Astonishing journeys and bookish broads: recent biographies of note

Astonishing journeys, a pioneering feminist, bookish broads, an Ockham Award winning book and a funny but thoughtful reflection on turning 50, all feature in these latest biographies.

Nuestra América : my family in the vertigo of translation / Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio
“A riveting exploration of the intersecting lines of Jewish and indigenous Latin American thought and culture, by way of a family memoir. In Our America, eminent anthropologist and historian Claudio Lomnitz traces his grandparents’ exile from Eastern Europe to South America. His grandparents stories intersect with leftist political movements in 1920s Peru, the Holocaust, Colombia’s political unrest and Israel’s beginnings. This immigrant family memoir recounts history with psychological insight and the immediacy of a thriller.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Floating in a most peculiar way / Chude-Sokei, Louis Onuorah
“The first time Chude-Sokei realizes that he is ‘first son of the first son’ of a renowned leader of the bygone African nation is in Uncle Daddy and Big Auntie’s strict religious household in Jamaica, where he lives with other abandoned children. Then his mother, the onetime “Jackie O of Biafra,” sends for him to come live with her in Inglewood, Los Angeles. In this world, anything alien– such as Chude-Sykes’s secret obsession with science fiction and David Bowie– is a danger. His yearning to become a Black American gets deeply, sometimes absurdly, complicated. This is his memoir of the redemptive skill of navigating not just Blackness, but Blacknesses, in his America. — adapted from jacket” (Catalogue)

Kate Edger : the life of a pioneering feminist / Morrow, Diana
“In 1877, Kate Edger became the first woman to graduate from a New Zealand university. Edger went on to become a pioneer of women’s education in New Zealand. She also worked tirelessly to mitigate violence against women and children and to fortify their rights through progressive legislation. She campaigned for women’s suffrage and played a prominent role in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in Wellington’s Society for the Protection of Women and Children. Diana Morrow tells the story of this remarkable New Zealand woman’s life in a very readable book which provides valuable insights into the role of women social reformers in our history.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Bookish broads : women who wrote themselves into history / Marino, Lauren
“Women have written some of our most extraordinary literary works while living in societies and cultures that tried to silence them. In Bookish Broads, Lauren Marino celebrates fierce, trailblazing female writers, reworking the literary canon that has long failed to recognize the immense contributions of women. Featuring more than 50 brilliant bookish broads, Marino cleverly illuminates the lives of the greats as well as the literary talents history has wrongfully overlooked. Each intimate portrait delves into one woman’s works and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations depicting each literary legend in her element and time.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Of the winner of the General Non Fiction category at the 2021 Ockham Book Awards (Vincent O’Sullivan’s biography of Ralph Hotere), category convenor Dr Sarah Shieff said that as a biographer, O’Sullivan displayed masterly skill:

This is a sensitive, detailed portrait of one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important modern artists, shaped around the four pou of Hotere’s identity: his Māoritanga, his faith, his whenua, and his whānau. The judges would like to commend Vincent O’Sullivan for an extraordinary achievement in biography.” (NZ Book Awards Trust)

Ralph Hotere : the dark is light enough : a biographical portrait / O’Sullivan, Vincent
“Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa; 1931-2013) was one of Aotearoa’s most significant modern artists. Hotere invited the poet, novelist and biographer Vincent O’Sullivan to write his life story in 2005. Now, this book – the result of years of research and many conversations with Hotere and his fellow artists, collaborators, friends and family – provides a nuanced, compelling portrait of Hotere: the man, and the artist.” (Publisher information)

Turns out, I’m fine / Lucy, Judith
“Judith Lucy was just Great! Sure, the last remaining member of her immediate family had died, she was menopausal, she suspected her career was in the shitter and it seemed like the world was going to hell in a handbasket – but everything would work out because SHE HAD A MAN. Then, in the space of twenty-four hours, her relationship came apart and so did she. A broken heart became the catalyst for a complete existential melt down. She was nearly fifty, suddenly alone and unsure about every aspect of her life. How had this happened? She tries everything from dating a tree to getting a portrait of her vulva done to swimming with a whale shark. Thanks to a series of revelations and a slight drowning experience, Judith slowly starts to realise that her life is still full of possibilities and despite death, heartache and a dry vagina it turns out … she’s fine.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Families, love and glamour! New biographies at your library.

Find out who was the real Wallis Simpson in a new biography about the glamorous American and her life. Read about Olivia Newton-John, one of the most successful and loved entertainers and her tireless journey to becoming a force for good in the world. Choose your favourite titles either as books or ebooks and enjoy reading!

Books
Inheritance : a memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love / Shapiro, Dani
“What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Don’t let me down : a memoir / Hosier, Erin
“Erin Hosier’s coming-of-age was full of contradiction. Born into the turbulent 1970s, she was raised in rural Ohio by lapsed hippies who traded 1960s rock ‘n’ roll for 1950s-era Christian hymns. Her mother’s newfound faith was rooted in a desire to manage her husband’s mood swings, which could alternately fill the house with music or with violence. Don’t Let Me Down is about a brave girl trying to navigate family secrets and tragedies and escape from small-town small-mindedness.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Don’t stop believin’ / Newton-John, Olivia
“For more than five decades Olivia Newton-John has been one of our most successful and adored entertainers. A four-time Grammy Award winner, she is one of the world’s best-selling recording artists of all time, with more than 100 million albums sold. Olivia has always radiated joy, hope and compassion – determined to be a force for good in the world. Now she is sharing her journey, from Melbourne schoolgirl to international superstar, in this deeply personal book.” (adapted from Catalogue)

eBooks
Overdrive cover Untitled, Anna Pasternak (ebook)
“Who was the real Wallis: an opportunistic American social climber, a master manipulator or the true love of Edward’s life? Amid the cacophony of condemnation her story has become obfuscated. Untitled is an intimate biography of one of the most misunderstood women in British royal history. Yet Edward gave up the British throne, the British Empire and his position as Emperor of India, to marry his true love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.” (adapted from Overdrive description)

Overdrive cover Churchill, Andrew Roberts (ebook)
“Winston Churchill towers over every other figure in twentieth-century British history. By the time of his death at the age of 90 in 1965, many thought him to be the greatest man in the world. There have been over a thousand previous biographies of Churchill. Andrew Roberts now draws on over forty new sources, including the private diaries of King George VI, used in no previous Churchill biography to depict him more intimately and persuasively than any of its predecessors.” (adapted from Overdrive description)

Life after End Times: New Biographies

No one tells you this

Tara Westover never went to school. She didn’t visit the doctor. Instead, she spent her childhood working in a junkyard and preparing for the biblical End of Days. But as her family grew abusive, she knew she had to escape. She began to educate herself, and ten years later she was in the UK, completing a PhD at Cambridge University. Her biography, Educated, is one of nine fantastic new titles in this month’s collection. From Costa-winning Bart van Es’ The Cut Out Girl to Hollywood’s Eve by Lili Anolik, the list below highlights why memoir is one of the most dynamic genres in contemporary writing. Enjoy!

Another Planet: a Teenager in Suburbia / Thorn, Tracey
“In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn’s teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving. Returning more than three decades later to Brookmans Park, scene of her childhood, Thorn takes us beyond the bus shelters and pub car parks, the utopian cul-de-sacs and the train to Potters Bar, to the parents who wanted so much for their children, the children who wanted none of it.” (Catalogue)

The cut out girl: a story of war and family, lost and found / Van Es, Bart
“Bart van Es left Holland for England many years ago, but one story from his childhood never left him. It was a mystery: a young Jewish girl named Lientje had been taken in during the war by relatives and hidden from the Nazis. The girl had been raised by her foster family as one of their own, but then, after the war, there was a falling out. What was the girl’s side of the story, Bart wondered? What really happened during the war, and after?” (Catalogue)

Educated: a memoir / Westover, Tara
“Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.” (Catalogue)

No one tells you this: a memoir / MacNicol, Glynnis
“If the story doesn’t end with marriage or a child, what then? This question plagued Glynnis MacNicol on the eve of her 40th birthday. Despite a successful career as a writer, and an exciting life in New York City, Glynnis was constantly reminded she had neither of the things the world expected of a woman her age: a partner or a baby. She knew she was supposed to feel bad about this, but Glynnis refused to be cast into either of those roles and yet the question remained: what now?” (Catalogue)

Reporter: a memoir / Hersh, Seymour M
“Seymour Hersh’s fearless reporting has earned him fame, front-page bylines in virtually every major newspaper in the free world, honours galore and no small amount of controversy. Now in this memoir, he describes what drove him and how he worked as an independent outsider, even at the nation’s most prestigious publications. This is essential reading on the power of the printed word at a time when good journalism is under fire as never before.” (Catalogue)

Inheritance: a Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love / Shapiro, Dani
“In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her. Inheritance is a book about secrets–secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love.” (Catalogue)

All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf / Smyth, Katharine
“Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf’s modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death–a calamity that claimed her favourite person–she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.” (Catalogue)

On Sunset: a memoir / Harrison, Kathryn
“Noted for her boundary-breaking memoirs as well as her fiction, Harrison introduces us to her fur trapper-turned-Model T Ford salesman grandfather and her grandmother, born into a privileged Jewish merchant family in Shanghai, who raised her in a Tudor mansion above Sunset Boulevard until the money ran out. A childhood at once privileged and unusual, filled with the mementos and echoes of their impossibly exotic and peripatetic lives.” (Catalogue)

Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the secret history of L.A. / Anolik, Lili
“LA in the 1960s was the pop culture capital of the world–a dream factory. Eve Babitz was the ultimate factory girl, a pure product of the city. The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of Hollywood High, Babitz posed, at age twenty, playing chess with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. She was naked; he was not. The photograph made her an instant icon of art and sex. Babitz spent the rest of the decade on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. Then, at nearly thirty, her It girl days numbered, Babitz was discovered–as a writer…” (Catalogue)

Becoming–with Michelle Obama!

