was only after the movement for independence of the republics had gained undeniable momentum on the eve of the Ukrainian vote for independence that fall that Bush finally abandoned Gorbachev to his fate.” (Adapted Syndetics summary)

Occupations and Operations – Recent History Picks for June

A small selection from a great diversity of fascinating books this month. On the light-hearted side, weaving through stories of national identity and culture, Louise Fili and Helen Russell unpack the idiosyncrasies of Italian and Danish life in Italianissimo and The Year of Living Danishly. From Eric Bogosian’s Operation Nemesis to Stephen Dando-Collins’ Operation Chowhound, chilling tactics and unsettling missions punctuate crucial periods in the 20th century.

Syndetics book coverItalianissimo : the quintessential guide to what Italians do best / by Louise Fili & Lise Apatoff.
“What is it about Italy that inspires passion, fascination, and utter devotion? This quirky guide to the Italian way of life, with its fifty witty mini-essays on iconic Italian subjects, will answer that question as well as entertain and delight both real and armchair travellers [...] This is a new kind of guidebook overflowing with enlightening and hilarious miscellaneous information, filled with luscious graphics and unforgettable photographs that will decode and enrich all trips to Italy-both real and imaginary.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe year of living Danishly : uncovering the secrets of the world’s happiest country / Helen Russell.
“When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness. [...]” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBeale Street dynasty : sex, song, and the struggle for the soul of Memphis / Preston Lauterbach.
“Following the Civil War, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, thrived as a cauldron of sex and song, violence and passion. But out of this turmoil emerged a center of black progress, optimism, and cultural ferment. Preston Lauterbach tells this vivid, fascinating story through the multigenerational saga of a family whose ambition, race pride, and moral complexity indelibly shaped the city that would loom so large in American life. [...]” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe upstairs wife : an intimate history of Pakistan / Rafia Zakaria.
“For a brief moment on December 27, 2007, life came to a standstill in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, the country’s former prime minister and the first woman ever to lead a Muslim country, had been assassinated at a political rally just outside Islamabad. Back in Karachi–Bhutto’s birthplace and Pakistan’s other great metropolis–Rafia Zakaria’s family was suffering through a crisis of its own: her Uncle Sohail, the man who had brought shame upon the family, was near death. In that moment these twin catastrophes–one political and public, the other secret and intensely personal–briefly converged. Zakaria uses that moment to begin her intimate exploration of the country of her birth. [...]” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe tragedy of liberation : a history of the Chinese revolution, 1945-1957 / Frank Dikötter.
“The Chinese Communist party refers to its victory in 1949 as a ‘liberation.’ In China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace, liberty, and justice. It is first and foremost a story of calculated terror and systematic violence.” [...] The Tragedy of Liberation bears witness to a shocking, largely untold history, giving voice at last to the millions who were lost and casting new light on the foundations of one of the most powerful regimes of the twenty-first century.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhen Paris went dark : the City of Light under German occupation, 1940-1944 / Ronald C. Rosbottom.
“On June 14, 1940, German tanks entered a silent and nearly deserted Paris. Eight days later, France accepted a humiliating defeat and foreign occupation. Subsequently, an eerie sense of normalcy settled over the City of Light. WHEN PARIS WENT DARK evokes with stunning precision the detail of daily life in a city under occupation, and the brave people who fought against the darkness. Relying on a range of resources—memoirs, diaries, letters, archives, interviews, personal histories, flyers and posters, fiction, photographs, film and historical studies—Rosbottom has forged a groundbreaking book that will forever influence how we understand those dark years in the City of Light.” (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverOperation Chowhound : the most risky, most glorious US bomber mission of WWII / Stephen Dando-Collins.
“Beginning with a crazy plan hatched by a suspect prince, and an even crazier reliance on the word of the Nazis, Operation Chowhound was devised. Between May 1 and May 8, 1945, 2,268 military units flown by the USAAF, dropped food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in German-occupied Holland. [...] In this gripping narrative, author Stephen Dando-Collins takes the reader into the rooms where Operation Chowhound was born, into the aircraft flying the mission, and onto the ground in the Netherlands with the civilians who so desperately needed help.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOperation Nemesis : the assassination plot that avenged the Armenian genocide / Eric Bogosian.
“A masterful account of the assassins who hunted down the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. [...] Eric Bogosian goes beyond simply telling the story of this cadre of Armenian assassins by setting the killings in the context of Ottoman and Armenian history, as well as showing in vivid color the era’s history, rife with political fighting and massacres. Casting fresh light on one of the great crimes of the twentieth century and one of history’s most remarkable acts of vengeance, Bogosian draws upon years of research and newly uncovered evidence. Operation Nemesis is the result–both a riveting read and a profound examination of evil, revenge, and the costs of violence.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGoodbye, Antoura : a memoir of the Armenian genocide / Karnig Panian ; foreword by Vartan Gregorian ; translated by Simon Beugekian ; edited by Aram Goudsouzian ; introduction and afterword by Keith David Watenpaugh.
“When World War I began, Karnig Panian was only five years old, living among his fellow Armenians in the Anatolian village of Gurin. Four years later, American aid workers found him at an orphanage in Antoura, Lebanon. He was among nearly 1,000 Armenian and 400 Kurdish children who had been abandoned by the Turkish administrators, left to survive at the orphanage without adult care. [...] Panian’s memoir is a full-throated story of loss, resistance, and survival, but told without bitterness or sentimentality. His story shows us how even young children recognize injustice and can organize against it, how they can form a sense of identity that they will fight to maintain. [...]” (Publisher’s website)

