Lost stories: Recent history related books

We have an impressive amount of new history related books being added to the catalogue this month! The below list includes a history of The Black Death, the true story of Tutankhamun, the almost completely lost language of the /Xam people and the often erased lives of women in the middle ages.

Femina : a new history of the middle ages through the women written out of it / Ramirez, Janina
“The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the ‘dark’ ages were anything but. Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women’s names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated. “– Provided by publisher.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Dreaming the Karoo : a people called the /Xam / Blackburn, Julia
“In spring 2020, Julia Blackburn travelled to the Karoo region of South Africa to see for herself the ancestral lands that had once belonged to an indigenous group called the /Xam. Throughout the nineteenth century the /Xam were persecuted and denied the right to live in their own territories. In the 1870s, facing cultural extinction, several /Xam individuals agreed to teach their intricate language to a German philologist and his indomitable English sister-in-law. The result was the Bleek-Lloyd Archive: 60,000 notebook pages in which their dreams, memories and beliefs, alongside the traumas of their more recent history, were meticulously recorded word for word. It is an extraordinary document which gives voice to a way of living in the world which we have all but lost. ‘All things were once people’, the /Xam said”– Publisher’s description.” (Catalogue)

India : a history in objects / Blurton, T. Richard
“An authoritative visual history of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant cultures, drawing on South Asian art and artefacts from prehistory to the present. Arranged chronologically, and abundantly illustrated with expertly selected objects, this superb new overview connects today’s India with its past. Early chapters uncover prehistoric objects from 1.5 million years ago, examine artefacts from the Indus Civilization, and follow the emergence and transmission of Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism, as well as the incoming religions of Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The passengers / Ashon, Will
“Between October 2018 and March 2021, Will Ashon collected voices – people talking about their lives, needs, dreams, loves, hopes and fears – all of them with some connection to the British Isles. He used a range of methods including letters sent to random addresses, hitchhiking, referrals from strangers and so on. He conducted the interviews in person, on the phone, over the internet or asked people to record themselves.”–Publisher’s description.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Tutankhamun : pharaoh, icon, enigma : lost for three thousand years, misunderstood for a century / Tyldesley, Joyce A
“A hundred years ago, a team of archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings made a remarkable discovery: a near-complete royal burial, an ancient mummy, and golden riches beyond imagination. The lost tomb of Tutankhamun ignited a media frenzy, propelled into overdrive by rumours of a deadly ancient curse. But amid the hysteria, many stories — including that of Tutankhamun himself — were distorted or forgotten.”–Publisher’s description.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

You don’t know what war is : the diary of a young girl from Ukraine / Skalietska, Yeva
“An important, harrowing and ultimately hopeful memoir about the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war as told through the diary entries of a young Ukrainian girl.” (Catalogue)



The world the plague made : the Black Death and the rise of Europe / Belich, James
“In 1346, a catastrophic plague beset Europe and its neighbours. The Black Death was a human tragedy that abruptly halved entire populations and caused untold suffering, but it also brought about a cultural and economic renewal on a scale never before witnessed. The World the Plague Made is a panoramic history of how the bubonic plague revolutionized labour, trade, and technology and set the stage for Europe’s global expansion.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Come to this court and cry : how the Holocaust ends / Kinstler, Linda
“A few years ago Linda Kinstler discovered that a man fifty years dead – a former Nazi who belonged to the same killing unit as her grandfather – was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation in Latvia. The proceedings threatened to pardon his crimes. They put on the line hard-won facts about the Holocaust at the precise moment that the last living survivors – the last legal witnesses – were dying. Across the world, Second World War-era cases are winding their way through the courts. Survivors have been telling their stories for the better part of a century, and still judges ask for proof. Where do these stories end? “–Publisher’s description.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The life of Kathleen Hall

Kathleen Hall (1896-1970) was born in Napier and moved to Auckland where she trained as a nurse after completing secondary school. In 1922 she was accepted by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to undertake missionary work in China. She arrived there in 1923 and spent the next two years in Peking studying China’s language, culture and history. She was given a teaching position in Peking Union Medical College (Xiehe), a highly advanced institution with modern facilities which was funded by the American Rockefeller Foundation and operated by British & American Protestant missions.