November is a big month in the world of biography! The reason? It’s the launch of Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir, Becoming. Becoming covers everything from childhood to work to politics–as well as more recent goings-on at the White House. And while Obama is currently on a stadium-sized book tour in the US, you can get a sneak preview of your own by checking out a sample chapter in the Guardian (and don’t forget to have a browse of our other great new biographies, too!).

Syndetics book coverBecoming: a memoir / Michelle Obama
“In her memoir, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her–from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverInheritance: a memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love / Dani Shapiro
“In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history–the life she had lived–crumbled beneath her. Inheritance is a book about secrets–secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverIn pieces: a memoir / Sally Field
“In this intimate, haunting literary memoir, an American icon tells her own story for the first time–about a challenging and lonely childhood, the craft that helped her find her voice and a powerful emotional legacy that shaped her journey as a daughter and a mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverSmall fry / Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMad, bad, dangerous to know: the fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce / Colm Tóibín
“From Colm Tóibín comes an intimate study of Irish history and literature told through the lives and work of three men–William Wilde, John Butler Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce–and the relationships they had with their sons. Tóibín recounts the resistance to English cultural domination, the birth of modern Irish cultural identity and the extraordinary contributions of these complex and masterful authors.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverHeavy: an American memoir / Kiese Laymon
“In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies and deception does to a black body, a black family and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverBrutally honest / Melanie Brown
“As one-fifth of the iconic Spice Girls and judge on X Factor and America’s Got Talent, Melanie Brown, a.k.a Scary Spice, has been an international star since her twenties. Brutally Honest is an exposé of the struggles and acute pain that lay behind the glamour and success.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Backstairs of History: The Best of Recent Biographies

I am, I am, I am Cover

Have you ever thought about writing your memoirs? Of course you have! And you don’t need to be a famous politician or a rock star or an eccentric billionaire to do it—some of the most radical (and successful) memoirs have been written by normal-ish human beings!

But perhaps you need a bit more encouragement? Never fear, below is a list of some of the best biographies of the last few years, and while, yes, there is a celebrity or two, there are ordinary people as well, and each of them have expanded the idea of what a memoir can accomplish—and whose voices need to be heard!

The beautiful struggle : a memoir / Coates, Ta-Nehisi
“With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth in 1980’s Baltimore, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.” (Catalogue)

I am, I am, I am : seventeen brushes with death / O’Farrell, Maggie
“A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It is a book to make you question yourself: what would you do if your life was in danger?” (Catalogue)

Hunger : a memoir of (my) body / Gay, Roxane
“Gay, who deals fearlessly with our hardest truths in both essays (the New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist) and fiction (An Untamed State, an LJ Best Book), here addresses issues of eating and self-image, then broadens her meditation on body as she examines violence against women, starting with a terrible incident in her youth.” (Catalogue)

Making rent in Bed-Stuy : a memoir of trying to make it in New York City / Harris, Brandon
“A young African American millennial filmmaker’s funny, sometimes painful, true-life coming-of-age story of trying to make it in New York City–a chronicle of poverty and wealth, creativity and commerce, struggle and insecurity, and the economic and cultural forces intertwined with ‘the serious, life-threatening process’ of gentrification.” (Catalogue)

Driving to Treblinka : a long search for a lost father / Wichtel, Diana
“When Diana Wichtel was 13 she moved to New Zealand with her mother, sister and brother. Her father was to follow. Diana never saw him again. Many years later she sets out to discover what happened to him.” (Catalogue)

You can’t touch my hair and other things I still have to explain / Robinson, Phoebe
“A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.” (Catalogue)

Wishful drinking / Fisher, Carrie
“In her first ever memoir, Carrie Fisher takes us on an intimate, hilarious and sobering journey through her life. Adapted from the sold-out one-woman show of the same name.” (Catalogue)

The good immigrant / Shukla, Nikesh (editor)
“Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.” (Catalogue)

This is going to hurt : secret diaries of a junior doctor / Kay, Adam
“As soon as Adam Kay set foot on a hospital ward for the first time, he realized there’s quite a lot they don’t teach you at medical school. His diaries from the NHS front line – scribbled in secret after long nights, endless days and missed weekends – are hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking by turns.” (Catalogue)

Swimming suffragettes: New biographies

Staying

“A revolution in swimming was underway. By custom and often by law, women in America and England weren’t allowed in the water without covering their limbs in a heavy “bathing costume” that weighed them down. But some women wanted to jump into the water unencumbered, and even to race…”Sarah Laskow

Swimming features prominently in this month’s new biographies, including Jenny Landreth’s Swell, which details the connection between women’s suffrage and swimming, as well as Yusra Mardini’s Butterfly: from Refugee to Olympian, describing Mardini’s escape from Syria and later membership of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team. And if you’ve forgotten your togs or towel, don’t worry–we’ve got plenty of biographies set on dry land as well!

Syndetics book coverSwell : a waterbiography / Jenny Landreth.
“These days, swimming may seem like the most egalitarian of pastimes, open to anyone with a swimsuit–but this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the 1930s that women were finally, and reluctantly, granted equal access to the water. This is the story of the women who made that possible, a thank-you to the fearless “swimming suffragettes” who fought for equal access, and won.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverButterfly : from refugee to Olympian–my story of rescue, hope, and triumph / Yusra Mardini with Josie Le Blond.
“When young Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini realized her boat’s engine shut down as she was travelling from Syria to Greece with other refugees, there was no hesitation: she dove into the water. Grabbing a rope with one hand, she began kicking up the black water, inching the boat towards the distant shore. This act of bravery saved the lives of a boatload of refugees–and started her towards the Rio Olympics.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverExcuse me while I slip into someone more comfortable : a memoir / Eric Poole.
“In 1977, Eric Poole is a talented high school trumpet player with one working ear, the height-to-weight ratio of a hat rack, a series of annoyingly handsome bullies and a mother irrationally devoted to Lemon Pledge. But who he wants to be is a star…ANY star. Picking up at the end of his first acclaimed memoir, Where’s My Wand?, Poole’s journey from self-delusion to acceptance is simultaneously hysterical, heartfelt and inspiring.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverThe girl : Marilyn Monroe, the seven year itch, and the birth of an unlikely feminist / Michelle Morgan.
“With an in-depth look at the two most empowering years in the life of Marilyn Monroe, The Girl details how The Seven Year Itch created an icon and sent the star on an adventure of self-discovery and transformation from a controlled wife and contract player into a businesswoman and unlikely feminist whose power is still felt today.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverStaying : a memoir / Jessie Cole.
“As children, Jessie Cole and her brother Jake ran wild, free to roam their rainforest home as they pleased. They had each other, parents who adored them, and two mysterious, beautiful, clever half-sisters. But when Jessie was on the cusp of adolescence, tragedy struck, and her family fell apart. This heartbreaking memoir asks what happens to those who are left behind when someone takes their own life–and finding peace in a place of pain.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverOdyssey of the unknown Anzac / David Hastings.
“Ten years after the end of World War I, the Sydney Sun reported that an unknown Anzac still lay in a Sydney psychiatric hospital. Thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand responded to this story and began an international campaign to find the man’s family. David Hastings follows this one previously unknown Anzac, George McQuay, from rural New Zealand through Gallipoli and finally home. By doing so, he takes us deep inside the Great War and the human mind.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMI5 and me : a coronet among the spooks / Charlotte Bingham.
“When Lottie is summoned to her father’s office at the age of 18, she is astonished to learn that this unexciting parent is a spy. Even more perturbing is his view that she should stop drifting around and get a proper job, something patriotic and worthwhile. This unique memoir is a window into 1950s Britain: a country where Russian agents infiltrate the highest echelons, where debutantes are typists and where Englishness is both a nationality and a code of behaviour.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverSkybound : a journey in flight / Rebecca Loncraine.
“In her mid-30s Rebecca Loncraine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, and after months of gruelling treatment, she flew in a glider for the first time. In that engineless plane, soaring 3000 feet over the landscape of her childhood with only the rising thermals to take her higher and the birds to lead the way, she fell in love.” (Adapted from the Syndetics summary.)

Life, loss and love (and grave robbing?) with new Biographies

Letters From the Suitcase

Most memoirs deal in facts, in whos and whats and whens. However this month’s new biographies contain something a bit different: When We Were Ghouls, by Amy E. Wallen. When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen and her family as they travel around the globe, facing “seismic shifts in cultures”. Years later Wallen must pick through uncertain memories to try and find the truth – were her parents really grave robbers?

