Revisions and Revisitations – Recent History picks for June

This month’s selections contain a few updated histories, including Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain now covering the Brexit vote and aftermath, and a new version of Jeff Evans’ Polynesian Navigation and the Discovery of New Zealand. Old and new conflicts also go under the microscope, with World War II revisited from several perspectives, while Michael Zacchea’s The Ragged Edge looks at the rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces and the insurgency that would later develop into ISIS.

Syndetics book coverAgent 110 / Scott Miller.
“In November 1942, American spymaster Allen Dulles slipped into Switzerland. His mission: to report on the inner workings of the Third Reich. Code-named Agent 110 by the OSS, he discovered a network of Germans conspiring to overthrow Hitler. Aided by his mistress, an American journalist, Dulles built a network of secret agents and became convinced that Moscow aimed to dominate postwar Europe. He desperately sought Washington’s support in Operation Valkyrie, and worked with a ruthless Nazi SS general to secure the surrender of all German forces in Italy. Dulles himself would eventually lead the CIA during the Cold War, driven by his wartime distrust of the Soviets.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPolynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand / Jeff Evans ; foreword by Francis Cowan.
Polynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand offers a straightforward account of how and why Polynesian seafarers made their journey south to New Zealand shores. The first part discusses the origins of the voyages, legends of the homeland and the explorer Kupe, traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, and the preservation of seafaring knowledge by Māori. The second part presents a gripping account of the canoe Hawaiki-nui retracing the route from Tahiti to New Zealand in 1985 using traditional voyaging methods.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe Nazis : the hidden history, the catastrophic impact of the Third Reich / Jonathan J. Moore.
“Historian and writer Jonathan J. Moore examines the horrific nature of the Nazi regime in all its gruesome detail. He draws on the latest research to answer many of the unanswered questions about the Nazi state and provides many fascinating and original insights into the period.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverShoot like a girl : one woman’s dramatic fight in Afghanistan and on the home front / Mary Jennings Hegar.
“In 2009, Air National Guard major Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar was shot down in Afghanistan. Despite being wounded, she fought the enemy and saved the lives of her crew and their patients. But it was on American soil that Hegar would embark on her greatest challenge – to eliminate the military’s Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, which kept female armed service members from officially serving in combat roles. MJ takes the reader on a dramatic journey through her military career: a true story of a brave, high-spirited, and unforgettable woman who has spent much of her life ready to sacrifice everything for her country, her fellow man, and her sense of justice.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ragged edge : a US Marine’s account of leading the Iraqi Army Fifth Battalion / Michael Zacchea and Ted Kemp.
“Deployed to Iraq in March 2004 after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, US Marine Michael Zacchea thought he had landed a plum assignment. His team’s mission was to build, train, and lead in combat the first Iraqi Army battalion trained by the US military. He had little time to transform his troops into a cohesive rifle battalion that would fight a new insurgency erupting across Iraq. In order to stand up a fighting battalion, he would have to understand his men. Unlike other Marines in Iraq, he immersed himself in Iraq’s culture: learning its languages, eating its foods, observing its traditions, even being inducted into one of its Sunni tribes. The Ragged Edge is Zacchea’s deeply personal and powerful account of hopeful determination, of brotherhood and betrayal, and of cultural ignorance and misunderstanding.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe war beat, Europe : the American media at war against Nazi Germany / Steven Casey.
“From the North African desert to the bloody stalemate in Italy, from the London blitz to the D-Day beaches, a group of highly courageous and extremely talented American journalists reported the war against Nazi Germany for a grateful audience. Based on a wealth of previously untapped primary sources, War Beat, Europe provides the first comprehensive account of what these reporters witnessed, what they were allowed to publish, and how their reports shaped the home front’s perception of some of the most pivotal battles in American history.” (Abridged from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverA history of modern Britain / Andrew Marr.
“This engaging volume tells the story of how the great political visions and idealisms of Victorian Britain came to be defeated by a culture of consumerism, celebrity, and self-gratification. It explains how in each decade, political leaders found themselves confounded by the British people, who always turned out to be harder to herd than predicted. Historically Britain has been a country on the edge—first of invasion, then of bankruptcy, then on the vulnerable front line of the Cold War, and later in the forefront of the great opening up of capital and migration.” (Abridged from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverThe history of the future : American essays / Edward McPherson.
“In The History of the Future, McPherson reexamines American places and the space between history, experience, and myth. Private streets, racism, and the St. Louis World’s Fair; fracking for oil and digging for dinosaurs in North Dakota boomtowns-Americana slides into apocalypse in these essays, revealing us to ourselves.” (Syndetics summary)

Ideas and Society Newsletter for March

You can now borrow brand new tablets from Wellington City Libraries for three weeks! This month’s Ideas and Society recent picks feature Katherine Mansfield’s poetry collection, a New Zealand home buyer’s guide, festivals in the southern hemisphere, and planet Vulcan.

Library News

Literature

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s best known writer, but it’s for her short stories we remember her. It now emerges that she was a significant poet too. Claire Davison has arranged the poems chronologically in a beautiful little book so that we can chart her development, her experimentation with different forms and see the themes which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.
At the other end of the spectrum are two amusing little books, one of limericks written by Michael Palin and the other an imaginary look at what celebrities might carry in their handbags.