Hall began working in missionary hospitals in Hejian in Hebei, Datong and Anguo in Shanxi where she became the ‘sister-in-charge’ of its base hospital. By 1933 she recognised the need for medical services in rural areas and applied to the bishop for permission to establish a ‘cottage hospital’ in Songjiazhuang in western Hebei.  She returned briefly to New Zealand to study midwifery but by 1934 was back in Songjiazhuang. She developed a reputation for providing medical care to rural peasants regardless of their ability to pay and worked long hours to assist them. She became known as “Dr Hall” among locals who remarked how “she was a good person who did numerous good things here”. In addition to her provision of medical care, she trained over 60 local nurses, taught literacy, donated food to the poor and provided funds to help build a new hospital.

“In this world of deep division, Kathleen Hall is a shining example of devotion, loyalty, and tenacity.”

– Miao Fan, NZ China Friendship Society


Kathleen Hall, 1896-1970. Hall, Mary :Photographs of Kathleen Hall. Ref: 1/2-181983-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23114625


Continue reading “The life of Kathleen Hall”

Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush with author Bee Dawson

We sat down with local author Bee Dawson to discuss the newly released book Ōtari: Two hundred years of Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush. Dawson tells us the story behind writing the book, and explains why Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is a unique Wellingtonian treasure. We discuss local history, native plant conservation, collaborative research, and the special people who have helped create and celebrate Aotearoa New Zealand’s only native bush reserve.

The book features an array of botanical drawings and historic photographs, charting Ōtari’s significance to the local community over its history, from the 1820’s to the present day. The contemporary photographs by Chris Coad are particularly striking and beautifully illustrate why Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush is ranked as a six-star garden of significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

On Wellington City Recollect our Rare Books collection contains a digitsed copy of the 1932 document ‘A Scheme for the Development and Arrangement of the Otari Open-Air Native Plant Museum‘, written by the beloved Dr Leonard Cockayne, Wellington’s ‘honorary botanist’ and champion of Ōtari.

Otari : Two hundred years of Otari-Wilton’s Bush / Dawson, Bee

“The story of Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush, the only botanic garden dedicated solely to the collection and conservation of the plants unique to Aotearoa New Zealand and a native bush reserve with over a hundred hectares of regenerating forest, including some of Wellington’s oldest trees.” (Publisher’s Description)
For more information on the book visit The Cuba Press.

Gung Ho: The life of Rewi Alley

Rewi Alley (1897-1987) was born in the Canterbury town of Springfield and grew up in Amberly and Christchurch. He moved to China in 1926 and, over the following decade, worked in a number of different professions including: a firefighter, a factory inspector and a relief worker. He witnessed severe poverty and inequalities of wealth in his adopted country. In 1937, he founded the Association of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives known as Gung Ho (“Work together”) with the American journalist Edgar Snow and several other associates. Gung Ho organised small-scale, self-supporting, cooperatives which created employment for workers and also provided resistance during the Japanese occupation.

Rewi Alley. Burt, Gordon Onslow Hilbury, 1893-1968 :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-036405-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22548741

China gave me an aim to life, a cause to fight for, each year more richly; a place in the ranks of the advancing millions; how great a thing has this been, what bigger reward could one imagine than that which has come to me, and now sustains!
– Rewi Alley

By 1940, he began establishing schools in various parts of China. One of his associates was the British adventurer George Hogg, who revitalised a school in the small village of Shuangshipu (Feng Xi’an). Alley joined Hogg and, in 1942, helped him move the school to the northern county of Shandan after it was threatened by Japanese troops. Following Hogg’s death from tetanus in 1945, Alley took over as headmaster, with administration gradually transferring to local officials following the Communist victory in 1949. By 1953 Alley had settled in Beijing and became a spokesperson for various international peace agencies, such as the World Peace Council. He immersed himself in writing about China and was well-known for his contribution to Chinese literature, writing and translating over 60 books — including the work of Bai Juyi, often regarded as being the finest poet of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). Several of Alley’s books and biographies are held in our collection and can be found through the Wellington City Libraries catalogue.

Rewi Alley teaching, Shandan School, Gansu, China. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-664-14-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23021115



‘China’s cause is my own cause’.