Syndetics book coverHarry: Life, Loss, and Love / Katie Nicholl.
“On the eve of his wedding comes the most intimate and informative portrait yet of Prince Harry, from royal expert Katie Nicholl, author of the bestselling William and Harry and Kate. From his earliest public appearances as a mischievous redheaded toddler, Prince Harry has captured the hearts of royal enthusiasts around the world. In Harry, Britain’s leading expert on the young royals offers an in-depth look at the wayward prince turned national treasure.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverLetters from the suitcase: a wartime love story / [edited by] Rosheen and Cal Finnigan.
“Mary and David Francis were only 21 and 19 when they met in 1938. They fell in love instantly, and against the wishes of David’s parents, they lived together and married. These poignant letters reveal their intelligence and thoughtfulness, their passion, the everyday details of their lives working as a secretary at Bletchley Park and as a young officer in action on the other side of the world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverYoung queen: the story of a girl who conquered the world / Parris Goebel with Tracy O’Connor.
“In this honest memoir, Parris Goebel shares the extraordinary story of how she went from high-school dropout to award-winning dancer, choreographer and video director. She has worked with some of the biggest stars in music, including Janet Jackson, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. A true #girlboss.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverEverything I know about love / Dolly Alderton.
“When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod Stewart-themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped and realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverChurchill: the greatest Briton / Christopher Catherwood.
“A richly visual examination of the most revered Briton in history, from his birth at Blenheim Palace, to his inspirational wartime leadership, to his final years as a grand old man of world politics. This illustrated portrait, complete with 160 painstakingly researched photographs, artworks, speeches and letters sourced from the family archives at Cambridge, provides insight into every facet of this remarkable man.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverWhen we were ghouls: a memoir of ghost stories / Amy E. Wallen.
When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen’s recollections of her family who, like ghosts, came and went and slipped through her fingers, rendering her memories unclear. Were they a family of grave robbers, as her memory of the pillaging of a pre-Incan grave site indicates? Are they, as the author’s mother posits, ‘hideous people’? Or is Wallen’s memory out of focus?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverErnest Hemingway: a biography / Mary V. Dearborn.
“His writing was taken up with notions of human dignity and worth, ‘the necessity of man’s freedom, of personal honor,’ notions by which a man should live and die in a world that had lost the possibility of hope. Dearborn’s is the first full biography of Hemingway to be written by a woman, the first to fully explore the causes of his suicide and to substantially deepen our understanding of the man.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverGirls at the Piano / Virginia Lloyd.
“A brilliant memoir about how learning the piano shaped the lives of two women worlds and generations apart that will resonate for music lovers everywhere and for anyone who has tried to master the piano.” (Syndetics summary.)

Modern Bodies: The Best of Dance Biographies

No art form better captures the passion and politics of humanity than dance. From the Soviet-American ballet rivalry of the Cold War to the rise of Lindy Hop in 1920s Harlem to the emergence of waacking from the LGBTQI clubs of 1970s LA, dance explores—and occasionally crosses—boundaries of nation, culture, gender and sexuality. New Zealand is no exception, and as part this year’s Dance Week we’ve got Dancing Through the Pages, a series of talks and performances by Wellington-based dancers and artists. And if you can’t wait until then, we’ve also got some great dance biographies, from Vaslav Nijinsky to Michael Jackson and beyond!


Syndetics book coverNijinsky / Lucy Moore.
“The first major biography for forty years tells the tragic story of ballet’s great revolutionary, Nijinsky. ‘He achieves the miraculous,’ the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote of Vaslav Nijinsky. He embodies all the beauty of classical frescoes and statues. Like so many since, Rodin recognised that in Nijinsky classical ballet had one of the greatest and most original artists of the twentieth century, in any genre.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverModern bodies : dance and American modernism from Martha Graham to Alvin Ailey / Julia L. Foulkes.
“In 1930, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham proclaimed the arrival of “dance as an art of and from America.” Through their art, modern dancers challenged conventional roles and images of gender, sexuality, race, class and regionalism. Modern Bodies exposes the social dynamics that moved modern dance to the edges of society, a place both provocative and perilous.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverJosephine Baker / written by José-Louis Bocquet ; art by Catel Muller ; historical consultant, Jean-Claude Bouillon-Baker.
“Josephine Baker was 19 years old when she found herself in Paris for the first time. Overnight, the young American dancer became the idol of the Roaring Twenties, captivating Picasso, Cocteau, Le Corbusier and Simenon. After World War II, Baker devoted herself to the struggle against racial segregation, battling the humiliations she had for so long suffered. She would sing of love and liberty until the day she died.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverHe’s got rhythm : the life and career of Gene Kelly / Cynthia Brideson & Sara Brideson.
“He sang and danced in the rain, proclaimed New York to be a wonderful town and convinced a group of Parisian children that they had rhythm. One of the most influential and respected entertainers of Hollywood’s golden age, Gene Kelly revolutionized film musicals with his innovative and timeless choreography.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverDarcey Bussell / Darcey Bussell.
“Darcey Bussell is widely considered to be one of the greatest English ballerinas of all time. Her stellar career spanned two decades of magnificent dance where she worked with Dame Margot Fonteyn, observed an aging Nureyev, crossed swords with rival prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem, argued the finer points of technique with Sir Kenneth MacMillan and danced for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverMoonwalk / Michael Jackson.
Moonwalk is the only book about his life that Michael Jackson ever wrote. It chronicles his humble beginnings in the Midwest, his early days with the Jackson 5 and his unprecedented solo success.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverAmerica dancing : from the cakewalk to the moonwalk / Megan Pugh.
“An exuberant history of American dance, told through the lives of virtuoso performers who have defined the art. The history of American dance reflects the nation’s tangled culture. Dancers from wildly different backgrounds learned, imitated and stole from one another. Audiences everywhere embraced the result as deeply American.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Syndetics book coverRemembering Nureyev : the trail of a comet / Rudi van Dantzig ; translation by Katie de Haan.
“Famously volatile, fickle in his passions for people, but with astonishing charisma onstage and off, Rudolf Nureyev is regarded as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the twentieth century. This is a book balletomanes cannot miss, with an eagle-eyed sharpness that never dissolves into hagiography or gossip.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary.)

Blasphemous libel and other stories: New Biographies

If you missed cartoonist Tom Scott’s appearance at the New Zealand Festival, never fear – his memoir Drawn Out is available now! Drawn Out has been shortlisted for a New Zealand Book Award, and includes Scott’s famous battle with Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. Check it out, along with a range of other great titles!

Syndetics book coverDrawn out : a seriously funny memoir / Tom Scott.
“Tom Scott has been drawing political cartoons for Wellington’s Dominion Post since 1988, and was famously banned from the Press Gallery by P.M. Muldoon. His memoir covers his childhood – a tragi-comedy of a poor Irish Catholic family, his uni days when he was editor of the student newspaper and sued for blasphemous libel, his parliamentary career, his work with Ed Hillary and more.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe trauma cleaner : one woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay & disaster / Sarah Krasnostein.
“Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife… But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn praise of difficult women : life lessons from 29 heroines who dared to break the rules / Karen Karbo ; illustrations by Kimberly Glyder.
“From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA life of my own / Claire Tomalin.
“This enthralling memoir follows Claire Tomalin through triumph and tragedy in equal measure, from a difficult wartime childhood to her marriage to a brilliant young journalist. Tomalin writes of the intense joys of a fascinating progression as she became one of the most successful literary editors in London before discovering her true vocation as a biographer.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGeorge / Sean Smith.
“Georgios Panayiotou was just eighteen when he decided to adopt the stage name of George Michael. Sometimes his two worlds would collide with shattering consequences. Bestselling biographer Sean Smith has gone back to the neighbourhoods of North London to trace the astonishing journey of a sensitive but determined boy who grew up to be one of the biggest British pop stars of all time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAn odyssey : a father, a son, and an epic / Daniel Mendelsohn.
“When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn’s narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception, recognition and the meaning of home.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverExtraordinary life of A.A. Milne / Nadia Cohen.
“Very few authors can ever dream of coming close to the legacy left by A.A. Milne, but Milne himself was never able to enjoy his fame and fortune. He died deeply resenting Winnie the Pooh’s success. The Extraordinary Life of A.A. Milne delves deep into the life of Milne and sheds light on new places, and tells stories untold.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHitler, my neighbor : memories of a Jewish childhood, 1929-1939 / Edgar Feuchtwanger with Bertil Scali ; translated by Adriana Hunter.
“Edgar Feuchtwanger was a carefree five-year-old when Adolf Hitler moved into the building opposite. In 1933 the joy of this untroubled life was shattered. Edgar’s parents, stripped of their rights as citizens, tried to protect him from increasingly degrading realities. In 1939 Edgar was sent alone to England. It wasn’t until the age of 88 he felt ready to tell the story of his buried childhood and his infamous neighbour.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGordon Walters : new vision / commissioning editor, Zara Stanhope ; curators, Lucy Hammonds, Laurence Simmons and Julia Waite ; managing editor, Clare McIntosh.
“A substantial publication, Gordon Walters : New Vision, is being co-published by Auckland Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery to mark the occasion of this exhibition.” (Syndetics summary)

Nothing but biography: Recent biographies

“Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” So wrote the esteemed Benjamin Disraeli. A little sweeping maybe, but we biography-lovers cannot but concur. There are some excellent examples of the craft on offer this month.