Syndetics book coverIslam and Nazi Germany’s war / David Motadel.
“In the most crucial phase of the Second World War, German troops, fighting in regions as far apart as the Sahara and the Caucasus, confronted the Allies across lands largely populated by Muslims. Nazi officials saw Islam as a powerful force with the same enemies as Germany: the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Jews. Islam and Nazi Germany’s War is the first comprehensive account of Berlin’s remarkably ambitious attempts to build an alliance with the Islamic world. [...]” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Recent History Picks for May

The trauma and politics of war in the 20th century are spread thickly in this month’s offering. From the secret ties of those in the spotlight to the hidden operations of the typically invisible code-breakers behind World War 1, these recent picks offer an unravelling that continues to make sense of some crucial moments in world history and their reverberations today.

Syndetics book coverBeijing bastard : into the wilds of a changing China / Val Wang.
“A humorous and moving coming-of-age story that brings a unique, not-quite-outsider’s perspective to China’s shift from ancient empire to modern superpower. Raised in a strict Chinese-American household in the suburbs, Val Wang dutifully got good grades, took piano lessons, and performed in a Chinese dance troupe–until she shaved her head and became a leftist, the stuff of many teenage rebellions. But Val’s true mutiny was when she moved to China, the land her parents had fled before the Communist takeover in 1949. Brilliantly observed and winningly told, Beijing Bastard is a compelling story of a young woman finding her place in the world and of China, as its ancient past gives way to a dazzling but uncertain future.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover17 carnations : the royals, the Nazis and the biggest cover-up in history / Andrew Morton.
“A meticulously researched historical tour de force about the secret ties among Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, the Duke of Windsor, and Adolf Hitler before, during, and after World War II. Andrew Morton tells the story of the feckless Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor, his American wife, Wallis Simpson, the bizarre wartime Nazi plot to make him a puppet king after the invasion of Britain, and the attempted cover-up by Churchill, General Eisenhower, and King George VI of the duke’s relations with Hitler… 17 CARNATIONS is a dazzling historical drama, full of adventure, intrigue, and startling revelations, written by a master of the genre.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMurder, mayhem and music hall : the dark side of Victorian London / Barry Anthony.
“The Strand is one of London’s most iconic streets – today the bustling and thriving home of West End theatres and the luxurious Savoy hotel; in the Victorian era, the Strand was a much more seedy and destitute part of the city. Barry Anthony here explores the criminal and socially subversive behaviour which abounded in and around the Victorian Strand… With a cast of colourful characters and through a series of exotic episodes Barry Anthony conjures up the sights and sounds of Victorian London and transports the reader a hundred and fifty years back in time to the heyday of Victorian theatre – and into the throes of the Victorian underworld.” ( summary)

