People & Places Newsletter for December

How time flies. With the Christmas break just around the corner, you’ll be wanting to sort out your holiday reading pronto. Luckily, there’s plenty of ideas in this month’s People & Places newsletter. Highlights include: “Mortality”- fearless, uncompromising writing from Christopher Hitchens in his final days; “Joseph Anton” recounts Salman Rushdie’s journey from fugitive target of the Ayatollah Khomeini to the present; Will Schwalbe’s poignant memoir and frequent pick for Best of 2012 lists “The End of Your Life Book Club” and 100 objects that take you behind the scenes at Te Papa.


The phrase ” good British biography’ has a certain resonance and most biography-lovers will know what it means. This month’s subjects are all well-known English figures – most of historic importance – and they have been researched and written up by experts in the field or established scribes. Of particular interest is a new study of John Keats – the author was recently the guest-speaker at a seminar on the English Romantic poets at Victoria University and gave a public lecture and newspaper and radio interviews on his subject. We also feature a new work on the Bronte sisters, on Darwin – and Artemis Cooper’s new book on the writer and explorer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Look at the many great books on offer this month and take your pick!!

Syndetics book coverJohn Keats : a new life / Nicholas Roe.
“This landmark biography of celebrated Romantic poet John Keats explodes entrenched conceptions of him as a delicate, overly sensitive, tragic figure. Instead, Nicholas Roe reveals the real flesh-and-blood poet: a passionate man driven by ambition but prey to doubt, suspicion, and jealousy; sure of his vocation while bitterly resentful of the obstacles that blighted his career; devoured by sexual desire and frustration; and in thrall to alcohol and opium. Through unparalleled original research, Roe arrives at a fascinating reassessment of Keats’s entire life.” (Summary by

Syndetics book coverThe Brontës / Juliet Barker.
“The story of the tragic Brontë family is familiar to everyone: we all know about the half-mad, repressive father, the drunken, drug-addled wastrel of a brother, wildly romantic Emily, unrequited Anne, and “poor Charlotte.” Or do we? These stereotypes of the popular imagination are precisely that – imaginary – created by amateur biographers such as Mrs. Gaskell who were primarily novelists and were attracted by the tale of an apparently doomed family of genius.(Summary from

Syndetics book coverIs it just me? / Miranda Hart.
“In ‘Is it Just Me?’, Britain’s best loved comedienne, Miranda Hart, laments on the horrors of growing up and offers her younger self some essential advice on grappling with life’s unexpected perils and blunders”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDarwin : portrait of a genius / Paul Johnson.
“Darwin’s revolutionary career is the perfect vehicle for historian Paul Johnson. Marked by the insightful observation, spectacular wit, and highly readable prose for which Johnson is so well regarded, Darwin brings the gentleman-scientist and his times brilliantly into focus. From Darwin’s birth into great fortune to his voyage aboard the Beagle, to the long-delayed publication of his masterpiece, Johnson delves into what made this Victorian gentleman into a visionary scientist and into the tragic flaws that later led Darwin to support the burgeoning eugenics movement”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverCounting one’s blessings : selected letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother / edited and with a preface by William Shawcross.
“One of the revelations of William Shawcross’s official biography of the Queen Mother was her private correspondence. Indeed the Sunday Times described her letters as ‘wonderful … brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.Queen Elizabeth was a prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood and her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the person behind the public face. They reveal – in her own words – the little girl writing to her family; the young woman who, eventually, accepted Prince Albert’s proposal; the Duchess of York, embracing the public role demanded of her, on royal tours both at home and abroad.”(Summary from

Syndetics book coverMortality / Christopher Hitchens.
“On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest and thorax. As he would later write in the first of a series of award-winning columns for Vanity Fair, he suddenly found himself being deported “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” Over the next eighteen months, until his death in Houston on December 15, 2011, he wrote constantly and brilliantly on politics and culture, astonishing readers with his capacity for superior work even in extremis. Throughout the course of his ordeal battling esophageal cancer, Hitchens adamantly and bravely refused the solace of religion, preferring to confront death with both eyes open”. (Summary from

Syndetics book coverCountry girl / Edna O’Brien.
“Edna O’Brien’s family encouraged her to attend pharmacy school, but she left before finishing to marry an older writer, give birth to two sons, and publish, in 1960, her first novel.The Country Girlsso scandalized the O’Briens’ local parish that the book was burned by the priest, her family disgraced. COUNTRY GIRL comes twenty-one books later, a rich and heady accounting of the events, people, emotions, and landscape that imprint upon and enliven one lifetime.” (Summary from www.