– Rewi Alley




Later in life he revived the Gung Ho organisation with other veterans of the movement and also conceived a plan for a new school in Shandan. He also met and often got to know many of China’s most influential government officials: including Song Qingling, Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Alley dedicated 60 years of his life in China and founded the NZ China Friendship Association. In 1987, both the New Zealand and Chinese governments honoured Alley for his work in Chin,a where he continues to hold the special status of being one of ‘China’s Top 10 international friends of all time’.

‘Eternal Glory to the Great Internationalist Fighter’.

– Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of China

Rewi Alley 60 years in China. Rewi Alley with his Chinese family. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-655-07-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/2318543

Rewi Alley speaking from a podium, China. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-642-07-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23029371









2022 marks the 125th anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth and his life and work to inspire people in both China and New Zealand.

Text sourced from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/rewi-alley

Rewi Alley resources

Distant shores: New non-fiction

Many of the books below involve ideas of heritage: what we inherit from our families, from the cultures we grow up within, and from the complex histories of our world as a whole. In Motherlands, Amaryllis Gacioppo goes searching for a homeland she only knows through stories, while in Hidden Heritage Fatima Manji uses six forgotten relics as a guide to a lesser-told history of the British Empire. Looking into the future, beach-comber Tracey Williams considers the inheritance we are leaving for our descendants in Adrift, as she finds pieces of sea-themed Lego amongst other modern detritus – a ship full of the plastic toys sunk in the 1990s and pieces are still washing up to this day. 

If those don’t sound like your cup of tea, why not check out Don’t Let It Get You Down or All the Women in My Brain, two excellent collections of essays focusing in on identity. Or perhaps you’d like to take a literary tour without having to leave your chair? In that case, Around the World in 80 Books is the one for you.

Motherlands / Gacioppo, Amaryllis
“Australian writer Amaryllis Gacioppo has been raised on stories of original homes, on the Palermo of her mother, the Benghazi of her grandmother and the Turin of her great-grandmother. But what does belonging mean when you’re not sure of where home is? Is the modern nation state defined by those who flourish there or by those who aren’t welcome? Is visiting the land of one’s ancestors a return, a chance to feel complete, or a fantasy? Weaving memoir and cultural history through modern political history, examining notions of citizenship, statelessness, memory and identity and the very notion of home, Motherlands heralds the arrival of a major talent that opens one’s eyes to new ways of seeing.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Adrift : the curious tale of the Lego lost at sea / Williams, Tracey
“In 1997 sixty-two containers fell off the cargo ship Tokio Express after it was hit by a rogue wave off the coast of Cornwall, including one container filled with nearly five million pieces of Lego, much of it sea themed. The pieces are still washing up today. Writer and beachcomber Tracey Williams has always been intrigued by chance finds and the stories and folklore behind them, from shells and sea glass discovered on childhood holidays in Cornwall to flints and fossils unearthed in fields. In 1997, she became interested in the changing nature of beach combing and began to research the age and origin of many of the man-made items she discovered. Her plastic finds have since been described as “a colourful catalogue of our times.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Don’t let it get you down : essays on race, gender, and the body / Nolan, Savala
“An incisive and vulnerable yet powerful and provocative collection of essays, Savala offers poignant reflections on living between society’s most charged, politicized, and intractably polar spaces: between black and white, between rich and poor, between thin and fat – as a woman. It is these liminal spaces that give the essays their strikingly clear and refreshing point of view on the defining tension points in our culture. Each of the twelve essays are rife with unforgettable and insightful anecdotes, and are as humorous and as full of Savala’s appetites as they are of anxieties. Perfect for fans of Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, this book delivers a fresh perspective on race, class, bodies, and gender, that is both an entertaining and engaging addition to the ongoing social and cultural conversation.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Hidden heritage : rediscovering Britain’s lost love for the Orient / Manji, Fatima
“Why was there a Turkish mosque adorning Britain’s most famous botanic garden in in the eighteenth century? And more importantly, why is it no longer there? Throughout Britain’s galleries and museums, civic buildings and stately homes, relics can be found that beg these questions and more. They point to a more complex national history than is commonly remembered. These objects, lost, concealed or simply overlooked, expose the diversity of pre-twentieth-century Britain and the misconceptions around modern immigration narratives. In her journey across the country exploring cultural landmarks, Fatima Manji searches for a richer and more honest story of a nation struggling with identity and the legacy of empire.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Around the world in 80 books / Damrosch, David
“David Damrosch set out to counter a pandemic’s restrictions on travel by exploring eighty exceptional books from around the globe. Following a literary itinerary from London to Venice, Tehran and points beyond, he explores how these works have shaped our idea of the world, and the ways in which the world bleeds into literature. In his literary cartography, Damrosch includes compelling contemporary works as well as perennial classics, hard-bitten crime fiction as well as haunting works of fantasy, and the formative tales that introduce us as children to the world we’re entering. Taken together, these eighty titles offer us fresh perspective on enduring problems. Around the World in 80 Books is a global invitation to look beyond ourselves and our surroundings, and to see our world and its literature in new ways.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