Syndetics book cover The collected poems of Katherine Mansfield / edited by Gerri Kimber & Claire Davison.
“This edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as tracing the themes – love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song – that preoccupied her throughout her writing life.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The man who invented fiction : how Cervantes ushered in the modern world / William Egginton.
“In the early seventeenth century, a crippled, graying, almost toothless veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published a book. It was the story of a poor nobleman, his brain addled from reading too many books of chivalry, who deludes himself that he is a knight errant and sets off on hilarious adventures. That book, Don Quixote , went on to sell more copies than any other book beside the Bible, making its author, Miguel de Cervantes, the single most-read author in human history.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Carry this book / Abbi Jacobson.
“With bright, quirky, and colourful line drawings, Jacobson brings to life actual and imagined items found in the pockets and purses, bags and glove compartments of real and fantastical people-whether it’s the contents of Oprah’s favorite purse, Amelia Earhart’s pencil case, or Bernie Madoff’s suitcase. Carry This Book provides a humorous and insightful look into how the things we carry around every day can make up who we are.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Little grey cells : the quotable Poirot / Agatha Christie ; edited by David Brawn.
“A charming, beautifully designed collection of bite-sized wisdom from Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot–delightful, witty, and perceptive quotations and bon mots to stimulate every fan’s little grey cells.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

The highlight of this months’ books is The Machine Stops, in which 12 artists write to E.M. Forster’s imaginary Machine. The story “The Machine Stops” is included, and the book makes for fascinating reading. Also important at the moment is What is a Refugee?, a very timely book, a touch of comedy in The Revenge of Anguished English, and a new edition of the well praised Prosperity without Growth rounds up our selection.

Syndetics book cover The machine stops / E.M. Forster; with contributions by Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström and R. Lyon … [et. al.] ; edited by Erik Wysocan.
“In 1909 E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote his one work of dystopian science fiction, The Machine Stops, which imagines the world in the aftermath of an ecological crisis, where humans live in underground chambers without physical contact. Here, 12 artists–Julieta Aranda, Fia Backstrom and R. Lyon, Ed Atkins, Ian Cheng, Melanie Gilligan, Pedro Neves Marques, Tobias Madison, Jeff Nagy, Rachel Rose, Bea Schlingelhoff and Mariana Silva–contribute texts addressing culture in the networked age.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover What is a refugee? / William Maley.
“Arguing that Western states are now reaping the consequences of policies aimed at blocking safe and ‘legal’ access to asylum, What is a Refugee? shows why many proposed solutions to the refugee ‘problem’ will exacerbate tension and risk fuelling the growth of extremism among people who have been denied all hope. This lucid book also tells of the families and individuals who have sought refuge, highlighting the suffering, separation and dislocation on their perilous journeys to safety.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Buyer beware : a New Zealand home buyer’s guide / Maria Slade.
“How to negotiate the minefield of buying a home in New Zealand today. Property prices going through the stratosphere, leaky buildings, P contamination, bullying body corporates – purchasing a house today can feel akin to entering a minefield. Written by a news journalist who has covered many of the horror stories, this book takes a no-holds-barred look at the challenges facing home buyers and offers savvy advice on how to navigate that minefield. It will appeal to all home buyers, from first-timers hoping for a small apartment to older people looking to downsize and everyone in between.” (Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

If you’re looking for inspiration, challenge, or reflection, there’s some great holiday reading to begin the year. Two important recommended titles to note are The Little History Of Religion, and the latest biography of Samuel Marsden.

Syndetics book cover Talking God : philosophers on belief, edited by Gary Gutting.
Where does belief come from? This book features conversations with twelve skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and believers including challenges from evolution, cutting-edge physics and cosmology, and meditations on the value of secular humanism. Insights on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity are offered.
Syndetics book cover A little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.
Syndetics book cover Awakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).
Syndetics book cover Festivals in the Southern Hemisphere : insights into cosmic and seasonal aspects of the whole earth, by Martin Samson.
Many festivals draw on northern hemisphere seasons. This has led some to suggest that some festivals in the southern hemisphere should be celebrated at opposite times of the year: for example, celebrating Christmas in June. Rudolf Steiner shared cosmic, spiritual imaginations for the northern hemisphere, and in this book Martin Samson develops a useful equivalent guide for the southern hemisphere.

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History

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book cover A history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Tokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

This month’s selection features a myriad of stellar books discussing adventures to Mars, meteorites, the planet Vulcan, and telescopic advances, as well as popular authors such as Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Syndetics book cover Forces of nature, by Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
Popular presenter Professor Brian Cox uncovers some of the most extraordinary natural events on Earth and in the Universe and beyond. The forces of nature shape everything we see and the results are astonishing. In seeking to understand the everyday world, the colours, structure, behaviour and history of our home, we develop the knowledge and techniques necessary to step beyond the everyday to understand the Universe beyond.
Syndetics book cover Mars : making contact, by Rod Pyle.
This book offers a visually stunning insider’s look at how Mars has been explored and the challenges facing future missions. The first 22 grainy closeups were in 1965, but the probes didn’t land until 1976. Today the two rovers Curiosity and Opportunity have allowed us to make even more discoveries of ancient rivers, lakes, ocean beds, and valleys. Plans for a manned mission to Mars, are discussed including the spacecraft design and surviving on the planet’s inhospitable surface. Another new book on Mars is Mars One, humanity’s next great adventure.
Syndetics book cover Meteorite, by Maria Golia.
‘Meteorite’ tells the long history of our engagement with these sky-born rocks, which are among the rarest things on earth. … This richly illustrated, wide-ranging account surveys the place of meteoric phenomena in science, myth, art, literature and popular culture.”(Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hunt for Vulcan : how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet and deciphered the universe, by Thomas Levenson.
In 1859, scientist Urbain LeVerrier discovered that the planet Mercury’s orbit shifts over time. His explanation was that there had to be an unseen planet Vulcan circling even closer to the sun. Astronomers of their generation began to seek out Vulcan and at least a dozen reports of discovery were filed. But a young Albert Einstein came up with a theory of gravity that also happened to prove that Mercury’s orbit could indeed be explained – not by Newton’s theories but by Einstein’s own theory of general relativity.