Read all of “Joseph Anton,” then, for its lessons in how books are used, and whether they matter

For a lighter but by no means lightweight reading experience, try Kaffe Fassett’s Dreaming in colour. Kaffe is a master of beautiful designs in patchwork, knitting, needlework and mosaics. It is no exaggeration to say that he has revolutionised these crafts and breathed new life into them. He was the first living textile artist to have a one-man exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He has also had a most interesting life and tells a very good story. Take your pick of our new offerings. Happy reading!!

Syndetics book coverJoseph Anton : a memoir / Salman Rushdie.
“The extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov – Joseph Anton.
How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for over nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverThe House of Hancock : the rise and rise of Gina Rinehart / Debi Marshall.
“Gina Rinehart is the richest woman in the world – but at what cost? From an early age Gina Rinehart knew she was heir to one of Australia’s largest fortunes. Her father, Lang Hancock, loved her dearly and groomed her to take over the company. Then along came Rose, the Filipina housekeeper Lang married in 1985, and the obsessively private House of Hancock was changed forever. Hancock’s death in 1992 opened floodgates of litigation, with Rose and Gina fixtures in the courts fighting it out for their share of Lang’s mining assets. The Pilbara Princess has now become the Queen of Litigation, taking on her children and anyone else who dares to challenge her through countless court battles.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverThe Black Count : glory, revolution, betrayal and the real Count of Monte Cristo / Tom Reiss.
“The inspiration for some of the great adventure tales of Alexandre Dumas has long been a subject of curiosity and debate. According to Reiss, the inspiration for the great novel of intrigue, betrayal, and revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo, was Dumas’ own father, General Alexandre Alex Dumas. In this often thrilling and often sad chronicle, Reiss makes clear that Alex lived a life as full of adventure, triumph, and tragic loss as any of his son’s literary creations.” (Summary from Global Books).

Syndetics book coverThe end of your life book club / Will Schwalbe.
“Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.” (Summary from

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Travel stories & guides

A book about the sixteenth century Portuguese navigators: did they really sail and chart coastlines in New Zealand? And did you know that there are many ‘Mom and Pop’ shops still in the Big Apple…. these and other travel answers are to be found in this month’s round-up of new Travel books.

Syndetics book coverScary monsters and super creeps : in search of the world’s most hideous beasts / by Dom Joly.
A brilliantly bizarre and hilarious travelogue from the audacious comedian, and TV star, Dom Joly.(Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRetire and live the dream : our long journey to la dolce vita / Annette Edis.Retire and Live the Dream: Our Long Journey to la Dolce Vita has been written to inspire and encourage readers to travel, especially those recently retired; urging them to disregard any fears they might have, take the plunge and have an experience of a lifetime. Included are an abundance of travel tips for both affordable and enjoyable travel, the importance of life goals and staying young in your outlook on life. Also included are fascinating anecdotes, myths and histories of the many towns, cities and countries visited by Annette.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAlmost somewhere : twenty-eight days on the John Muir Trail / Suzanne Roberts.
“While wilderness memoirs have been coming fast and furious lately, Roberts dares to combine a hiking adventure with a healthy dose of humor and female bonding in all its complicated and turbulent best. Nearly 20 years ago she joined two girlfriends on a monthlong postcollegiate hike of the John Muir Trail. … With wit, laughter, and longing, she writes of the trip not as an attempt at wilderness salvation but rather a desire to do something, anything, that proved the future would not be so daunting. An utterly refreshing outdoors memoir free of the seemingly manufactured drama so many similar titles contain. A delightful and quite literary diversion.–Mondor, Colleen Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (adapted)