All the women in my brain : and other concerns / Gilpin, Betty
“Betty Gilpin has a brain full of women. There’s Blanche VonFuckery, Ingrid St. Rash, and a host of others–some cowering in sweatpants, some howling plans for revolution, and some, oh God, and some…slowly vomiting up a crow without breaking eye contact? Jesus. These women take turns at the wheel. That’s why Betty feels like a million selves. With a raised eyebrow and a soul-scalpel, she tells us how she got this way. She takes us from wild dissections of modern womanhood to boarding school to the glossy cringe of Hollywood. We laugh through the failures and quietly hope with her for the dreams. Stunning, candid, and laugh-out-loud funny, All the Women in My Brain is perfect for any reader who’s ever felt like they were more, or at least weirder, than the world expected.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Beyond measure : the hidden history of measurement / Vincent, James
“We measure rainfall and radiation, the depths of space and the emptiness of atoms, calories and steps, happiness and pain. But how did measurement become ubiquitous in modern life? When did humanity first take up scales and rulers, and why does this practice hold authority over so many aspects of our lives? Written with dazzling intelligence, James Vincent provides a fresh and original perspective on human history as he tracks our long search for dependable truths in a chaotic universe. Full of mavericks and visionaries, adventure and the unexpected, Beyond Measure shows that measurement has not only made the world we live in, it has made us too.” (Adapted from Amazon UK)

Pirate queens : the lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read / Simon, Rebecca
“Between August and October 1720, two female pirates named Anne Bonny and Mary Read terrorized the Caribbean in and around Jamaica. Despite their short career, they became two of the most notorious pirates during the height of the eighteenth-century Golden Age of Piracy. In a world dominated by men, they became infamous for their bravery, cruelty and unwavering determination to escape the social constraints placed on women during that time. But how much is fact versus fiction? This first full-length biography about Anne Bonny and Mary Read explores their intriguing backgrounds while examining the social context of women in their lifetime and their legacy in popular culture that exists to the present day.” (Adapted from Amazon UK)

Controversial creations: New non-fiction

Do you prefer paperback or hardback? Soft, flexible pages or crisp glossy ones? A book that flops open with ease or a book that tempts you, in its rigidity, to crack the spine? The truth is we can be rather picky about the physical feel of the books we read. But amongst all these variables, at least some things are certain: there will be paper and words and sometimes images. Right? 

Occasionally, something comes along with the audacity to call itself a book despite defying all expectations and instinct. Take, for example, the cheese book. It is made entirely of wrapped slices of processed cheese and it’s in the collection of a number of libraries around the world. The mere fact of its existence riles people up.

Emma Smith explores such controversies and more in Portable Magic, a delightful history of the book-as-object. She also focuses on our relationship with these objects, on the way they have entranced us and changed us. We recommend it for all book-lovers out there! As for the rest of the picks below, not only do they promise to be just as fascinating, we can also confirm that they are assuredly, unequivocally paper-based.