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Recent History Picks for January

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book coverNotes from the blockade, and, A story of pity and cruelty / Lydia Ginzburg
“From her experience as a survivor of the 900-day siege of Leningrad, Lidiya Ginzburg has created a remarkable hero in whom she distils the experience of life under siege. Though she depicts the harrowing conditions, the reader takes away an impression of the dignity, vitality, and intellectual resilience of the thinking mind as it makes sense of extreme experience. This classic work of documentary fiction will be the first introduction of a major 20th-century Russian writer to many English-language readers.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIndigenous London : native travellers at the heart of empire / Coll Thrush.
“Historian Coll Thrush offers an imaginative vision of the city’s past crafted from an almost entirely new perspective: that of Indigenous children, women, and men who travelled there, willingly or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, beginning in the sixteenth century. Thrush illustrates how London learned to be a global, imperial city and how Indigenous people were central to that process.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAnd the monkey learned nothing : dispatches from a life in transit / Tom Lutz.
“Without an itinerary and without a goal, Tom Lutz is on a mission to visit every country on earth, describing personal encounters in rarely visited spots and anecdotes from way off the beaten path. With an eye out for both the sublime and the ridiculous, Lutz falls, regularly, into the instant intimacy of the road with random strangers.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNative American almanac : more than 50,000 years of the cultures and histories of indigenous peoples / Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder and Shannon Rothenberger Flynn.
“A primer on the Native American experience, presenting the rich history and continuing legacy of the indigenous and tribal nations. Fascinating biographies, insightful quotes, detailed data and absorbing narratives bring the stories of indigenous people to life, bringing unique insight into the American nation.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnder the shadow : rage and revolution in modern Turkey / Kaya Genç.
“Turkey stands at the crossroads of the Middle East―caught between the West and ISIS, Syria and Russia, and governed by an increasingly forceful leader. Acclaimed writer Kaya Genç; has been covering his country for the past decade. In Under the Shadow he meets activists from both sides of Turkey’s political divide, getting to the heart of the compelling conflicts between history and modernity in the Middle East.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again.  Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy brother’s keeper : Christians who risked all to protect Jewish targets of the Nazi Holocaust / Rod Gragg.
My Brother’s Keeper unfolds powerful stories of Christians from across denominations who gave everything they had to save the Jewish people from the evils of the Holocaust. In one gripping profile after another, these extraordinary historical accounts offer stories of steadfast believers who together helped thousands of Jewish individuals and families to safety. Many of these everyday heroes perished alongside the very people they were trying to protect.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fifth beginning : what six million years of human history can tell us about our future / Robert L. Kelly.
“From four key pivot points in the six-million-year history of human development, Kelly looks ahead, giving us evidence for what he calls a fifth beginning, one that started about AD 1500 that some would call “globalization.” Kelly predicts that this will include the end of war as a viable way to resolve disputes, the end of capitalism as we know it, the widespread shift toward world citizenship, and the rise of forms of cooperation that will end the near-sacred status of nation-states. However, the author is cautiously optimistic: he dwells not on the coming chaos, but on humanity’s great potential.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe illustrated story of England / Christopher Hibbert ; illustrated by John Broadley ; new chapter by Dr Seán Lang.
“This concise and fast-paced introduction to English history keeps the reader enthralled through the entire course of the country’s political, economic, and cultural landscape, covering the whole sweep of English history from the Stone Age to the present. In this newly illustrated edition, John Broadley’s unique tableaux-like illustrations capture the landscape, costumes, and characters of the history that Hibbert’s text so vividly evokes.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Revolution & War – Recent History Picks for December

This month’s picks are a stark reminder that disruption and change are built into the fabric of daily life and therefore: history. The humanity and sensitivity with which these stories are told are a revolt in themselves to the violence they often contain. Some books, like the one published by the brand new National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian, Dream a World Anew, use this change as a central driver – an inspiring compass through adversity and breakthroughs, rather than struggle alone.