Syndetics book coverEndgame at Stalingrad / David M. Glantz ; with Jonathan M. House.
“The campaign intended to secure the Wehrmacht’s flanks had proven one front too many for the German Army. And now the offensive at Stalingrad, the epic clash that marked Germany’s failure on the Eastern Front, was entering its grim final phase. In Book One of the third volume of his acclaimed Stalingrad Trilogy , David Glantz offers the definitive account–the “ground truth” to counter a half-century’s worth of myth and misinformation… These materials lend themselves to a strikingly new interpretation of the campaign’s planning and execution on both sides–a version of events that once and for all gets at the ground truth of this historic confrontation.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBattleground Prussia : the assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45 / Prit Buttar.
“The terrible months between the arrival of the Red Army on German soil and the final collapse of Hitler’s regime were like no other in the Second World War. The Soviet Army’s intent to take revenge for the horror that the Nazis had wreaked on their people produced a conflict of implacable brutality in which millions perished… Author Prit Buttar spins a mesmerizing tale accompanied by rare photographs and informative maps.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRescue at Los Baños : the most daring prison camp raid of World War II / Bruce Henderson.
“From the bestselling author of Hero Found comes the incredible true story of one of the greatest military rescues of all time, the 1945 World War II prison camp raid at Los Baños in the Philippines–a tale of daring, courage, and heroism that joins the ranks of Ghost Soldiers, Unbroken, and The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. In February 1945, as the U.S. victory in the Pacific drew nearer, the Japanese army grew desperate, and its soldiers guarding U.S. and Allied POWs more sadistic… Rescue at Los Baños tells the story of a remarkable group of prisoners–whose courage and fortitude helped them overcome hardship, deprivation, and cruelty–and of the young American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who risked their lives to save them.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMotherland : growing up with the Holocaust / Rita Goldberg.
“I am the child of a woman who survived the Holocaust not by the skin of her teeth but heroically . . . This book tells the story of her dramatic life before, during and after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.” ( summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Third Reich in history and memory / Richard J. Evans.
“In the seventy years since the demise of the Third Reich, there has been a significant transformation in the ways in which the modern world understands Nazism. In this brilliant and eye-opening collection, Richard J. Evans, the acclaimed author of the Third Reich trilogy, offers a critical commentary on that transformation, exploring how major changes in perspective have informed research and writing on the Third Reich in recent years.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSecret warriors : the spies, scientists and code breakers of World War I / Taylor Downing.
“World War I is often viewed as a war fought by armies of millions living and fighting in trenches, aided by brutal machinery that cost the lives of many. But behind all of this an intellectual war was also being fought between engineers, chemists, code-breakers, physicists, doctors, mathematicians, and intelligence gatherers… Told in a lively and colorful narrative style, Secret Warriors reveals the unknown side of this tragic conflict.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe edge of the world : a cultural history of the North Sea and the transformation of Europe / Michael Pye.
“Saints and spies, pirates and philosophers, artists and intellectuals: they all criss-crossed the grey North Sea in the so-called “dark ages,” the years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of Europe’s mastery over the oceans. Now the critically acclaimed Michael Pye reveals the cultural transformation sparked by those men and women: the ideas, technology, science, law, and moral codes that helped create our modern world… In The Edge of the World, Michael Pye draws on an astounding breadth of original source material to illuminate this fascinating region during a pivotal era in world history.” (Syndetics summary)

Recent History Picks for April

This month’s recent history picks are big on mood and journey. Eric Foner’s unprecedented research sheds more light on the harrowing escape stories of the Underground Railroad, while Johnny Steinberg charts a refugee’s turbulent displacement across Africa. Atmospheres take on a more interiorized and reflective tone in Adam Thorpe’s On Silbury Hill and Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s complicated navigation through personal and national tragedy in Japan. These are picks for readers that want to feel transported.