Syndetics book coverPre-Tasman Portuguese down under? / John Tasker. “For more than 200 years, scholars and amateurs alike have wrestled with the problem — did sixteenth century Portuguese navigators sail down the east coast of Australia and along the shores of New Zealand, charting the coastlines as they went? Employing endless speculation, all kinds of people have proposed all kinds of theories, not one of which resulted in a resolution over those two centuries. This book is different. Forsaking the speculation and guesswork model, it finally lays the matter to rest beyond all reasonable doubt.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Condé Nast traveler Book of unforgettable journeys : great writers on great places. Volume II / edited with an introduction by Klara Glowczewska.
“…Anthologies of travel writing abound, most of them like a pirate’s chest filled to the brim with gems. This one, the second gathering of articles published originally in Conde Nast Traveler magazine, has mostly diamonds for contents. The strongest pieces here among all strong pieces, that is include famous food critic Calvin Trillin’s Some Like It Not Hot, in which he shares experiences visiting the Ecuadorean city of Cuenca, calling it a walking around city (which he characterizes as often short on well-known sights but having small-item appeal nevertheless)….–Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (adapted)

Syndetics book coverEstonia : a ramble through the periphery / [Alexander Theroux].
“Any journey with Alexander Theroux is an education. Endowed with a razor-sharp and hyper-literate mind, he stands beside Thomas Pynchon as one of the sharpest cultural commentators of our time. For Theroux, the country of Estonia and its people became a puzzle as he accompanied his wife there for a nine-month stay. Estonia is as biting and satirical as it is witty and urbane; as curious and lyrical as it is brash and irreverent. It marks a new highlight in an already stellar career and a book that continues Fantagraphics’ exceptional line of prose works.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTwo guys on the road ; walking backwards across the world / Steve Chandler & Terrence N. Hill. “In TWO GUYS ON THE ROAD, Steve Chandler and Terry Hill write e-mails, postcards, and letters to each other as they travel the world. Terry mostly takes lengthy travels for pleasure abroad with his wife Miranda while Steve takes short business trips around the country, at times with his wife Kathy. In their usual style, Steve and Terry often launch into digressions to discuss whatever piques their interest in the moment resulting in a collage of places, people, opinions, travel tips, and sometimes tenuously-related memories.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverClassic hikes of North America : 25 breathtaking treks in the United States and Canada / Peter Potterfield. “Included in the book is helpful information, such as: level of difficulty, trail conditions, recommended seasons, potential hazards and difficulties, resource information, and detailed maps of hiking routes. …. These are journeys to dream on, and Potterfield puts them within reach of any aspiring hiker.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover360 degrees longitude : one family’s journey around the world / John Higham. “In June 2005, John Higham, his wife September, daughters Jordan and Katrina packed-up and began a 52 week global adventure, visiting 30 countries on five continents. They stayed with friends, strangers, college girls on spring break and Polish shipyard workers with a penchant for striped boxer shorts and little else. The Highams learnt more than just the food and cultures of their destinations; fish can mistake nipples for a snack, a Chilean mall isn’t the best place to get ears pierced and that elephants love receiving flowers; and they learnt all about each other.” (

Syndetics book coverNew York originals : a guide to the city’s classic shops & mom-and-pops / by Jamie McDonald. “Some of the last classic mom-and-pop businesses in the US are in the Big Apple: despite the fast-moving, ever-changing nature of the City and the recent onslaught of chain stores, many small businesses in New York and its five boroughs have survived and thrived year after year, generation after generation. ….a unique tour through all five boroughs introduces readers to 75 of these unique shops, restaurants, services, and manufacturers….” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Our new history books this month have something to interest everyone: Norse exporers, lady spies, retro Sydney, what it was to live when Shakespeare was about, and more. Happy reading!