Syndetics book coverThe Soviet century / Moshe Lewin ; edited by Gregory Elliott.
“Although the formal structures of the USSR are defunct, Lewin argues that a ghost of the system still lives as a biographical and institutional reality, especially in Russia. For those interested in the history of the Soviet Union, this study will provide a lavish feast, as it is full of empirical and interpretive detail about its institutions and leaders. Written by one of the old Soviet hands, this work, as a one-volume history of the USSR, will be hard to replace.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.”  (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSisters of the Somme : true stories from a First World War field hospital / Penny Starns.
“With First World War casualties mounting, there was an appeal for volunteers to train as front-line medical staff. Despite their training these young women were ill-prepared for the anguished cries of the wounded and the stench of gangrene and trench foot awaiting them at the Somme. Isolated from friends and family, most discovered an inner strength, forging new and close relationships with each other and establishing a camaraderie that was to last through the war and beyond.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDisunion : a history of the Civil War / edited by Ted Widmer, with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis.
“Between 2011 and 2015, the Opinion section of The New York Times published Disunion, a series marking the long string of anniversaries around the Civil War, the most destructive, and most defining, conflict in American history. The works were startling in their range and direction, some taking on major topics, like the Gettysburg Address and the Battle of Fredericksburg, while others tackled subjects whose seemingly incidental quality yielded unexpected riches and new angles.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPasschendaele : requiem for doomed youth / Paul Ham.
Passchendaele tells the story of ordinary men in the grip of a political and military power struggle that determined their fate and has foreshadowed the destiny of the world for a century. Paul Ham lays down a powerful challenge to the idea of war as an inevitable expression of the human will, and examines the culpability of governments and military commanders in a catastrophe that destroyed the best part of a generation.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCaught in the revolution : Petrograd, 1917 / Helen Rappaport.
Caught in the Revolution is Helen Rappaport’s masterful telling of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution through eye-witness accounts left by foreign nationals who saw the drama unfold. Between the first revolution in February 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in October, Petrograd (the former St. Petersburg) was in turmoil. Rappaport draws upon this rich trove of material, to carry us right up to the action–to see the Revolution as it happened to an assortment of individuals who suddenly felt themselves trapped in a ‘red madhouse'” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDream a world anew : the African American experience and the shaping of America / introduction by Lonnie G. Bunch III ; edited by Kinshasha Holmes Conwill.
“History will be made and embraced when the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a long-in-the-works and crucial addition to the Smithsonian Institution, opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in September 2016. With 275 color illustrations and essays brief and extended by two dozen scholars and curators, this welcoming overview covers a broad spectrum of subjects from slavery to African American artists and athletes.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBeautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics : a sideways look at twentieth-century London / Rob Baker.
“From the return of local hero Charlie Chaplin to the protests that blighted the Miss World competition in 1970, the book covers the events and personalities that reflect the glamorous, scandalous, political and subversive place London was and is today. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, the stories span the twentieth century and cover the width and breadth of the capital, revealing that London is much more than the sum of its parts.” (summary adapted from amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverHopeless but optimistic : journeying through America’s endless war in Afghanistan / Douglas A. Wissing.
“Wissing is everywhere in Afghanistan, sharing an impressionistic view from little white taxis coursing across one of the world’s most mine-ridden places; and compelling inside views from within embattled frontline combat outposts, lumbering armored gun trucks and flitting helicopters, brain trauma clinics, and Kabul’s Oz-like American embassy. He includes the real stuff of life: the austere grandeur of Afghanistan and its remarkable people; warzone dining, defecation, and sex; as well as the remarkable shopping opportunities for men whose job is to kill.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Recent History Picks

Every month is a reminder that history reading lets us travel through multiple dimensions, a space heightened through time, shedding light on both the most exhausted and uncharted grounds.

Syndetics book coverSunken cities : Egypt’s lost worlds : the BP exhibition / edited by Franck Goddio and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff.
“This book showcases a spectacular collection of artefacts, coupled with a retelling of the history by world-renowned experts in the subject (including the sites’ long-term excavator), bringing the reader face-to-face with this vibrant ancient society.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFear drive my feet / Peter Ryan.
“At age eighteen, Peter Ryan was an intelligence operative, patrolling isolated regions of New Guinea during World War II. Isolated, with Japanese forces closing in, he endured the hardships of the jungle without adequate supplies, a radio, or even a proper map. Ryan’s gripping account has become a classic memoir of the war in the Pacific, rarely out of print in forty years.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGhost empire / Richard Fidler.
“In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard’s passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire – centred around the legendary Constantinople – we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe art of time travel : historians and their craft / Tom Griffiths.
“No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.’ In this landmark book, eminent historian and award-winning author Tom Griffiths explores the craft of discipline and imagination that is history.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe drone eats with me : a Gaza diary / Atef Abu Saif.
“An unforgettable rendering of everyday civilian life shattered by the realities of twenty-first-century warfare. Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza lasted 51 days, killed 2,145 Palestinians (578 of them children), injured over 11,000 people, and demolished more than 17,000 homes. Atef Abu Saif, a young father and novelist, puts an indelibly human face on these statistics, providing a rare window into the texture of a community and the realities of a conflict that is too often obscured by politics.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEggs or anarchy : the remarkable story of the man tasked with the impossible : to feed a nation at war / William Sitwell.
Eggs or Anarchy is one of the great, British stories of the Second World War yet to be told in full. It reveals the heroic tale of how Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, really fed Britain. A grammar school-educated genius, he was a fish out of water in Churchill’s cabinet and the PM himself doubted Woolton would survive due to the unstinting criticism he faced from colleagues, the press and public.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCan you tolerate this? : personal essays / Ashleigh Young.
“In this spirited and singular book, Young roams freely from preoccupation to preoccupation Hamilton’s 90s music scene, family histories, a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a stone-collecting French postman, a desire for impossible physical transformation ¿ trying to find some measure of clarity amid uncertainty. How to bear each moment of experience: the inconsequential as much as the shattering? Her search takes us through poignant, funny and raw territories.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGeneration revolution : on the front line between tradition and change in the Middle East / Rachel Aspden.
“In 2003, Rachel Aspden arrived in Egypt as a 23-year-old trainee journalist. She found a country on the brink of change. The new generation were stifled; caught between a dictatorship with nothing to offer them and autocratic parents still clinging to tradition and obedience after a lifetime of fear. Following the stories of four young Egyptians, Aspden unravels the complex forces shaping the lives of young people caught between tradition and modernity.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBlack square : adventures in the post-Soviet world / Sophie Pinkham.
Black Square is a multidimensional portrait of a period of tumultuous change, and of a generation that came of age after the fall of the USSR, only to see protestors shot on Kiev’s main square, Crimea annexed by Russia, and a bitter war in eastern Ukraine. We meet a charismatic doctor fighting the AIDS epidemic even as he struggles with his own drug addiction; an iconoclastic artist with a penchant for public nudity; and a Russian-Jewish clarinettist agitating for Ukrainian liberation.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCalifornia comeback : how a “failed state” became a model for the nation / Narda Zacchino, with Christopher Scheer.
“In the most economically important state in the country–and the 7th largest economy in the world–a political revolution of historic importance has occurred which has not been sufficiently covered by the media. In the state where the Reagan Revolution was born, there has recently occurred a remarkable progressive revolution under the leadership of another governor, four-term Democrat Jerry Brown.”  (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Hidden – Recent History Picks for August

Much is about what lays hidden under the surface in this month’s picks. Whether it be the beauty amid the grit, strategy under adversity, violence disguised by calm, or the tensions behind a façade, these reads promise compelling depths of meaning.