Syndetics book coverAlexander Hamilton / Ron Chernow.
“Alexander Hamilton was an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean who overcame all the odds to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat she ate : six remarkable women and the food that tells their stories / Laura Shapiro.
“Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSargent’s women : four lives behind the canvas / Donna M. Lucey.
“In this seductive, multilayered biography, based on original letters and diaries, Donna M. Lucey illuminates four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny intuition, Sargent hinted at the mysteries and passions that unfolded in his subjects’ lives.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA secret sisterhood : the literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf / Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney ; foreword by Margaret Atwood.
“Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ocean fell into the drop / Terence Stamp.
The Ocean Fell into the Drop is a different kind of showbusiness memoir, one that traces Terence Stamp’s twin obsessions, acting and mysticism, and the relationship the two have to each other for him, through the trajectory of his life.” (Syndetics summary)
See also Stamp album by the same author.

Syndetics book coverThe gamekeeper / Portia Simpson.
“The H is for Hawk for lovers of the outdoors and wildlife. A fascinating memoir of Scotland’s first-ever qualified female gamekeeper. In this wonderful memoir, Portia tells the story of how she first broke into a traditionally conservative, male-dominated profession and the skills, training and dedication that helped to set her apart.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe secret history of Jane Eyre : how Charlotte Brontë wrote her masterpiece / John Pfordresher.
“In The Secret History of Jane Eyre, John Pfordresher tells the enthralling story of Bronte’s compulsion to write her masterpiece and why she then turned around and vehemently disavowed it.” (Syndetics summary)

One to look forward to:
Syndetics book coverAn Almost Perfect Christmas
“From perennially dry turkeys to Christmas pudding fires, from the round robin code of conduct to the risks and rewards of re-gifting, An Almost Perfect Christmas is an ode to the joy and insanity of the most wonderful time of the year.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one reissued:
Syndetics book coverMoab is my washpot / Stephen Fry.
“A number one bestseller in Britain, Stephen Fry’s astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one you might have missed:
Syndetics book coverDadland : a journey into uncharted territory / Keggie Care.
“Keggie takes us on a spellbinding journey, in peace and war, into surprising and shady corners of history, her rackety English childhood, the poignant breakdown of her family, the corridors of dementia and beyond. As Keggie pieces Tom – and herself – back together again, she celebrates the technicolour life of an impossible, irresistible, unstoppable man.” (Syndetics summary)

Party animals – Biography picks for February

….but not the usual kind. These animals are political not social (although often there is a mixing of the two). Our top pick is a study of growing up as a committed communist in post-war Britain. Author Aaronovitch does more than recount the story of his own journey; he attempts to explain how twentieth century history shaped such fervent adherents and why in the face of damning evidence they were so reluctant to abandon their beliefs. This one of three prize-winning biographies featured this month. We also list a biography of Theresa May and three very worthwhile books of movies currently showing.

Syndetics book coverParty animals : my family and other communists / David Aaronovitch.
“In July 1961, just before David Aaronovitch’s seventh birthday, Yuri Gagarin came to London. The Russian cosmonaut was everything the Aaronovitch family wished for – a popular and handsome embodiment of modern communism.But who were they, these ever hopeful, defiant and historically doomed people?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSee also:
Stalin ate my homework / Alexei Sayle.

“Entertaining, poignant & surprising, this is a brilliantly written memoir of an unusual childhood by one of Britain’s most-loved comedians, Alexei Sayle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe missing Matisse / Pierre H. Matisse.
“Nazi planes were bombing Paris the day a lifelong, more personal war began for Pierre. It was the day he lost his identity.Born into a famous family, Pierre Matisse grew up immersed in the art world of Paris and the French Riviera, spending time with some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn a crime : stories from a South African childhood / Trevor Noah.
“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDiary of a wartime affair : the true story of a surprisingly modern romance / Doreen Bates.
“The true story of a surprisingly modern romance in war-stricken London London, 1934. Doreen Bates is working in the same office as E, an older married man. In the years just before the war, they develop an irresistible attraction to one another and strike up a passionate affair. Doreen records it all with startling candour in her diary.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTheresa May : the Downing Street revolution / Virginia Blackburn.
“Only the second woman to hold office at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May inherits the most difficult political mandate of recent times: to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union and re-establish its place in the wider world. She is known as an uncompromising and fiercely moral political operator who has risen through the ranks through profound competence, instead of cronyism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnce we were sisters : a memoir / Sheila Kohler.
“After learning that her sister Maxine was killed when her husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg, Kohler flew back to the country where she was born, determined to reckon with the tragedy and her family’s history of choosing unsuitable men. She shows how the bond between sisters changes but never breaks, even after death.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverScenes and apparitions : diaries, 1988-2003 / Roy Strong.
Scenes and Apparitions begins where its predecessor, Splendours and Miseries, left off. It covers a period of Roy Strong’s life from 1988 to 2003. Shaking off the shackles of public life, Roy was free for the first time to reinvent himself, leaving behind the political and cultural machinations of the art world.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverLeap in : a woman, some waves and the will to swim / Alexandra Heminsley.
“Alexandra Heminsley thought she could swim. She really did. But, as she learned one day while flailing around in the sea, she really couldn’t.” (Syndetics summary)

Three books of films now showing:

Syndetics book coverColour bar : the triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation / Susan Williams.
“The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire – the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHidden figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race / Margot Lee Shetterly.
“Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLion / Saroo Brierley ; with Larry Buttrose.
“A true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds , now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines.” (Syndetics summary)

Writers to the fore this festive season – Recent biography picks

It is fitting that we mark a New Zealand Christmas with the award-winning biography of an exceptional man who embodied the best of our two cultures. Read his story in this month’s top pick Te Oka – pākehā kaumātua.
However the focus of this selection is very much on writers. This year marks the bi-centenary of the death of Charlotte Bronte, and it has been marked by Penguin with release of a major scholarly biography. Other writers featured are Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Carter, Patrick Leigh Fermor and the wonderful Alan Bennett. Wherever you are these holidays dear biography-lovers, take time to read!

Syndetics book coverTe Oka – pākehā kaumātua : the life of Jock McEwen / Mary McEwen.
“Jock McEwen, administrator, historian, linguist, composer and master carver, was a well-known figure in the Ma-aori world and the wider Pacific for over half a century. Born in Cheltenham near Feilding in 1915 he was brought up with a strong Presbyterian work ethic, which he retained until his death in 2010. Jock came into early contact with the Ma-aori community at Aorangi, where he learned to speak fluent te reo and developed interests in whakapapa (including his own) and tikanga M-aaori.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverI loved her in the movies : memories of Hollywood’s legendary actresses / Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman.
“Film and television actor and New York Times bestselling author Robert Wagner’s memoir of the great women movie stars he has known.In a career that has spanned more than sixty years Robert Wagner has witnessed the twilight of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the rise of television, becoming a beloved star in both media”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverA room in Athens / Frances Karlen Santamaria.
“First published in 1970, A Room in Athens is the remarkable journal of a free-
spirited, young American woman abroad in Greece with her writer husband in 1964. Inspired by the sixties’ vogue for the exuberant land of Zorba and Lawrence Durrell, they seek an Aegean idyll-but their plans threaten to go awry when she learns she is pregnant.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverBeryl Bainbridge : love by all sorts of means : a biography / Brendan King.
“Dame Beryl Bainbridge was one of the most popular and recognisable English novelists of her generation. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, and her critically acclaimed novels The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), An Awfully Big Adventure (1990), Every Man For Himself (1996) and Master Georgie (1998), confirmed her status as one of the major literary figures of the past fifty years.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverCharlotte Brontë : a life / Claire Harman.
‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day…’ With these words Charlotte Bronté began Jane Eyre and changed English literature irrevocably. Now, on the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, Claire Harman’s landmark biography provides a bold new view of one of Britain’s best loved writers, revealing that her life possessed all the drama and tragedy of a Gothic tale.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverThe invention of Angela Carter / Edmund Gordon.
“Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction.Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne in 1940, her story spans the latter half of the twentieth century”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDashing for the post : the letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor / selected and edited by Adam Sisman.
“<“”A revelatory collection of letters written by the author of The Broken Road. Handsome, spirited and erudite, Patrick Leigh Fermor was a war hero and one of the greatest travel writers of his generation. He was also a spectacularly gifted friend”. (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDown the dirt roads : a memoir of love, loss and the land / Rachael Treasure.
‘For me, being in a paddock means anything is possible…’ Country girl and bestselling novelist Rachael Treasure had worked hard to build a long-dreamed-of lifestyle on her own patch of dirt in Tasmania’s rugged and beautiful wilderness. But through the breakdown of her marriage, Rachael lost her family farm and, in her words, lost her way in life. Discovering an all-new compass to live by, she took her two kids and her dogs and left the beaten path.” (Syndetics summary).