Syndetics book coverVikings / Neil Oliver.
“The Vikings famously took no prisoners, relished cruel retribution, and prided themselves on their bloody-thirsty skills as warriors. But their prowess in battle is only a small part of their story, which stretches from their Scandinavian origins to America in the west and as far as Baghdad in the east. As the Vikings did not write their history, we have to discover it for ourselves, and that discovery, as Neil Oliver reveals, tells an extraordinary story of a people who, from the brink of destruction, reached a quarter of the way around the globe and built an empire that lasted nearly two hundred years. Drawing on the latest discoveries that have only recently come to light, Neil Oliver goes on the trail of the real Vikings. Where did they emerge from? How did they really live? And just what drove them to embark on such extraordinary voyages of discovery over 1000 years ago? VIKINGS will explore many of these questions for the first time in an epic story of one of the world’s great empires of conquest.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverChurchill’s angels : how Britain’s women secret agents changed the course of the Second World War / Bernard O’Connor.
“Over 70 female agents were sent out by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. These women – as well as others from clandestine Allied organisations – were flown out and parachuted or landed into occupied Europe on vital and highly dangerous missions: their job was to work with resistance movements both before and after D-Day. Bernard O’Connor relates the experiences of these agents of by drawing on a range of sources, including many of the women’s accounts of their wartime service. There are stories of rigorous training, thrilling undercover operations evading capture by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France, tragic betrayals and extraordinary courage.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverRetro Sydney / Ian Collis.
“Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s…This unique collection of vintage shots from amateur family photographers includes rare and never-before-seen material. It features timeless photographs of the stunning harbour and the creation of the Opera House, classic Royal Easter Show shots, the Queen’s visits and the pastimes the city loves – sport, recreation and fashion”–Back cover.

Syndetics book coverShakespeare’s restless world / Neil MacGregor.
“From Neil MacGregor, the acclaimed creator of A History of the World in 100 Objects and the Director of the British Museum, comes a unique, enthralling exploration of the age of William Shakespeare to accompany a new BBC Radio 4 series.Shakespeare lived through a pivotal period in human history. With the discovery of the New World, the horizons of Old Europe were expanding dramatically – and long-cherished certainties were crumbling. Life was exhilaratingly uncertain. What were Londoners thinking when they went to see Shakespeare’s plays? What was it like living in their world? Here Neil MacGregor looks at twenty objects from Shakespeare’s life and times, and uncovers the fascinating stories behind them. The objects themselves range from the grand (such as the hoard of gold coins that make up the Salcombe treasure) to the very humble, like the battered trunk and worn garments of an unknown pedlar. But in each case, they allow MacGregor to explore issues as diverse as piracy and Islam, Catholicism and disguise. MacGregor weaves the histories of objects into the words of Shakespeare’s plays themselves to suggest to us where his ideas about religion, national identity, the history of England and the world, human nature itself, may have come from. The result is a fresh and thrilling evocation of Shakespeare’s world.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe revenge of history : the battle for the twenty-first century / Seumas Milne.
“From the outset, Seumas Milne’s Guardian essays on the West’s war on terror provoked angry denunciations on both sides of the Atlantic. A decade on, the advocates of violent capitalism have been silenced. From class to religion, Blair to Obama, Palestine to Pakistan, bank bailouts to the Arab uprisings, the rise of China to the wave of change in Latin America, Milne exposes the breakdown of the new world order – and draws out the prospects for the emerging politics of the future. In a media culture dominated by eager apologists, Milne has consistently written against the grain. This book offers a compelling perspective on the convulsions that have brought us to today’s crisis – and a powerful indictment of a global and corporate empire in decline.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverA free man / Aman Sethi.
“Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage. Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to life through their adventures and misfortunes in the Old Delhi Railway Station, the harrowing wards of a tuberculosis hospital, an illegal bar made of cardboard and plywood, and into Beggars Court and back onto the streets. In a time of global economic strain, this is an unforgettable evocation of persistence in the face of poverty in one of the world’s largest cities. Sethi recounts Ashraf’s surprising life story with wit, candor, and verve, and A Free Man becomes a moving story of the many ways a man can be free.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book cover100 amazing tales from Aotearoa / [Museum of New Zealand Te Papa].
“Te Papa stores more than 2 million pieces in trust for the nation. New Zealand through 100 Objects takes readers on a tour behind the scenes of the museum to discover more about 100 of these treasured items. Readers will learn the secrets of the first dinosaur fossil ever discovered, see new and unique spider species, be inspired by famous paintings and quirky jewellery, encounter fearsome weapons and armour from the Pacific and uncover the deep and personal stories of Maori taonga. Based on ‘Tales from Te Papa’, the fascinating series of mini documentaries from TVNZ, this book includes a DVD of the complete series, with a bonus 20 episodes.” (Global Books in Print)

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