My Dear BessieMy dear Bessie : a love story in letters / Chris Barker & Bessie Moore ; edited and introduced by Simon Garfield.
Twenty hours have gone since I last wrote. I have been thinking of you. I shall think of you until I post this, and until you get it. Can you feel, as you read these words, that I am thinking of you now; aglow, alive, alert at the thought that you are in the same world, and by some strange chance loving me. In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends. One of these was Bessie Moore, a former work colleague. The unexpected warmth of Bessie’s reply changed their lives forever. Crossing continents and years, their funny, affectionate and intensely personal letters are a remarkable portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of the Second World War.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJourneys home : inspiring stories, plus tips and strategies to find your family history : featuring Andrew McCarthy, Joyce Maynard, Pico Iyer, Diane Johnson & the National Geographic travel team ; foreword by Dr. Spencer Wells, National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
“Actor and award-winning travel writer Andrew McCarthy discovers his ancestry in a compelling narrative that combines 26 intriguing and heartfelt stories about discovering home and roots with tips and recommendations on how to begin your own explorations. Sidebars and a hefty resource section provide tips and recommendations on how to go about your own research, and a foreword by the Genographic Project’s Spencer Wells sets the scene. Stunning images, along with family heirlooms, old photos, recipes, and more, round out this unique take on the genealogical research craze” (Provided by publisher)

Syndetics book coverGallipoli : the Dardanelles disaster in soldiers’ words and photographs / Richard van Emden and Stephen Chambers.
“Presenting more than 150 never-before-published photographs of the campaign, many taken by the soldiers themselves, together with unpublished written material from British, Anzac, French and Turkish, including eyewitness accounts of the landings, this is an unrivalled account of what really happened at Gallipoli. Leading First World War historian Richard van Emden and Gallipoli expert Stephen Chambers have produced an entirely fresh, personal and illuminating study of one of the Great War’s most catastrophic events.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe French intifada : the long war between France and its Arabs / Andrew Hussey.
“On June 14, 1830 France invaded Algiers. It was the first invasion of an Arab country since the Crusades. While the initial invasion was surprisingly simple, the years since have been full of violence and confusion between France and the neighboring Arab world in North Africa. Hussey’s (Paris: The Secret History) book is a starkly written account of the increasingly disturbing resulting relationship between the French and its Arab population that will serve as a startling and perplexing account of the state of conflict in a contemporary world.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverPaper love : searching for the girl my grandfather left behind / Sarah Wildman.
“Wildman takes an unexpected journey through her family’s past to piece together her grandfather’s history and uncover the fate of a young woman bound in unforeseen ways to her own life. Always believing that her grandfather had been incredibly blessed and extremely lucky to escape from Vienna and Nazi persecution on the eve of WWII, the author was surprised to discover, after her grandfather’s death, a cache of passionate letters from Valy, her grandfather’s first love. Determined to track the tragic trajectory of her grandfather’s early life a bitter chapter he repressed and glossed over for years and to retrace the harrowing odyssey of the woman he left behind, she traveled the globe in search of evidence and answers.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverOn Silbury Hill / Adam Thorpe.
“Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, England, has inspired and perplexed people for generations. Artists and poets have fathomed their deepest thoughts searching for the hill’s hidden meanings, archaeologists have tunneled through earth for fragments that prove its purpose. But for all this endeavor, Silbury Hill remains a mystery. On Silbury Hill is Adam Thorpe’s own projection onto Silbury’s grassy slopes. Twenty years after the publication of his classic novel Ulverton, the acclaimed poet and novelist revisits the landscape that inspired him. It is a chalkland memoir, told in fragments and family snapshots, skillfully built, layer on layer, from Britain’s ancient and modern past.” ( summary)

Syndetics book coverWhere the dead pause, and the Japanese say goodbye : a journey / Marie Mutsuki Mockett.
“In her memoir, which takes place shortly after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, novelist Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash) embarks on a poignant spiritual journey through Japan, seeking solace after the death of her American father three years earlier and to bury her Japanese grandfather’s bones. Touching on themes of modernity and tradition, Mockett takes part in various religious customs to come to terms with her grief and understand her mixed-cultural heritage. The author’s background as novelist is evident in her skilled descriptions of the changing seasons…with nuanced details of the nation’s struggle after the March disaster to provide an intimate snapshot of the island nation’s complex culture.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverHong Kong state of mind : 37 views of a city that doesn’t blink / Jason Y. Ng.
“Hong Kong is a mixed bag of a city. It is where Mercedes outnumber taxi cabs, partygoers count down to Christmas every December 24, and larger-than-life billboards of fortune tellers and cram school tutors compete with breathtaking skylines. Hong Kong State of Mind is a collection of essays by a popular blogger who zeroes in on the city’s idiosyncrasies with deadpan precision. At once an outsider looking in and an insider looking out, Ng has created something for everyone: a travel journal for the passing visitor, a user’s manual for the wide-eyed expat, and an open diary for the native Hong Konger looking for moments of reflection.” (Syndetics sumary)