A good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverSkating to Antarctica / Jenny Diski.Skating to Antarctica
“This strange and brilliant book recounts Jenny Diski’s journey to Antarctica last year, intercut with another journey into her own heart and soul…a book of dazzling variety, which weaves disquisitions on indolence, truth, inconsistency, ambiguousness, the elephant seal, Shackleton, boredom and over and over again memory, into a sparse narrative, caustic observation and vivid description of the natural world. While Diski’s writing is laconic, her images are haunting.’
Elspeth Barker, Independent on Sunday” (Syndetics summary).

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverKeeping on keeping on / Alan Bennett.
“‘I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual. I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference. I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless. I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat’ and did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.” (Syndetics summary).

James McNeish, the celebrated New Zealand novelist, playwright, and biographer, died in November aged 85.

Syndetics book coverTouchstones : memories of people and place / James McNeish.
“A young man leaves home as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter, to travel the world. He returns to New Zealand changed almost beyond recognition. Along the way he meets nine people who influence his life and help make him the writer he becomes.” (Publisher information)

A Bit Of Rough And Some Refinement: Biography Picks For April 2014

Sometimes I feel we don’t have enough books for blokes on these pages. Librarianship is still a predominantly female calling and perhaps we are biased in favour of books which interest us. This month we are going to break the mould and feature some tooth-and-claw material which may appeal to the male of the species. B.A.O.R.: British army on the rampage is such an item, its bright red cover gives some hint of what is contained within, (much of which seems very shocking to me). I am assured it is very typical of everyday army life, while on active service anyway. Perhaps it isn’t but it makes for a rattling good story! A couple of older Boys Own books are shown at the bottom of the page.
We have not neglected the gentle sensibilities of our women readers. They may be interested in Sheila; the Autralian ingenue who bewitched British society,the love story Romany and Tom,or a new biography of Princess Louise — Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter. The memoir of the well-known New Zealand columnist Valerie Davies may also take their eye.

Syndetics book coverB.A.O.R. : British Army on the rampage / Sean Connolly.
“It’s the autobiographical novels that tell it how it was – warts and all. This is what the British Army really got up to in Belize! British Army on the Rampage is a down-to-earth, witty account of a humble British soldier on his tour of duty in the Carribean country of Belize in 1982. It is the first military account of this operational tour, detailing how the task was carried out by an individual and a ‘team of lunatics’, under difficult and sometimes stressful conditions. It takes more than training, education, teamwork and leadership to make it through a squaddie’s working day. B.A.O.R. proves that sometimes, it is only with sheer determination, camaraderie and a sense of belonging to the ‘military family’ that pulls soldiers through the difficult times they often face.’ (Abridged summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverSheila : the Australian ingenue who bewitched British society / Robert Wainwright.
“Sheila wedded earls and barons, befriended literary figures and movie stars, bedded a future king, was feted by London and New York society for forty years and when she died was a Russian princess. Vivacious, confident and striking, Sheila had torrid affairs with Rudolph Valentino and Prince Obolensky of Russia; and among her friends were Evelyn Waugh, Lord Beaverbrook and Wallis Simpson…A woman and a life unknown to most Australians, ‘Sheila’ is a spellbinding story of a time and a place and an utterly fascinating, extraordinary woman.” (Adapted from Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverRomany and Tom / Ben Watt.
“Both Ben Watt’s personal journey and a portrait of his parents, ‘Romany and Tom’ is a vivid story of the post-war years, ambition and stardom, family roots and secrets, life in clubs and in care homes. It is also about who we are, where we come from, and how we love and live with each other for a long time.’ (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe vampyre family : passion, envy and the curse of Byron / Andrew McConnell Stott.
“In the spring of 1816, Lord Byron was the greatest poet of his generation and the most famous man in Britain, but his personal life was about to erupt. Fleeing his celebrity, notoriety and debts, he sought refuge in Europe, taking his young doctor with him. As an inexperienced medic with literary aspirations of his own, Dr Polidori could not believe his luck. That summer another literary star also arrived in Geneva. With Percy Bysshe Shelley came his lover, Mary and her step-sister Claire Clairmont. For the next three .” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverLaura Knight : a life / Barbara C. Morden.
“This much-anticipated, long overdue and highly readable authorised biography of the painter Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) – one of the leading British painters of the twentieth century – covers her long productive career of 80 years and probes the myths and fictions that have [been] and continue to be woven around the artist.” (Book cover)

Syndetics book coverConfessions of a mediocre widow : or, How I lost my husband and my sanity / Catherine Tidd.
“At 31, the author of this heartfelt and surprisingly humorous memoir is the happily married mother of three children under the age of five. In the very first pages, however, her world turns upside down when her 34-year-old husband dies from a brain injury following a motorcycle accident. But the grim and shocking opening (she spends three days in the ICU with her husband, emerging as a widow) is followed by an ultimately uplifting story, and thanks to Tidd’s keen sense of humor her tale never becomes maudlin. (Abridged summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe mystery of Princess Louise : Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter / Lucinda Hawksley.
“The secrets of Queen Victoria’s sixth child, Princess Louise, may be destined to remain forever hidden. What was so dangerous about this artistic, tempestuous royal that her life has been documented more by rumour and gossip than hard facts? When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded for years from public view.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe sound of water / Valerie Davies.
“The sound of the sea echoes through every day of this part diary, part journal, part memoir. It’s a contemplative book about mindfulness, in the broad sense that it is about being aware and being conscious of the present. It savours day-to-day life, the little details as well as the vast panorama of history – in fact, it’s a celebration of life with some humour, some sadness and much enjoyment! In the introduction, Valerie quotes the poet Antonio Machado saying ‘Travellers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.’ This is her walk.” (Summary from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverWhat if… : a lifetime of questions, speculations, reasonable guesses, and a few things I know for sure / Shirley MacLaine.
“What if? Taking this as her starting point, Shirley explores a wide range of matters-spiritual and secular, humorous and profound, earthbound and inter-galactic, personal and universal. From big questions about family, friendship, politics, war, and religion, her gaze lifts even higher. A famous trailblazer in making topics such as reincarnation and past-life therapy mainstream, Shirley now takes the lead in opening her mind to crucial questions about the existence of life on other planets, what that means for those of us on Earth, and about the true genetic ancestry of humankind.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverPinkerton’s great detective : the amazing life and times of James McParland / Beau Riffenburgh.
“”The story of the legendary Pinkerton detective who took down the Molly Maguires and the Wild Bunch The operatives of the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency were renowned for their skills of subterfuge, infiltration, and investigation, none more so than James McParland. So thrilling were McParland’s cases that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included the cunning detective in a story along with Sherlock Holmes. Riffenburgh digs deep into the recently released Pinkerton archives to present the first biography of McParland and the agency’s cloak-and-dagger methods. Both action packed and meticulously researched, Pinkerton’s Great Detective brings readers along on McParland’s most challenging cases.” (Abridged from publisher information).

Other Bios For Blokes:Syndetics book coverMad, bad and dangerous to know / Ranulph Fiennes.
“He has travelled to the most dangerous places on earth, almost died many times, raised millions of pounds for charity and been awarded a polar medal and an OBE. In his autobiography he describes how he led expeditions all over the world and became the first person to travel to both poles on land. He tells of how he discovered the lost city of Ubar in Oman and attempted to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole – the expedition that cost him several fingers, and very nearly his life.But Ranulph Fiennes’ life shows no sign of slowing down. Three months after his heart attack and double bypass, he completed seven consecutive marathons in seven days on seven.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)

 

Syndetics book coverMud, sweat and tears / Bear Grylls.
“How did Bear Grylls become one of the world’s toughest adventurers? This is the thrilling story of everyone’s favourite real-life action man. From secret childhood missions to climb the town’s school buildings and steeples, to starring in his own global TV series and becoming Chief Scout. Known and admired by millions, Bear Grylls has survived in dangerous environments few would dare to visit. Find out what it’s like to take on mountaineering, martial arts, parachuting, life in the SAS–and all that nature can throw at you!” (Library catalogue)

Introducing our newest reading tool – Book Psychic!

We have many great reading tools available to you through our website. One of the newest additions to the gadget family is Book Psychic. Book Psychic allows you to get book recommendations in the right place at the right time! Most fiction titles are included, along with some popular nonfiction, including biographies. This tool is available as a stand alone website, we’re hoping to include BookPsychic within our Easyfind catalogue very, very soon.

Here’s what Book Psychic provides:

  • Personalises book recommendations based on what you have read.
  • Feeds you recommendations based on your entire reading history
  • The more books you rate the more personalised your list will become
  • You can use your Goodreads and/or LibraryThing accounts to build on your recommendations

Want to check it out? Book Psychic doesn’t require a login: point your browser here and start browsing and rating books.

People and Places Newsletter for October

Welcome to our picks for October’s People & Places. Highlights this month include: a ‘Birdseye’ view of the origins of refrigeration; the enigma that was Alan Turing; a comic look at the underwhelming attractions of the British Isles and a book set to ruin our ability to poke fun at Australia’s criminal past.