Syndetics book coverBad history : how we got the past wrong / Emma Marriott.
“Much of what we know about historical events is based on generally accepted ‘facts’: St Patrick was Irish; Roman gladiators would fight to the death; the Wild West was full of danger. Each entry in this informative book will discuss the case for and against these commonly accepted truths, and corrects what you thought you knew about history.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fall of heaven : the Pahlavis and the final days of imperial Iran / Andrew Scott Cooper.
“An immersive, gripping account of the rise and fall of Iran’s glamorous Pahlavi dynasty, written with the cooperation of the late Shah’s widow, Empress Farah, Iranian revolutionaries and US officials from the Carter administration. The Fall of Heaven recreates in stunning detail the dramatic and final days of one of the world’s most legendary ruling families, the unseating of which helped set the stage for the current state of the Middle East.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAngela Merkel : Europe’s most influential leader / Matthew Qvortrup.
“With the storytelling gifts of a novelist, Matt Qvortrup gives readers unprecedented, personal insight into Frau Merkel’s upbringing under communism. This is the story–told for the first time in English–of how Merkel and her staff of mostly female advisors repeatedly outsmarted the old boys network of conservative male politicians in Germany, turning her country into a more liberal and more prosperous place.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLucie Aubrac : the French resistance heroine who outwitted the Gestapo / Siân Rees.
“In May 1943, a young Frenchwoman called Lucie Aubrac engineered the escape of her husband, Raymond, from the clutches of Klaus Barbie, the feared Gestapo chief later known as the “Butcher of Lyon.” Spirited out of France with Raymond by the RAF, Lucie arrived in London a heroine. Siân Rees’s penetrating, even-handed account offers a thrilling portrait of a brave, resourceful woman who went to extraordinary lengths for love and country.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAncient worlds : an epic history of east & west / Michale Scott.
“Acclaimed historian and TV presenter Michael Scott guides us through an epic story spanning ten centuries to create a bold new reading of the classical era for our globalised world. Scott challenges our traditionally western-focused perception of the past, connecting Greco-Roman civilisation to the great rulers and empires that swept across Central Asia to India and China resulting in a truly global vision of ancient history.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRio de Janeiro : extreme city / Luiz Eduardo Soares ; translated by Anthony Doyle.
“Luiz Eduardo Soares tells the story of Rio through the everyday lives of its people: gangsters and police, activists, politicians and struggling migrant workers, each with their own version of the city. Taking us on a journey into Rio’s intricate world of favelas, beaches and corridors of power, Soares reveals one of the most extraordinary cities in the world in all its seething, agonistic beauty.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe view from the corner shop : the diary of a wartime shop assistant / Kathleen Hey ; edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson.
“Kathleen Hey spent the war years helping her sister run a grocery shop in the Yorkshire town of Dewsbury. From July 1941 to July 1946 she kept a diary for the Mass-Observation project, recording the thoughts and concerns of the people who used the shop. What makes Kathleen’s account such a compelling read is the immediacy of her writing. People were pulling together on the surface, but there are plenty of tensions underneath.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCrusade and jihad : origins, history and aftermath / Malcolm Lambert.
“Malcolm Lambert investigates the histories of Christianity and Islam to trace the origins and development of crusade and jihad. In a narrative that brims with larger than life characters – among them, Richard Lionheart, Nur al-Din, Saladin, Baybars and Ghengiz Khan – he describes the fiercely fought struggles to control the sacred places of the Middle East between the seventh and thirteenth centuries.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFor king and another country : Indian soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18 / Shrabani Basu.
“Over a million Indian soldiers fought in the First World War, the largest force from the colonies and dominions. Their contribution, however, has been largely forgotten. Shrabani Basu delves into archives in Britain and narratives buried in villages in India and Pakistan to recreate the War through the eyes of the Indians who fought it. Above all, it is the great story of how the War changed India and led, ultimately, to the call for independence.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverZero hour : 100 years on : views from the parapet of the Somme / Jolyon Fenwick.
“The first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, was the most devastating event of the First World War for the British army. 14 panoramas show the Somme’s major sites as they look today. Zero Hour is simultaneously a celebration of the renewing power of nature, and a powerful and unconventional reminder of the horrors of the past.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Family History Month: Part 2

It’s week two of Family History month so time to introduce a few more resources that the researcher may be able to use to discover useful information to find another piece of the family history jigsaw puzzle. This post features ‘Zinio Online Magazines’ to access Family History magazines, information on searching “Iwi Histories and Māori Births and Deaths database, and three other useful information sources, the city archives, the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand and Stone’s directories. There is also a Wellington based genealogy events. You can find a display of these genealogical resources on the second floor of Wellington Central Library.

Zinio Online Magazines
With Zinio you can access family history magazines online including ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘Inside History’.
zinioZinio - inside history

Zinio is easy to use – you can view magazines via streaming on desktop/laptops or download them to tablets or smartphones for offline reading using the free Zinio for Libraries app. Added features in both versions allow magazine content to be printed, shared or emailed – and you can easily bookmark a magazine to save where you’re up to. Link here to the full set of titles available.