Syndetics book coverGateway to freedom : the hidden history of the underground railroad / Eric Foner.
“In the 1850s, when so much of the commerce of New York was tied to slavery, political sentiments were not necessarily aligned with abolitionists. Still, a powerful contingent of New Yorkers, from freed slaves as much concerned about their own welfare in the face of the threat of kidnappings to more prominent citizens secretly involved in clandestine activities that mostly went undocumented for obvious reasons, worked to resist slavery. Drawing on previously untapped sources in an archive at Columbia University, Foner offers meticulous accounts of how abolitionists helped escaped slaves travel between the South to safety in upstate New York and Canada.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverA man of good hope / Jonny Steinberg.
“South African journalist Steinberg (Sizwe’s Test) vividly recounts one Somali man’s experience of diaspora, resulting in a book that is part biography and part contemporary history. Steinberg first met Asad Abudullahi in 2010, in the wake of the South African riots that targeted the thousands of refugees, among them Asad, drawn there by the promise of a better life. In 1991, Asad, not yet in his teens, fled the anarchy in his native country, ending up in Kenya. He honed his survival instincts in Nairobi’s slums before traveling to Ethiopia in search of members of his fractured family… When Asad eventually reached South Africa in 2004, he took on the dangerous work of running a shop in one of the country’s poorest townships… The book’s subject matter may be unfamiliar to most Americans, but Steinberg’s thoughtful approach and Asad’s attitude of droll resilience make for a tale that any reader can appreciate.” (Publisher Weekly)

New Zealand’s history, not just the rich and famous

The past stories and history of New Zealand are not only the domain of the rich and famous. This month in the New Zealand collection we feature some stories of early pioneers whose names are not famous or well known but who played their part in the history of New Zealand.

Syndetics book coverOur stories : the way we used to be : the New Zealand that time forgot… / edited by Ian Wishart.
Every day, thousands of news stories are published in New Zealand, chronicling the big events and the small. Most of these stories are long forgotten by the time historians get around to compiling the ‘official record’ of our country. Discover the heroes and villains of our past through long forgotten news stories, and find out how life really was in pioneer New Zealand. (Adapted from back cover)

Syndetics book coverWorking lives c. 1900 : a photographic essay / Erik Olssen.
For the men and women of the skilled trades in the early 20th century, the skills and knowledge of their respective crafts were a source of identity and pride. Together with the so-called unskilled, who built the infrastructure for the new society, these workers laid the cultural and social foundations of a new and fairer society. This book uses photographs to show two processes fundamental to creating a new society: the transformation of swamp into farmland then city-scape, and the transplantation of the knowledge and skill required in the Old World that were essential to building a new world. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRough on women : abortion in 19th-century New Zealand / by Margaret Sparrow.
“Stories of abortion in 19th-century New Zealand, from newspaper accounts, court records and coroner’s reports”–Publisher information. The women in this book are all long dead and little is known of their inner lives. Most of what we know about them comes from coroners’ reports and newspaper accounts, and in many cases we know more about their abortionists than the women themselves. Women obtained abortions by whatever means they could, despite the dangers of poisoning, haemorrhage, and infection. And abortionists did their work despite the threat of long prison sentences or even the death penalty. (Adapted from back cover)