Biography

Anyone who has reached into the frosty recesses of the freezer to put her paw on on a packet of frozen peas or a ready-made meal should throw up a prayer of thanksgiving to Clarence Birdseye. This humble fur-trapper working in the wilds of Northern Canada in the early part of the twentieth century invented the freezing process still associated with his name. This was not his only innovation, nor his only field of interest – he was also a noted explorer. He is described in the publisher’s notes as “a tinkerer in the classic Yankee mode,” and “one of a group of men who relied on native intelligence more than education and who’s principal laboratories were garages and basements”. His biography is a most interesting and unusual read.
Also featured in this month’s picks are more marvellous women, including Marie Curie and her daughters and Helena Rubinstein. Happy reading !!

Syndetics book coverBefore I forget / Jacqueline Fahey.
“Jacqueline Fahey brought the curtain down at the end of her first memoir, Something for the Birds, after her marriage to Fraser McDonald. In Before I Forget she continues the story from this happy-ever-after moment, charting her life since 1960.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverMarie Curie and her daughters : the private lives of science’s first family / Shelley Emling.
“Freelance writer Emling (The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World) tells the story of science icon Marie Sklodowska Curie, a name familiar to most readers from elementary school days. The only person to have received Nobel prizes in two different sciences, Curie remains a hero to many. Emling writes here of Curie’s later years and of her relationships with her daughters, topics not previously as well documented as the flashier (not to mention more radioactive) aspects of her life and scientific research. Curie’s trips to the United States and her relationship with magazine editor and socialite Missy Meloney, who started a fund to buy radium for Curie, are covered here in both personal and professional terms. Emling presents a Curie defined not only by her scientific activities but also by her personality and by her relationships with family and friends after she gained international recognition. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in the history of Western science, scientific biographies, and women in science, as well as those who regard Marie Curie as a hero”.-Eric D. Albright, Tufts Univ. Lib., MA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library

Syndetics book coverBirdseye : the adventures of a curious man / Mark Kurlansky.
“Although frozen foods made Birds Eye a household name, few were familiar with Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956), developer of the fast-freezing process that became a multibillion-dollar international industry. In the first biography of the eccentric Brooklyn-born inventor, award-winning food author Kurlansky (’Cod’ and ‘Salt”) brings Birdseye to life as he outlines the twists and turns of his unusual career. In a 1945 interview Birdseye stated that G.A. Henty’s 1891 novel Redskin and Cowboy “first influenced him to live the outdoor life.” Yearning for adventure, he dropped out of Amherst College in 1908 and worked in the southwest as a U.S. Biological Survey naturalist, collected ticks in Montana to research Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and became interested in food preservation in the frozen wilderness of Labrador”. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverAlan Turing : the enigma / Andrew Hodges. Alan Turing: The Enigma
“It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades–all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges’s acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life.”(Abridged summary from www.globabooksinprint.com).

Syndetics book coverThe kings’ mistresses : the liberated lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and her sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin / Elizabeth C. Goldsmith.
“This title presents the adventures of two, privileged sisters raised in the court of the French King Louis XIV, who fled their husbands and children to travel throughout Europe, gaining notoriety for their escapades as gamblers, cross-dressers, mistresses to various kings, and pioneering women writers. Elizabeth Goldsmith has written a vibrant biography of two pioneering free spirits, feminists long before the term existed, who refused to be constrained by the morals, mores, and hypocrisies of their age.” (Abridged summary from Amazon.co.uk).

Syndetics book coverDiaries / George Orwell ; edited by Peter Davison ; introduction by Christopher Hitchens.
“Collecting a dozen of Orwell’s personal diaries from the Depression until his final days, this selection offers a glimpse of the great writer observing the world around him. Early entries include accounts of Orwell’s immersive investigations into the hardscrabble routines of coal miners, hop-pickers, and the working poor, and later entries chronicle the first years of WWII. But the majority of his observations and, one senses, the rhythms of his days involve notes and tabulations of more quotidian activities of the agricultural sort: planting crops, milking goats, watching the weather, and, perhaps most significant, counting his hens’ eggs. Although it’s perhaps tempting to probe such material for a new perspective, its real merit may be in allowing readers a close and factual (if only rarely emotionally intimate) view of Orwell’s life, mostly free of biographical narration. As Christopher Hitchens notes in his introduction, Orwell’s determination to seek elusive but verifiable truth, however minor, is on constant display throughout. Thickly annotated, this selection will be appreciated by historical researchers as well as curious browsers”.–Driscoll, Brendan Copyright

Syndetics book coverHelena Rubinstein : the woman who invented beauty / Michèle Fitoussi.
“Helena Rubinstein was an extraordinary pioneering woman who gave her name to a cosmetics empire and revolutionised modern beauty. She understood women. She understood beauty. And she started a revolution. Helena Rubinstein was born into a poor Polish family at the end of the nineteenth century; by the time of her death in 1965 she had built a cosmetics empire that spanned the world. When Rubinstein opened her first salon in Melbourne, her scientific approach to beauty was an instant sensation. Women just couldn’t get enough of her innovative advice on skincare, and her beauty products were constantly sold out. Having conquered Australia, Rubinstein went on to open salons in Europe and America, at a time when women were barely seen in business, let alone running their own multinational companies. For this visionary entrepreneur lived and breathed her work and nobody – lover, husband or child – was allowed to get in the way of business success. Helena Rubinstein was a total original, and her legacy can still be seen today in the methods used to market and manufacture cosmetics. This is her amazing life story”.(Summary from Amazon.co.uk).

Syndetics book coverDear Lupin– / Charlie and Roger Mortimer.
“Roger Mortimer’s generous letters to his son are packed with anecdotes and sharp observations, with a unique analogy for each and every scrape Charlie Mortimer got himself into. This title includes 150 letters written to his son as he left school, and lived in places such as South America, Africa, Weston-super-Mare and eventually London.These letters form a memoir of their relationship, and an affectionate portrait of a time gone by.” (Summary from www.globalbooksinprint.com.)

Syndetics book coverParis : a love story : a memoir / Kati Marton.
“Saturated with sadness, regret, and Hemingway, Marton’s (Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story) memoir of widowhood after the death of husband Richard Holbrooke recalls how Paris offered her the peace and salve she needed to assuage a broken heart. A refugee from Hungary with her family in 1957, Paris was where Marton attended university during the tumultuous late 1960s; as a foreign correspondent with ABC News in the 1970s, the city served as a base for her work, and was also where she and anchorman Peter Jennings conducted their love affair before marrying in 1979. Fleeing that marriage in 1993 after two children (Jennings is described as cold and manipulative), Marton found a warm, willing relationship with Holbrooke, then U.S. ambassador to Germany, with Paris as the meeting place in their busy lives.” Agent, Amanda Urban. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved(Publisher Weekly)

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Travel stories & guides

From Secret Milan to the Indian Coast and ‘Flamenco’ Spain, these new travel books will guide you around the world and back again to New Zealand.