To use the Wellington City Libraries’ Zinio collection link here to create a new account. Have your library card number ready

Iwi Histories
Apart from key “tribal” histories – many of which were published from early last century, there are many books in our collection which will assist you in understanding the background to (your) iwi and hapū. Here is a link to the whakapapa page from the Māori Resources section on the library website.

Māori Births, Deaths & Marriages
Available at the 2nd floor information desk at Wellington Central Library
The information in this database is gathered from the same source as the microfiche, and the historical online records i.e. the official records held by New Zealand Dept of Internal Affairs.
However, additional material lies behind the record for each name, allowing you to search extra fields and retrieve much more detail than the microfiches or the historical online record allow:
Keep your search(es) as simple as possible, to avoid “knocking out” entries which may be beneficial to your end result.

The City Archives
Did your ancestors live in Wellington? The Wellington City Archive is a huge repository for Council records going back to the early 1860s which can reveal fascinating information about earlier residents. Anyone who has owned a property or run a business within the city is likely to have had some sort of relationship with the City Council and much of that information is kept in perpetuity. Records include house plans, street histories, rating information (who owned a property and what it was worth), cemetery and cremation information, complaints to the council on all manner of subjects, staff records and dozens of other sources information contained within eight linear kilometres of shelving. You can access a basic file index on-line but staff archivists are happy to help you navigate your way through to potential sources of genealogical information. Just to note that archives staff require at least a day’s notice to get requested material ready for you to research in their reading room in Barker Street, so make sure you contact them before visiting. Contact & location details and a link to their index database can be found here.

The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand
120 years ago, a Wellington-based publishing company was established to produce one of the first “vanity” publications to be printed in New Zealand. Issued in six volumes (broken down into provinces) over ten years, the Cyclopaedia offers an extraordinary insight into colonial New Zealand at the turn of the 20th Century. The first, largest and most detailed volume was dedicated to Wellington and was released in 1897. It’s 1300+ pages contains a wealth of information about a huge number of different areas such as schools and school teachers, hotels and pubs, central and local body politicians, businesses and their owners, tradesmen, sports clubs, boarding houses and restaurants. As people often paid a fee to be included (and also provided the material), personal biographies are invariably flattering but this doesn’t greatly detract from it being a wonderful source of genealogical information. The publishers also made use of what was then highly advanced printing technology to reproduce half-tone photographs on semi-gloss paper. The result is that the Cyclopaedia contains the only known photographs of many early pioneers. As original copies of the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand are now rare and fragile, Wellington City Libraries worked with the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre to assist them to digitise a complete set of the volumes. These can be searched or browsed here.

Stones Directories
Before there were phonebooks there were directories. These publications are now usual for finding people, where they lived and what occupations they held.
From the early 1870’s to the mid 1950’s saw three major publishers of directories including Wises’ and Stones’ directories which we have in various forms at the Central Library An entry would usually consist of the name, occupation and residence of the house owner. 1869 saw the first householder lists for all provincial centres and included many of the smaller towns. The main sections of the business and residential directories were obtained by canvassing house to house. The head of the household was listed, as well as any male lodgers. Woman were included only if they owned property in their own name.

Recommended event coming up next week

Publishing your family stories
Weds 17th August 5:30pm
Connolly Hall – Guildford Terrace, Thorndon.
Suzanne Sutton: Getting all your family stories written down and out there to be enjoyed now and in the future.
Hosted by Hutt Branch of the NZ Society of Genealogists

Big Ideas – Recent History Picks for July

Epic histories are offered in this month’s round-up, encompassing the revolutions in China and Russia and the turbulent change of the Middle East. The latter two regions inspire a multi-vocal approach that embraces subjectivity and variation in perspective.