Syndetics book coverStolen lives : a New Zealand foster child’s story from the ’40s and ’50s / Netta England.
Netta and her older brother Ray hardly knew their mother. She was a strange woman who made occasional visits, and they did not even know they had a Father. Instead from a very early age they lived with foster parents and at school were treated as different. Growing up, Netta became increasingly aware that her foster mother disliked her. Though never starved, Netta suffered neglect, as well as mental, physical and sexual abuse. After her brother’s death in 1976, Netta, by then married with a grown up family, began her long journey to learn about and understand what had happened in the past. She wanted to find out if somewhere out there was a family, her own family that she could belong to. How would she find them, and would they want to know her? She needed to find her roots. Stolen Lives is the record of Netta’s journey from a neglected and abused state ward, to a woman who discovers her heritage and creates a positive life regardless of her upbringing. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPete the Bushman : hunting tales and back-country lessons from a wild West Coaster / Peter Salter with Nigel Zega.
The adventures of Pete the Bushman, a wild West-coaster from Pukekura, New Zealand’s answer to Crocodile Dundee and a man who owns his own town. This book about a true New Zealand bushman, of a life lived against the grain, of adventure in New Zealand’s thickest wilderness and a lifestyle any Kiwi bloke would envy. Pete the Bushman has lived a life inseparable from the bush – these are his stories of running down deer on foot, heli-hunting in his own chopper, finding the perfect woman and eking out a living from the bush. He and his wife Justine run the Bushman’s Centre, 35 mins south of Hokitika, established in 1991 as a place to show visitors how local people use the South Island forest. Also known as ‘Possum Pete’, the Bushman is one of the eccentric and colourful characters featured on TVNZ’s ‘This Town’. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVertical living : the Architectural Centre and the remaking of Wellington / Julia Gatley and Paul Walker.
“… we of this Architectural Centre in Wellington are a group of architects and draughtsmen and wood engravers and other people whose greatest claim to affiliation is an overriding enthusiasm for good design” – Design Review, 1948. In 1946, just as the Group was being established in Auckland, Wellington established the Architectural Centre. Members of both were young and idealistic, and they shared common beliefs – in the transformative potential of modern architecture, in need for urban development to be carefully controlled, in the desirability of planning for a better future. This book recovers the powerful history, politics and architecture of the Architectural Centre to return us to a vision of a modernist city, partially realised in Wellington New Zealand. Gatley and Walker begin writing the city back into the history of architecture in this country. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJourney to a hanging / Peter Wells.
“In 1865, Rev Carl Sylvius Volkner was hanged, his head cut off, his eyes eaten and his blood drunk from his church chalice. One name – Kereopa Te Rau (Kaiwhatu: The Eye-eater) – became synonymous with the murder. In 1871 he was captured, tried and sentenced to death. But then something remarkable happened. Sister Aubert and William Colenso – two of the greatest minds in colonial New Zealand – came to his defence. Regardless, Kereopa Te Rau was hanged in Napier Prison. But even a century and a half later, the events have not been laid to rest. Questions continue to emerge: Was it just? Was it right? Was Kereopa Te Rau even behind the murder? And who was Volkner – was he a spy or an innocent?” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverHow we remember : New Zealanders and the First World War / edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts.
“Essays by a raft of historians, writers and other prominent figures reflect on our different forms of remembering and re-membering, what we have cherished and valued, forgotten and ignored, constructed and reframed” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverVictory : New Zealand airmen and the fall of Germany / Max Lambert.
“Here are the vivid, inspiring and previously unpublished stories of the New Zealand fliers – most in their early 20s, some still teenagers – who lived and died in the service of their country while flying with the Royal Air Force from bases in Britain and from airfields in northwest Europe after the invasion of 1944, published to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D Day and the beginning of the end of World War II” (Publisher information)

Digging for Richard III in a car park in Leicester? History recent picks for June

Our history recent picks this month cover a broad range of topics, from a friendship between Nelson Mandela and one of his Robben Island jailers, to the story of the archaeological find of the bones of Richard III in a car park (!) in Leicester. Plus, discover Andrew Robinson’s history of India — the world’s largest democracy — and read about a third of a million country women and the story of their lives in England during the Second World War. Have a browse, and enjoy!

Syndetics book coverDigging for Richard III : how archaeology found the king / Mike Pitts.
“The events of Richard IIIs reign and his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth are known worldwide through Shakespeares most performed, filmed and translated history play. Digging for Richard III is the page-turning story of how his grave was found, the people behind the discovery and what it tells us. It is the first complete narrative of a project that blended passion, science, luck and detection. Told by a noted archaeologist with access to all the parties involved, it follows the quest from an idea born in an Edinburgh bookshop to the day, fourteen years later, when two archaeologists carefully raised the bones from a car park in Leicester, and the scientific studies that resulted. The vivid tale of a king, his demise and now his rediscovery, this is also an insiders gripping account of how modern archaeology really works, of how clues meticulously assembled and forensically examined are pieced together to create a narrative worthy of the finest detective fiction.” (