Syndetics book coverHave mother, will travel : a mother and daughter discover themselves, each other, and the world / Claire and Mia Fontaine.
“Told in alternating voices, a travelogue capturing the changing relationship between a mother and her adult daughter follows their sixteen-city, twelve-country tour during which their adventures and mishaps brought them closer together.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverSecret Milan / Massimo Polidoro.
“Discover a canal lock designed by Leonardo da Vinci as well as the secrets of his Last Supper, find out where Mussolini’s hidden bunker lies, marry beneath frescoes by Tiepolo, visit artists’ houses usually closed to the public, see exceptional private collections, admire the sculpture of a young girl shaving her pudenda, look for the boxers carved on the roof terraces of the cathedral… An indispensable guide for those wishing to discover another facet of the city.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverWalking home : travels with a troubadour on the Pennine Way / Simon Armitage.
“In summer 2010 Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way. The challenging 256-mile route is usually approached from south to north, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm, the other side of the Scottish border. He resolved to tackle it the other way round: through beautiful and bleak terrain, across lonely fells and into the howling wind, he would be walking home, towards theYorkshire village where he was born. Travelling as a ‘modern troubadour’ without a penny in his pocket, he stopped along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms… It’s a story about Britain’s remote and overlooked interior – the wildness of its landscape and the generosity of the locals who sustained him on his journey. It’s about facing emotional and physical challenges, and sometimes overcoming them. … Contemplative, moving and droll, it is a unique narrative from one of our most beloved writers.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnly in Spain / Nellie Bennett.
“A sparky, witty and thoroughly enjoyable memoir of a girl who fell in love with flamenco dance and with Spain. A foot-stamping, full-on firecracker of a travel memoir, crackling with energy, dance, gypsies, love, food and the occasional donkey. Nellie Bennett fell in love with flamenco one hot summer day in a Sydney dance studio. Longing to get closer to the authentic experience, she packed her suede dance shoes and a set of castanets and travelled to the other side of the world, to Seville, to learn flamenco. What she didn’t realise is that flamenco is not a dance, it’s a way of life. In Spain, she fell in love three times – the first time with a smokey-eyed flamenco dance teacher, the second time, with a wild and tempestuous gypsy; and the third with a tall, dark handsome Basque chef – not realising that, all along, it’s really Spain she’s fallen in love with. A witty, passionate story of romance and discovery.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHong Konged : one modern American family’s (mis)adventures in the gateway to China / Paul Hanstedt.
“In this alternately hilarious and heartrending memoir, acclaimed writer and editor Paul Hanstedt recounts the true story of his family’s recent sojourn to Hong Kong. Hanstedt and his wife and three children–aged 9, 6, and 3–lived in Hong Kong for a year, a year beset by culture clash, vicious bullies, hospital visits, M&Ms, and the worst traffic jam you’ve ever seen.
Through the eyes of the earnest if sometimes clueless Hanstedt family, you’ll discover a world you’ve never known before. But in the end,Hong Kongedis about place and family and what it is that makes us human–no matter who we are or where we live.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverFollowing fish : travels around the Indian coast / Samanth Subramanian.
“In a coastline as long and diverse as India’s, fish inhabit the heart of many worlds – food of course, but also culture, commerce, sport, history and society. Journeying along the edges of the peninsula, Samanth Subramanian delivers a kaleidoscope of extraordinary stories…. Pulsating with pleasure, adventure and discovery, and tempered by nostalgia and loss, “Following Fish” reveals a series of unknown Indias in a book as revealing of the subcontinent as any three times its length.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverCrap days out / Gareth Rubin ; with contributions by Jon Parker.
“From Land’s End to John O’Groats, this Sceptred Isle is riddled with what are laughably referred to as ‘attractions’. Rubbish tourism is a proud British tradition, and from Stonehenge to Madam Tussaud’s, Shakespeare’s birthplace to the Harry Potter Tour, and model villages to a museum dedicated to pencils, Crap Days Out is the quintessential collection of places that will ruin a perfectly good bank holiday.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverBonjour! Is this Italy? : a hapless biker’s guide to Europe / Kevin Turner.
Bonjour – Is This Italy? offers a unique and often hilarious insight into the challenges and excitement afforded by a lone motorcycle journey though Europe. In his quest to escape the frantic nature of London life, Kevin Turner heads south across France, crossing the Alps into Italy, and onto Rome, before returning via Germany – and the treacherous Nürburgring. Throughout, the author provides valuable advice to those considering a similar journey, noting the best and most scenic routes, where to stay, and what to see. This is interspersed with a raft of comic anecdotes that demonstrate exactly what NOT to do when lost on a motorbike in Europe.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe oldest post office in the world : and other Scottish oddities / Hamish Brown.
“Scotland has been called a small country with a big story and among its varied riches must be the extraordinary number of surprising, curious, unexpected, odd places that occur from Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway. Nobody knows its length and breadth better than author, lecturer and photographer Hamish Brown and from his decades of wandering he has stitched together this – first -collection of sites and sights to intrigue visitors.” – (adapted from Book jacket summary)

Syndetics book coverThe old ways : a journey on foot / Robert Macfarlane.
“In The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. Above all this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move…” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAntarctica : a biography / David Day.
“Antarctica: A Biography draws upon libraries and archives from around the world to provide the first, large-scale history of Antarctica. On one level, it is the story of explorers battling the elements in the most hostile place on earth as they strive for personal triumph, commercial gain and national glory. On a deeper level, it is the story of nations seeking to incorporate the Antarctic into their national narratives and to claim its frozen wastes as their own.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverChronicles of Old London : exploring England’s historic capital / [Kevin Jackson].
“Another in Museyon’s “Chronicles” series (Chronicles of Old New York), in this book London writer Jackson provides 30 stories of the city, starting with Boudicca’s revolt around 60 C.E. and ending with Prince William’s marriage in the present day. …. In addition to the historical sketches, the volume presents nine walking tours with maps, photographs, and descriptions of sights along the way. …The numerous detailed neighborhood maps in the walking tours section will be especially useful. Verdict: A helpful and pleasant read for travelers looking for historical background and a few walking tours for a London trip. Interesting and fun to read, the book mixes light history with contemporary details.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

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History

We have some great new history books this month: 150-year-old letters by a young German settler give exciting look at Wellington’s past; the “sexy” lives of the Tudors; American Empire looks at the United States in the last half of the 20th century; and more. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverAn indescribable beauty : letters home to Germany from Wellington, New Zealand, 1859 & 1862 / Friedrich August Krull.
“The translated letters of Friedrich Krull from Wellington back home to Germany in 1859, at the behest of German naturalist and historian Ernst Boll. Krull details people, landscapes and birds of early Wellington, Wairarapa, Kapiti and surrounds. Included are reports on meetings with Te Rauparaha’s son and nephew as well as other prominent Māori leaders. The book is illustrated with paintings and photographs from the time”–Publisher information.

Syndetics book coverIn bed with the Tudors : the sex lives of a dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I / Amy Licence.
“Illegitimate children, adulterous queens, impotent kings, and a whole dynasty resting on their shoulders. Sex and childbirth were quite literally a matter of life or death for the Tudors – Elizabeth of York died in childbirth, two of Henry VIII’s queens were beheaded for infidelity, and Elizabeth I’s elective virginity signalled the demise of a dynasty. Amy Licence guides the reader through the births of Elizabeth of York’s two sons, Arthur and Henry, Catherine of Aragon’s subsequent marriages to both of these men, Henry VIII’s other five wives and his mistresses, and the sex lives of his daughters. This book details the experiences of all these women, from fertility, conception and pregnancy through to the delivery chamber, on to maternal and infant mortality. Each woman’s story is a blend of specific personal circumstances, set against their historical moment. For some the joys were brief, for others it was a question that ultimately determined their fates”–Cover.

Syndetics book coverThe Queen’s agent : Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I / John Cooper.
Elizabeth I came to the throne at a time of insecurity and unrest. Rivals threatened her reign; England was a Protestant island, isolated in a sea of Catholic countries. Spain plotted an invasion, but Elizabeth’s Secretary, Francis Walsingham, was prepared to do whatever it took to protect her. He ran a network of agents in England and Europe who provided him with information about invasions or assassination plots. He recruited likely young men and ‘turned’ others. He encouraged Elizabeth to make war against the Catholic Irish rebels, with extreme brutality and oversaw the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.The Queen’s Agent is a story of secret agents, cryptic codes and ingenious plots, set in a turbulent period of England’s history. It is also the story of a man devoted to his queen, sacrificing his every waking hour to save the threatened English state. (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe road not taken : how Britain narrowly missed a revolution / Frank McLynn.
Britain has not been successfully invaded since 1066; nor, in nearly 1,000 years, has it known a true revolution – one that brings radical, systemic and enduring change. The contrast with her European neighbours – with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Russia – is dramatic. All have been convulsed by external warfare, revolution and civil war – all have experienced fundamental change to their ruling elites or their social and economic structures. In “The Road Not Taken” Frank McLynn investigates the seven occasions when England came closest to revolution: the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Jack Cade rising of 1450, the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6, the Chartist Movement of 1838-48 and the General Strike of 1926. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAmerican empire : the rise of a global power, the democratic revolution at home, 1945-2000 / Joshua B. Freeman.
“Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center history professor Freeman examines a postwar dominant America, and it couldn’t come at a better moment, when its citizens are rethinking its global influence. Covering the glory years of 1945-2000, Freeman is at his best when he turns his critical eye on America’s turbulent internal affairs, delving into Truman’s contested Fair Deal reforms, the McCarthy communist witch-hunts, Eisenhower’s cautious civil rights record, LBJ’s ambitious Great Society programs, Nixon’s Watergate disgrace, the return of “corporate capitalism” and Reagan conservatism. Freeman deals with the Clinton administration’s economic policies, which, he says, gave many Americans a higher standard of living, and global conflicts, followed by the Republican victory in 2000. Though at its peak, America’s power exceeded that of the Roman and British empires in cultural, economic, military, and political terms, the nation’s postwar dreams were never completely fulfilled, says Freeman. “And the 21st century’s “prolonged warfare, fearfulness, and economic troubles… owe more than a little to decisions made in the earlier epoch.” Freeman’s epic survey provides a fuller understanding of America’s postwar achievements and challenges, without the bias, drama, or despair of other books on these important issues. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe kissing sailor : the mystery behind the photo that ended World War II / Lawrence Verria & George Galdorisi ; foreword by David Hartman.
“It’s an iconic image, a sailor kissing a nurse in New York City’s Times Square. Photographed on August 14, 1945, by legendary photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt and published in Life, it captures a historic moment, the end of WWII. It’s a safe bet that most of the book’s potential readers have seen the photograph, but who are the people in it? That’s the mystery Verria and Galdorisi attempt to solve in this fascinating piece of detective work. Over the years, there have been numerous theories, and numerous people have come forward saying they are the sailor or the nurse. Verria and Galdorisi offer what they hope is undeniable proof of the unnamed couple’s true identities. They make a persuasive case, assessing the validity of some of the claimants’ stories, using various investigative techniques, including some very clever photographic comparisons, to zoom in on two specific persons who seem to fit the bill. Ultimately, you either accept the authors’ conclusions or you don’t, but you can’t deny that the book provides an intriguing and unique perspective on one of the twentieth century’s most memorable moments.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