Portable magic : a history of books and their readers / Smith, Emma
“Most of what we say about books is really about the words inside them: the rosy nostalgic glow for childhood reading, the lifetime companionship of a much-loved novel. But books are things as well as words, objects in our lives as well as worlds in our heads. And just as we crack their spines, loosen their leaves and write in their margins, so they disrupt and disorder us in turn. Portable Magic unfurls an exciting and iconoclastic new story of the book in human hands. Gathering together a millennium’s worth of pivotal encounters with volumes big and small, Smith reveals that, as much as their contents, it is books’ physical form that lends them their distinctive and sometimes dangerous magic. Ultimately, our relationship with the written word is more reciprocal – and more turbulent – than we tend to imagine.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The marmalade diaries : the true story of an odd couple / Aitken, Ben
“Recently widowed, Winne, 84, was in need of some companionship. Ben, 34, was looking for a new housemate. As the UK was locked down in 2020, Ben and Winnie’s lives interwove, forming an unlikely friendship, where lessons were learnt (heat the red wine in the oven with the plates; preserve or pickle whatever you can; never throw anything away) and grief, both personal and that of a nation, was explored. Charting both their time together, The Marmalade Diaries is a very human exploration of home, of the passage time, of the growing relationship between an odd couple, told with warmth, wit and candour.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The facemaker : a visionary surgeon’s battle to mend the disfigured soldiers of World War I / Fitzharris, Lindsey
“From the moment the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear: mankind’s military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. In the midst of this brutality, however, there were also those who strove to alleviate suffering. The Facemaker tells the extraordinary story of pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gilles, who dedicated himself to reconstructing the burned and broken faces of the injured soldiers under his care. The result is a vivid account of how medicine can be an art, and of what courage and imagination can accomplish in the presence of relentless horror.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Nomads : the wanderers who shaped our world / Sattin, Anthony
“Humans have been on the move for most of history. Even after the great urban advancement lured people into the great cities of Uruk, Babylon, Rome and Chang’an, most of us continued to live lightly on the move and outside the pages of history. But recent discoveries have revealed another story. Wandering people built the first great stone monuments, they tamed the horse, fashioned the composite bow, fought with the Greeks and hastened the end of the Roman Empire. Reconnecting with our deepest mythology, our unrecorded antiquity and our natural environment, Nomads is the untold history of civilisation, told through its outsiders.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A natural history of the future : what the laws of biology tell us about the destiny of the human species / Dunn, Rob
“Biologist Rob Dunn grew up listening to stories of the Mississippi River, how it flooded his grandfather’s town, leaving behind a muddy wasteland. Years later, Dunn discovered the cause: the Army Corps of Engineers had tried to straighten the river to allow for the easy passage of boats. But as Dunn argues in A Natural History of the Future, nature has its own set of rules, and no amount of human tampering can rewrite them. He reveals the surprising complexities of the natural world and offers plenty of simple lessons in how we can make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure our own species’ survival. At once hopeful and practical, this book offers a vision of our future in which humans and the natural world coexist symbiotically.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The family Roe : an American story / Prager, Joshua
“Despite her famous pseudonym, “Jane Roe,” no one knows the truth about Norma McCorvey, whose unwanted pregnancy in 1969 opened a great fracture in American life. Drawing on a decade of research, Prager reveals the woman behind the pseudonym, writing in novelistic detail of her unknown life from her time as a sex worker in Dallas, to her private thoughts on family and abortion, to her dealings with feminist and Christian leaders, to the three daughters she placed for adoption. An epic work spanning fifty years of American history, The Family Roe is a masterpiece of reporting on the Supreme Court’s most divisive case: Roe v Wade.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The science of murder : the forensics of Agatha Christie / Valentine, Carla
“A mortician and forensic expert explores the real-life cases that inspired Agatha Christie, showing how the great mystery writer might have kept current with the latest advancements in forensic science.” (Catalogue)

Fledgling / Bourne-Taylor, Hannah
“When lifelong bird-lover Hannah Bourne-Taylor moved with her husband to Ghana seven years ago she couldn’t have anticipated how her life would be forever changed. Fledgling is a portrayal of adaptability, resilience and self-discovery in the face of isolation and change, fuelled by the quiet power of nature and the unexpected bonds with animals she encounters. Bourne-Taylor encourages us to reconsider the conventional relationships people have with animals through her inspiring glimpse of what is possible when we allow ourselves to connect to the natural world. She shows that even the tiniest of birds can teach us what is important in life and how to embrace every day.” (Adapted from Catalogue)