Syndetics book coverJambusters : the story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War / Julie Summers.
“The Second World War was the Women’s Institute’s finest hour. The whole of its previous history – two decades of educating, entertaining and supporting women and campaigning on women’s issues – culminated in the enormous collective responsibility felt by the members to ‘do their bit’ for Britain. With all the vigour, energy and enthusiasm at their disposal, a third of a million country women set out to make their lives and the lives of those around them more bearable in what they described as ‘a period of insanity’. Jambusters tells the story of the minute and idiosyncratic details of everyday life during the Second World War. Making jam, making do and mending, gathering rosehips, keeping pigs and rabbits, housing evacuees, setting up canteens for the troops, knitting, singing and campaigning for a better Britain after the war: all these activities played a crucial role in war time.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe wars of Reconstruction : the brief, violent history of America’s most progressive era / Douglas R. Egerton.
“A history of the Reconstruction years, which marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the Civil Rights movement, tells the stories of the African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality after the Civil War.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverKo te whenua te utu = Land is the price : essays on Māori history, land and politics / M.P.K. Sorrenson.
“In this new book, Sorrenson brings together his major writing from the last 56 years into a powerful whole – covering topics from the origins of Māori (and Pākehā ideas about those origins), through land purchases and the King Movement of the nineteenth century, and on to twentieth-century politics and the new history of the Waitangi Tribunal. Throughout his career, Sorrenson has been concerned with the international context for New Zealand history while also attempting to understand and explain Māori conceptions and Pākehā ideas from the inside. And he has been determined to tell the real story of Maori losses of land and their political responses as, in the face of Pakeha colonisation, they became a minority in their own country. Ko te Whenua te Utu / Land is the Price is a powerful history of Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverFour thousand lives : the rescue of German Jewish men to Britain, 1939 / Clare Ungerson.
“In November 1938 about 30,000 German Jewish men were taken to concentration camps where they were subjected to torture, starvation and arbitrary death. In Four Thousand Lives, Clare Ungerson tells the remarkable story of how the grandees of Anglo-Jewry persuaded the British Government to allow them to establish a transit camp in Sandwich, East Kent, to which up to 4,000 men could be brought while they waited for permanent settlement overseas. The whole rescue was funded by the British Jewish community, with help from American Jewry. Most of the men had to leave their families behind. Would they get them out in time? And how would the people of Sandwich – a town the same size as the camp – react to so many German speaking Jewish foreigners? Four Thousand Lives is not just a story of salvation, but also a revealing account of how a small English community reacted to the arrival of so many German Jews in their midst.” (

Syndetics book coverIndia : a short history / Andrew Robinson.
“In ten incisive chapters Andrew Robinson provides a clear focus to each segment of the unfolding story of Indian history, from the remarkable cities of the Indus Valley civilization four millennia ago to the Hindu dynasties, from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj, and from Indian independence to the nations emergence as the worlds largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies in the modern era.” (

Syndetics book coverMandela : my prisoner, my friend / Christo Brand with Barbara Jones.
“Christo Brand was a South African farm boy, born into the Afrikaans culture which had created apartheid to persecute black people and claim superiority for whites. Nelson Mandela, also raised in a rural village, was the black son of a tribal chief. He trained as a lawyer to take up the fight against apartheid on behalf of a whole nation. Their opposing worlds collided when Christo, a raw recruit from the country’s prison service, was sent to Robben Island to guard the notoriously dangerous terrorists there. Mandela was their undisputed leader. The two of them, a boy of 18 and a long-suffering freedom fighter then aged 60, could well have become bitter enemies. Instead, they formed an extraordinary friendship through small human kindnesses. [...] This book tells the story of their friendship in Christo’s words for the first time.” (

Syndetics book cover1177 B.C. : the year civilization collapsed / Eric H. Cline.
“In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the “Sea Peoples” invaded Egypt. The pharaoh’s army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians. The thriving economy and cultures of the late second millennium B.C., which had stretched from Greece to Egypt and Mesopotamia, suddenly ceased to exist, along with writing systems, technology, and monumental architecture. But the Sea Peoples alone could not have caused such widespread breakdown. How did it happen? In this major new account of the causes of this “First Dark Ages,” Eric Cline tells the gripping story of how the end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures.” (

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