People & Places eNewsletter for March

In this month’s People & Places we start off with a celebration of the life and work of Stephen Hawking. The darker side of history is explored in “Who Killed Walter Raleigh” and “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things”,  while we finish with a mix of New Zealand biography, photography and travel.

Library News


It’s mostly men this month – biographies included are about the great and famous Napoleon, the most renowned scientist of our time,Stephen Hawking, the beloved creator of the Jeeves novels, P.G. Wodehouse and the refreshingly different mayor of London, Boris Johnson. David Hockney needs no introduction – this new study of his life an work has been widely praised. Brian Sewell the noted British art critic and media personality, is less well-known here, but has an interesting tale to tell.

Syndetics book coverStephen Hawking : his life and work : the story and science of one of the most extraordinary, celebrated, and courageous figures of our time / Kitty Ferguson.
“This is the story of one of the most remarkable figures of our time – Professor Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge genius who has earned an international reputation as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein. This is not quite a biography; it is more the story of one man’s quest to find the ‘Theory of Everything’. Stephen Hawking’s life and work have produced a multitude of amazing paradoxes: beginnings may be endings, two great scientific theories taken together may seem to give us nonsense, empty space isn’t empty, and black holes aren’t black. Cruel circumstances can lead to happiness, and fame and success may not. A man whose appearance inspires shock and pity takes us to where the boundaries of space and time ought to be – but are not.”(Abridged summary from

Syndetics book coverHockney : the biography. Volume 1, 1937-1975 / “Christopher Simon Sykes.
“In this astounding first volume of his authorised biography Christopher Sykes explores the fascinating world of the most popular living artist in the world today. David Hockney’s career has spanned and epitomised the art movements of the last five decades; His story is one of precocious achievement at Bradford Art College, the Swinging 60s in London where he befriended many of the iconic cultural figures of the generation, to California and the cool of the swimming pool series of paintings, through the acclaimed set designs for countless operas around the world and major retrospective exhibitions.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverCatherine the Great : portrait of a woman / Robert K. Massie.
“Massie returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography–the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at 14 and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJust Boris : the irresistible rise of a political celebrity / Sonia Purnell.
“A major and controversial new biography of one of the most compelling and contradictory figures in modern British life.Born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to most of us he is just ‘Boris’ – the only politician of the age to be regarded in such familiar, even affectionate terms. Uniquely, he combines comedy with erudition, gimlet-eyed focus with jokey self-deprecation, and is a loving family man with a roving eye. He is also a hugely ambitious figure with seemingly no huge ambitions to pursue – other than, perhaps, power itself. In this revealing biography, written from the vantage point of a once close colleague, Sonia Purnell examines how a shy, young boy from a broken home became our only box-office politician – and most unlikely sex god.”(Abridged summary from

Syndetics book coverNapoleon / Alan Forrest.
“On a cold December day in 1840 Parisians turned out in force to watch as the body of Napoleon was solemnly carried on a riverboat from Courbevoie on its final journey to the Invalides. The return of their long-dead Emperor’s corpse from the Island of St Helena was a moment that Paris had eagerly awaited, though many feared that the memories stirred would serve to further destabilize a country that had struggled for order and direction since he had been sent into exile. In this book, Alan Forrest, tells the remarkable story of how the son of a Corsican attorney became the most powerful man in Europe, a man whose charisma and legacy endured after his lonely death many thousands of miles from the country whose fate had become so entwined with his own.”(Abridged summary from

Syndetics book coverThe secret life of Barack Hussein Obama / Mondo Frazier.
“Mondo Frazier divulges the little-known details of Obama’s past that the public is dying to know in The Secret Life of Barack Hussein Obama.“(Summary from

Syndetics book coverA life in letters / P.G. Wodehouse ; edited by Sophie Ratcliffe.
“This is the definitive edition of PG Wodehouse’s letters, edited with a commentary by Oxford academic Sophie Ratcliffe. The funniest and most-adored writer of the 20th century, PG Wodehouse always shied away from the idea of a biography – a retiring sort of chap, it was through the written word that he expressed himself. Includes previously unpublished correspondence, such as that relating to the infamous pro-Nazi propaganda”(Wellington City libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverThe perfect Nazi : uncovering my grandfather’s secret past / Martin Davidson.
“Using the skills he honed as a documentary producer for the BBC, Davidson explores the truth behind his family’s dark secret–his grandfather was a Nazi SS officer.” (Syndetics summary)