Syndetics book coverThe cultural revolution : a people’s history, 1962-1976 / Frank Dikötter.
“Acclaimed by the Daily Mail as ‘definitive and harrowing’ , this is the final volume of ‘The People’s Trilogy’. After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, an ageing Mao launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalist elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSoutheast Asia : an introductory history / Milton Osborne.
“While giving due regard to the early history of the region, Osborne concentrates on the changes that have taken place since the 18th century: the impact of colonial rule, economic transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries, the emergence and triumph of the independence movements, the impact of social change, and the pivotal roles played by religion, ethnic minorities, and immigrant groups. He also provides an introduction to the art of the region and a comprehensive guide to literature about Southeast Asia.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnce in a great city : a Detroit story / David Maraniss.
“It’s 1963 and Detroit is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America. […] Once in a Great City shows that the shadows of collapse were evident even then. Before the devastating riot. Before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight. Before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse, one could see the signs of a city’s ruin. Detroit at its peak was threatened by its own design. It was being abandoned by the new world. Yet so much of what Detroit gave America lasts.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHistorically inevitable? : turning points of the Russian Revolution / edited by Tony Brenton.
“Marx held that the progression of society from capitalism to communism was ‘historically inevitable’. In Russia in 1917, it seemed that Marx’s theory was being born out in reality. But was the Russian Revolution really inevitable? This collection of fourteen contributions from the world’s leading Russian scholars attempts to answer the question by looking back at the key turning points of the revolution.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe history book.
“Travel back in time with the latest instalment in the bestselling Big Ideas series. The History Book charts world history from the dawn of civilisation to the modern culture we live in today. From the origins of homo-sapiens to the release of Nelson Mandela, from the French Revolution to the Space Race, The History Book is a stunning exploration of the human timeline up to and including modern Islam, the world wide web, and the global financial crisis.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDefending the motherland : the Soviet women who fought Hitler’s aces / Lyuba Vinogradova ; with an introducation by Antony Beevor ; translated from the Russian by Arch Tait.
“Battling not just fearsome Aces of the Luftwaffe but also patronising prejudice from their own leaders, women such as Lilya Litvyak and Ekaterina Budanova are brought to life by the diaries and recollections of those who knew them, and who watched them live, love, fight and die.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverShifting sands : the unraveling of the old order in the Middle East / edited by Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson.
Shifting Sands brings together fifteen impassioned and informed voices to talk about a region with unlimited potential, and yet which can feel, as one writer puts it, “as though the world around me is on fire.” This collection has as its framing event the Sykes-Picot agreement, which marks its centenary this year. […] For all those who are wearied by the debates surrounding the Middle East ‘often at best ill-informed and at worst, defeatist propaganda’ this intelligent, reasoned perspective on life in the Middle East is a breath of fresh air.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAssholes : a theory of Donald Trump / by Aaron James.
“Make America Great Again? Donald Trump is an asshole is a fact widely agreed upon–even by his supporters, who actually like that about him. But his startling political rise makes the question of just what sort of asshole he is, and how his assholedom may help to explain his success, one not just of philosophical interest but of almost existential urgency. […] You will never think about Donald Trump and his Art of the Deal the same way after reading this book. And, like it or not, think about him we must.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Modi effect : inside Narendra Modi’s campaign to transform India / Lance Price.
“Political parties in Britain, Australia and North America pride themselves on the sophistication of their election strategies, but Modi’s campaign was a master-class in modern electioneering. His team created an election machine that broke new ground in the use of social media, the Internet, mobile phones and digital technologies. […] These pioneering techniques brought millions of young people to the ballot box as Modi trounced the governing Congress Party led by the Gandhi dynasty.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSaved to remember : Raoul Wallenberg, Budapest 1944 and after / Frank Vajda.
“Frank Vajda, a major figure in Australian neurology, was a boy in Budapest, Hungary, during the Second World War. He witnessed the attempt by Hitler’s Nazis and a fascist Hungarian militia to murder him, his family and the rest of the Jews of this nation. Frank survived in the care of his courageous and ever-resourceful mother. Vajda vividly and matter-of-factly conveys what life was like for Jews trying to stay alive in a world where the law of the land, backed up by brute soldierly force, suddenly determined that they were to be killed, and how they hid, bluffed, and fought to avoid that fate.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Courage – Recent History Picks for June

Highlights from this month include the critically acclaimed Secondhand Time which made Svetlana Alexeivich a Nobel laureate last year. Dogs of Courage by Clare Campbell carries on the theme of bravery in the face of change, acknowledging the most unsung war heroes.

Syndetics book coverSecondhand time : the last of the Soviets / Svetlana Alexievich ; translated by Bela Shayevich.
“Already hailed as a masterpiece across Europe, Secondhand Time is an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis. A series of monologues by people across the former Soviet empire, it is Tolstoyan in scope, driven by the idea that history is made not only by major players but also by ordinary people.” — The New York Times (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDogs of courage : when Britain’s pets went to war, 1939-45 / Clare Campbell and Christy Campbell.
Clare Campbell told the fascinating story of what it was like for Britain’s pets when the world was at war. This time, she follows the incredible journey of the dogs who conscripted to fight for their country, with some even returning with medals for their bravery.

Syndetics book coverBitter freedom : Ireland in a revolutionary world / Maurice Walsh.
“Long mythologized but seldom understood, the story of Irish independence and its grinding aftermath in the early part of the twentieth century has been told only within a parochial Anglo-Irish context. Now, in the critically acclaimed Bitter Freedom, Maurice Walsh, with “a novelist’s eye for detailing lives in extremis” (Feargal Keane, Prospect), places revolutionary Ireland within the panorama of nationalist movements born out of World War I.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe first migration : Māori origins 3000BC – AD1450 / Atholl Anderson.
“Thousands of years ago migrants from South China began the journey that took their descendants through the Pacific to the southernmost islands of Polynesia. Atholl Anderson’s synthesis of research and tradition charts this epic journey of New Zealand’s first human inhabitants. Taken from Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History this text weaves together evidence from numerous sources: oral traditions, archaeology, genetics, linguistics, ethnography, historical observations, palaeoecology, climate change and more.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy holiday in North Korea : the funniest/worst place on Earth / Wendy E. Simmons.
“Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in. Through poignant, laugh-out-loud essays and 92 never-before-published color photographs of North Korea, Wendy chronicles one of the strangest vacations ever. Along the way, she bares all while undergoing an inner journey as convoluted as the country itself.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe way to the spring : life and death in Palestine / Ben Ehrenreich.
“Ruled by the Israeli military, set upon and harassed constantly by Israeli settlers who admit unapologetically to wanting to drive them from the land, […] this is a population whose living conditions are unique, and indeed hard to imagine. In a great act of bravery, empathy and understanding, Ben Ehrenreich, by placing us in the footsteps of ordinary Palestinians and telling their story with surpassing literary power and grace, makes it impossible for us to turn away.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIndependence or union : Scotland’s past and Scotland’s present / T.M. Devine.
“There can be no relationship in Europe’s history more creative, significant, vexed and uneasy than that between Scotland and England. […] But as Devine makes clear, it has for the most part been a relationship based on consent, not force, on mutual advantage, rather than antagonism – and it has always held the possibility of a political parting of the ways. With the United Kingdom under a level of scrutiny unmatched since the eighteenth century Independence or Union is the essential guide.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe sister queens : Isabella & Catherine de Valois / Mary McGrigor.
“Isabella de Valois was 3 years old when her father suddenly went mad. […] Isabella’s sister, Catherine de Valois, became the beautiful young bride of Henry V. Like her sister, Catherine was viewed as a bargaining chip in times of political turmoil, yet her passionate love affair with the young Owain Tudor established the entire Tudor dynasty. The Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, exile and conflict in a time when even royal women had to fight for survival.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPaper tiger : inside the real China / Xu Zhiyuan ; translated from the Chinese by Michelle Deeter and Nicky Harman.
“Xu Zhiyuan describes the many stages upon which China’s great transformation is taking place, from Beijing’s Silicon district to a cruise down the Three Gorges; he profiles China’s dissidents, including Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng; and explores lesser-known stories of scandals that rocked China but which most people outside that country did not hear about. Xu Zhiyuan understands his homeland in a way no foreign correspondent ever could.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe anatomy of the Zulu army : from Shaka to Cetshwayo, 1818-1879 / Ian Knight.
“Forces of the independent Zulu kingdom inflicted a crushing defeat on British imperial forces at Isandlwana in January 1879. The Zulu Army was not, however, a professional force, unlike its British counterpart, but was the mobilized manpower of the Zulu state. […] Knight analyzes the Zulu’s fighting methods, weapons and philosophy, all of which led to the disciplined force that faced the British army in 1879.” (Syndetics summary)