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In this month’s pick on new history books you’ll find ‘The Twitter Year’, a look at 2011 through the medium of social media. Ever wondered where your name comes from and how it relates to your family history? Take a peek at ‘Surnames, DNA, and Family History’. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverThe Twitter year : 365 days in 140 characters / compiled by Kate Bussmann.
“The first ever social-media almanac presents 12 months as witnessed by the 100-million-strong tweeting community. It captures a dramatic year in news, culture and sport, from the death of Osama Bin laden to the Royal Wedding – all told through tweets, graphics and fascinating facts. Distilling from the 230 million tweets that are now sent each day, this is history through a lens.” (Library Catalogue)
In the year the social network celebrates its 5th birthday, Twitter continues to grow at an incredible rate. There are now over 200 million accounts across the world, including Lady Gaga, the British monarchy, Lord Voldemort and a lot of pets. A Twitter Year gathers some of the funniest and sharpest tweets to bring you a unique celebration of the way we talk now. (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverSurnames, DNA, and family history / George Redmonds, Turi King, and David Hey.
“This book combines linguistic and historical approaches with the latest techniques of DNA analysis and show the insights these offer for every kind of genealogical research. It focuses on British names, tracing their origins to different parts of the British Isles and Europe and revealing how names often remain concentrated in the districts where they first became established centuries ago. In the process the book casts fresh light on the ancient peopling of the British Isles. The authors consider why some names die out, and how others have spread across the globe. They use recent advances in DNA testing to discover whether particular surnames have a single, dual or multiple origins and whether various forms of a name have a common origin. They show how information from DNA canbe combined with historical evidence and techniques to distinguish between individuals with the same name and different names with similar spellings and to identify the name of the same individual or family spelt in various ways in different times and places. Clearly written and illustrated with hundreds of examples, this book will be welcomed by all those engaged in genealogical research, including everyone seeking to discover the histories of their names and families.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverWho killed Sir Walter Ralegh? / Richard Dale.
“For 400 years, the true story behind the fall of Sir Walter Ralegh, his conviction for high treason and his eventual beheading has been shrouded in mystery. Was he deliberately set up by the brilliant but untrustworthy Sir Robert Cecil? Why did his friend Lord Cobham denounce him at his trial? And how could this towering figure of the Elizabethan age be accused of conspiring with his old enemy Spain to overthrow the king and his government? This book draws on the author’s legal background to unravel the extraordinary plots and intrigues that marked the last weeks of Elizabeth’s reign and the first months of James’s succession. In the bitter struggle for position, wealth, and royal favor, only the most ruthless and devious could hope to win, and it was the dwarfish, hunch-backed Cecil who eventually prevailed over the swashbuckling Ralegh. But in the eyes of posterity, who was the real victor?” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe great big book of horrible things : the definitive chronicle of history’s 100 worst atrocities / Matthew White.
“The subtitle might be a little grandiose (can one writer’s opinions be definitive?), but the book is undeniably compelling. The author, an expert in atrocitology (a useful word he appears to have made up), has put together a serious and seriously interesting collection of events that have resulted in massive loss of human life. From Alexander the Great to the collapse of the Mayan Empire to the Crusades to the Napoleonic Wars to WWII to Saddam Hussein to the genocide in Rwanda, the author takes readers on a lively, opinionated, fact-filled trip through the violent history of humankind. White makes sure to give us all the important facts (death toll, time frame, historical context, etc.), but he also provides some entertaining commentary (History likes the Third Crusade. This was the classy crusade, where wise and virtuous kings hacked each other apart with honor and style). For students, the book is a very useful and informative supplement to history texts. For the general reader, it’s a very good way to browse the dark side of human history.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe Borgia chronicles / Mary Hollingsworth.
“The Borgia family of Renaissance Italy has become a byword for pride, lust, cruelty, avarice, splendour and venomous intrigue. They have inspired abomination and fascination in almost equal measure, comparable to the Corleone clan depicted in Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather. Indeed, Puzo himself featured the Borgias in his last novel, The Family, and the Borgias have inspired many other works of fiction together with plays, films, and even an opera – Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. Of Spanish origin, the Borgias came to prominence in the Italy of the 15th century, at a time when the spiritual values of the medieval Church were being swept aside by the worldly secularism of the Renaissance. They also became notorious for licentiousness, venality and indeed all forms of immorality, while at the same time their patronage of the arts helped to bring about some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverGhost on the throne : the death of Alexander the Great and the war for crown and empire / James Romm.
“In this fast-paced and absorbing account, Bard College classics professor Romm chronicles the political intrigues and military conflicts of the half-dozen generals who struggled for power after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C.E. The goal for each was control over an empire stretching from the Danube to the Indus. Because Alexander left no will or obvious successor, his seven closest friends – the Bodyguards – fought not only to preserve Alexander’s Macedonian empire but also among themselves to mark out territory to rule. Drawing deeply on sources such as Plutarch’s Lives and the anonymous The Lives of the Ten Orators, Romm brings to life the Bodyguards and their struggles to maintain their territories.” (Publishers Weekly)