The Search for Home – Recent History Picks for May

This months picks are full of intersecting pathways and updated perspectives. A recurring thread seems to be on the pursuit of ‘home’, and questioning what it might mean.

Syndetics book coverBenazir Bhutto : favored daughter / Brooke Allen.
“The story of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to lead a Muslim nation, seems lifted straight from Greek tragedy. This account illuminates Bhutto’s tragic life as well as the role she played as the first female prime minister of Pakistan. Brooke Allen approaches Bhutto in a way not many have done before in this taut biography of a figure who had a profound effect on the volatile politics of the Middle East, drawing on contemporary news sources and eyewitness reports, as well as accounts from her supporters and her enemies.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSlow burn city : London in the twenty-first century / Rowan Moore.
“London has become the global city above all others. Versions of what is happening in London are happening elsewhere, but London has become the best place to understand the way the world’s cities are changing. […] Moore makes a passionate case for London to invent new ways to respond to the pressures of the present, from which other cities could learn.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn wartime : stories from Ukraine / Tim Judah.
“Urgent and insightful, Tim Judah’s account of the human side of the conflict in Ukraine is an evocative exploration of what the second largest country in Europe feels like in wartime. Making his way from the Polish border in the west, through the capital city and the heart of the 2014 revolution, to the eastern frontline near the Russian border, seasoned war reporter Tim Judah brings a rare glimpse of the reality behind the headlines.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe slave’s cause : a history of abolition / Manisha Sinha.
“Received historical wisdom casts abolitionists as bourgeois, mostly white reformers burdened by racial paternalism and economic conservatism. Manisha Sinha overturns this image, broadening her scope beyond the antebellum period usually associated with abolitionism and recasting it as a radical social movement in which men and women, black and white, free and enslaved found common ground in causes ranging from feminism and utopian socialism to anti-imperialism and efforts to defend the rights of labor.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe weight of shadows : a memoir of immigration and displacement / José Orduña.
“Tracing his story of becoming a US citizen, José Orduña’s memoir explores the complex issues of immigration and assimilation. […] A trenchant exploration of race, class, and identity, The Weight of Shadows is a searing meditation on the nature of political, linguistic, and cultural borders, and the meaning of “America”.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe battle for home : the memoir of a Syrian architect / Marwa al-Sabouni ; foreword by Roger Scruton.
“From Syria’s tolerant past, with churches and mosques built alongside one another in Old Homs and members of different religions living harmoniously together, the book chronicles the recent breakdown of social cohesion in Syria’s cities. With the lack of shared public spaces intensifying divisions within the community, and corrupt officials interfering in town planning for their own gain, these actions are symptomatic of wider abuses of power.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBone rooms : from scientific racism to human prehistory in museums / Samuel J. Redman.
“In 1864 a U.S. army doctor dug up the remains of a Dakota man who had been killed in Minnesota. Carefully recording his observations, he sent the skeleton to a museum in Washington, DC, that was collecting human remains for research. In the ‘bone rooms’ of this museum and others like it, a scientific revolution was unfolding that would change our understanding of the human body, race, and prehistory.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA woman’s life : Pauline Wengeroff and Memoirs of a grandmother / Shulamit S. Magnus.
“Pauline Wengeroff was born in 1833 into a pious Jewish family in Bobruisk. Her life, as recounted in this biography, was one of upheaval and transformation during Russian Jewry’s passage from tradition to modernity. Wengeroff’s narrative refracts communal experience and larger cultural, economic, and political developments through her own family life, to present readers with an extraordinary account of the cultural transformation of Russian Jewry in the 19th century.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHeart of Europe : a history of the Holy Roman Empire / Peter H. Wilson.
“The Holy Roman Empire lasted a thousand years, far longer than ancient Rome. Yet this formidable dominion never inspired the awe of its predecessor. Voltaire distilled the disdain of generations when he quipped it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Yet as Peter Wilson shows, the Holy Roman Empire tells a millennial story of Europe better than the histories of individual nation-states. And its legacy can be seen today in debates over the nature of the European Union.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPolynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand / Jeff Evans ; foreword by Francis Cowan.
Polynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand offers a straightforward account of how and why Polynesian seafarers made their journey south to New Zealand shores. The first part discusses the origins of the voyages, legends of the homeland and the explorer Kupe, traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, and the preservation of seafaring knowledge by Māori. The second part presents a gripping account of the canoe Hawaiki-nui retracing the route from Tahiti to New Zealand in 1985 using traditional voyaging methods.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)