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New Zealand

Syndetics book coverJourney to Oxford / John Mulgan ; edited by Peter Whiteford. “The ship was now drawing away from the land and pointing out across the round curve of the Pacific, behind us the last of the Gulf islands with the sun shining on its high bush hills and steep cliffs, beyond that again the blue line of the land, well down in the sea. I knew that last island and had sailed round it on a still summer day, a wild fearful place with a toll of two shipwrecks, and the break of seas on it day after day. It had been very warm and peaceful then, and the sail had hardly moved with the wind, and now it all looked very wonderful and beautiful. There are few people that have seen this country that do not want to look on it again.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA controversial churchman : essays on George Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand and Lichfield, and Sarah Selwyn / edited by Allan Davidson.
“New Zealand’s first Anglican bishop, George Selwyn, was a towering figure in the young colony. Denounced as a ‘turbulent priest’ for speaking out against Crown practices that dispossessed Māori, he brought a vigorous approach to episcopal leadership. These essays offer new insights into Selwyn’s role in developing pan-Anglicanism, strengthening links between the Church of England and the Episcopal and Anglican Churches in North America, and his time as Bishop of Lichfield (1868–78). His place in Treaty history, as a political commentator and a valuable source of historical information, is recognised. George Selwyn left a large imprint on New Zealand church and society. This collection both honours and critiques a controversial bishop.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEarly New Zealand photography : images and essays / edited by Angela Wanhalla and Erika Wolf.“We are all participants in an increasingly visual culture, yet we rarely give thought to the ways that photographs shape our experience and understanding of the world and historical past. This book looks at a range of New Zealand photographs up to 1918 and analyses them as photo-objects, considering how they were made, who made them, what they show and how our understanding of them can vary or change over time. In the course of the book, they explore a host of issues related to the development of photography in New Zealand. World War I is the end point, as it coincided with profound cultural shifts with the expansion of the mass illustrated press and the rise of consumer photography, as well as a change in New Zealand’s place in the world.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStrong, beautiful and modern : national fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935-1960 / Charlotte Macdonald.
“In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a wave of state-sponsored ‘national fitness’ programmes swept Britain and its former colonies. Following revelations of the Nazi enthusiasm for government-backed sports and the organisation of mass leisure, the programmes quickly foundered. They probably laid, however, the foundations for the twentieth century’s obsession with fitness – a key facet of modern life. Drawing on extensive research, and written in vivid, lively prose, STRONG, BEAUTIFUL AND MODERN is an historical investigation into the way that people and their governments think about their health and well-being, and how those historical views have shaped our modern life.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA walking guide to New Zealand’s long trail : Te Araroa / Geoff Chapple. “This is the guidebook of Te Araroa Trail: The Long Pathway, a continuous trail running from Cape Reinga to Bluff, 35 years in the making, which will officially open in late 2011. The book maps the 3000-kilometre trail in 40-kilometre sections. Photographs of the trail illustrate each section. Each of the 12 regional sections opens with a stunning 2-page 3D map. This book is an accessible guide both for those who only want to walk parts of the trail and dedicated trampers who intend to walk its entire length.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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