Syndetics book coverConvicts : New Zealand’s hidden criminal past / Matthew Wright.
“New Zealand’s Pakeha origin as a bolt-hole for convicts escaping Australia, a place where former convicts joined whaling and sealing gangs, and where sea captains thumbed their noses at the law, has been quietly forgotten. It has become a hidden part of our past, buried under the convenient fiction that the Treaty of Waitangi is the sole pivot of New Zealand’s colonial story. In Convicts: New Zealand’s Hidden Criminal Past, noted historian Matthew Wright challenges that notion. Our early nineteenth-century Pakeha past is, at least in part, a story of convicts who had found their way past the edge of the law, an age of heroic tales of survival, scurrilous deeds, cannibalism and piracy.Matthew Wright is one of New Zealand’s most published historians and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of University College, London. ‘Matthew Wright is one of our most prolific social historians, an assiduous researcher and an engaging writer.’” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverShooting Victoria : madness, mayhem, and the rebirth of the British monarchy / Paul Thomas Murphy.
“Queen Victoria’s stature not only attracted throngs of admirers but also seven unstable and incompetent failed assassins, whose attempts led to the creation of England’s detective branch and engendered bursts of popularity for the queen. A Victoriana expert at the University of Colorado, Murphy recounts in a fresh, lively narrative how these deluded subjects managed to channel their mental instability or optimistic naivete into assassination attempts with barely functioning pistols or stout canes, all remaining far removed from the more sophisticated and politically motivated revolutionaries threatening other contemporary European thrones. Instead, they included a depressed hunchback and two poets suffering from head injuries who, rather than gaining notoriety, sank back into obscurity. Murphy deftly weaves their life stories in with the reactions of Victoria and Albert and other notables as the government struggled to define a policy for punishing assassins…” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)

Syndetics book coverMexico : democracy interrupted / Jo Tuckman.
“In 2000, Mexico’s long invincible Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the presidential election to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN). The ensuing changeoverafter 71 years of PRI dominancewas hailed as the beginning of a new era of hope for Mexico. Yet the promises of the PAN victory were not consolidated. In this vivid account of Mexico’s recent history, a journalist with extensive reporting experience investigates the nation’s young democracy, its shortcomings and achievements, and why the PRI is favored to retake the presidency in 2012. Jo Tuckman reports on the murky, terrifying world of Mexico’s drug wars, the counterproductive government strategy, and the impact of U.S. policies. She describes the reluctance and inability of politicians to seriously tackle rampant corruption, environmental degradation, pervasive poverty, and acute inequality. To make matters worse, the influence of non-elected interest groups has grown and public trust in almost all institutionsincluding the Catholic churchis fading. The pressure valve once presented by emigration is also closing. Even so, there are positive signs: the critical media cannot be easily controlled, and small but determined citizen groups notch up significant, if partial, victories for accountability. While Mexico faces complex challenges that can often seem insurmountable, Tuckman concludes, the unflagging vitality and imagination of many in Mexico inspire hope for a better future.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe daring dozen : 12 Special Forces legends of World War II / Gavin Mortimer.
“In this new book by journalist Gavin Mortimer, The Daring Dozen reveals the 12 legendary special forces commanders of World War II. Prior to World War II the concept of ’special forces’ simply didn’t exist. But thanks to visionary leaders like David Stirling and Charles Hunter, our very concept of how wars can be fought and won have totally changed. But these 12 extraordinary men not only reshaped military policy, they led from the front, accompanying their troops into the heat of battle, from the sands of North Africa to jumping on D-Day and infiltrating behind enemy lines. Each embodies the true essence of courage, what Winston Churchill remarked ‘is esteemed [as] the first of human qualities.’ But Mortimer also offers a skilful analysis of their qualities as a military commander and the true impact their own personal actions, as well as those of their units, had on the eventual outcome of the war.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverTitans of history / Simon Sebag Montefiore ; with John Bew … [et al.].
“In The Titans of History, Simon Sebag Montefiore brings together a vivid and compelling selection of the lives of the towering figures that, for better of for worse, have changed the course of history. The 14th-century Mongol warlord Tamerlane, who once ordered the building of a pyramid of 70,000 human skulls from those that his army had beheaded, rubs shoulders with Oskar Schindler, the man whose selfless heroism saved over 1,000 Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis. Inbetween these two extremes are those extraordinary figures, like Henry VIII, in whom good and evil were mixed promiscuously. Inspiring and horrifying in equal measure, in The Titans of History, Simon Sebag Montefiore has created an engaging, innovative and authoritative window into the history of the world.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)

Syndetics book coverWhere they stand : the American presidents in the eyes of voters and historians / Robert W. Merry.
“The rating of American presidents is a popular fascination for scholars and citizens alike. Merry believes that professionals’ opinions are, however, sometimes out of sync with those of the people and, specifically, the electorate that installed or repudiated a president. Therefore, he accords the vox populi weight equal to the verdicts of seven polls of historians conducted over past decades. The professors and the voters exhibit no differences over who were the best presidents Washington, Lincoln, and FDR but they diverge over nominees for the near-great category; electorates liked Jackson and Reagan, but historians have been critical. Likewise, the dons praise Wilson and Truman, whereas the people voted their parties out of power. To bridge such discrepancies, Merry combines fluid commentary on what impresses historians and application of his rule for the populace’s standard of approval, rewarding an incumbent with a second term and succession by his party’s nominee. Anything less plunges a president down the scale to average or failure, with near-great Polk as a conspicuous exception. This election-year debate-starter will enjoy shelf life beyond November.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

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New Zealand

New to the New Zealand Collection this month you can read some interesting facts about New Zealand in “60 Million Gingernuts, a book of New Zealand records”. “All the Commissioner’s Men” is another look into the New Zealand high profile murder inquiry into the Crewe murders.

Syndetics book cover60 million gingernuts : a book of New Zealand records / Peter Janssen.
This book gathers together New Zealand’s most amazing, inspiring and bizarre records. With chapters on nature, history, people, manmade wonders, popular culture, sport, eating and drinking, this extensive book will captivate both young and old, Kiwi and tourist, from quiz teams to high school students. Did you know: New Zealand’s highest bridge is on the railway line from Napier to Gisborne. The bridge crosses the Mohaka River 97 metres above the water; Auckland s Pasifika festival is the country s largest festival with over 200,000 people attending. It is also the largest Pacific festival in the world; New Zealand s most popular biscuit is the Gingernut with Griffin s Gingernuts selling nearly 3 million packets every year. Toffee Pop Originals (2,394,000 packets) and Superwine (2,393,000 packets) are neck and neck for second and third place; New Zealand s coldest temperature was recorded at Ranfurly on 17 July 1903, the thermometer plummeted to a record -25 degrees. The lowest North Island temperature is -13.6 recorded at the Chateau Tongariro. The coldest temperature recorded in the world was -89.6 at Vostok Station in Antarctica in 1983. There are many, many more fascinating records inside this addictive book.(Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAll the commissioner’s men / Chris Birt. The killing of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa, South Auckland, is indelibly burnt into the memory of anyone resident in New Zealand at that time. Most Kiwis know that an innocent man was arrested and spent almost 10 years in prison for two murders he did not commit The story of Arthur Thomas has been well told. The subsequent condemnation by a Royal Commission of Inquiry of two former detectives is also well documented. What has never been disclosed however is the extent of the malpractice which occurred in that double homicide inquiry. Not even the Thomas Royal Commission got to examine that, for reasons All The Commissioner’s Men explains in great depth. Written by veteran journalist, researcher and author Chris Birt (The Final Chapter – third NZ best seller for three weeks in 2001) this new book reveals, for the first time ever, that more than two detectives were involved n this corrupt investigation, and that key players in that nasty game suppressed crucial witness statements, any one of which would have proved categorically that Arthur Thomas was not the murderer. (Syndetics summary)

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Biography picks: survivors of the Titanic, Joan of Arc & Yolande of Aragon, and more!

It’s Big Wednesday in the biography world this month – we have just received Michael Holroyd’s acclaimed biography of Lytton Strachey, which has attracted rave reviews and has been chosen as the New York Times book of the year. At the Edinburgh Book Festival last year Michael Holroyd described the biography as a genre in crisis, particularly “those with a single name on the cover”. Well at Wellington City Libraries we can give lie to that – biographies are consistently one of the most popular choices of reading material, with one or several names on the cover! Come, good book-lovers and sample our selections this month.

Syndetics book cover“Albert : a life / Jules Stewart.
“Albert: Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, social and cultural visionary in his own right, was born in the Saxon duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld but defined the culture and direction of 19th century Britain – a superpower at the zenith of its influence – more than any other British royal or politician. Although he pleaded with his wife that no monument to his memory should be left (a plea that was to go unheeded by his grieving widow) the role he played in shaping Victorian culture stands today as indisputable proof of the enduring legacy of a man who spent just two decades of his short life in England.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe maid and the queen : the secret history of Joan of Arc and Yolande of Aragon / Nancy Goldstone.
“Joan of Arc’s visionary leadership and legendary courage exemplify the medieval belief in the power of divine revelations and miraculous events that alter human history. At the height of the English siege of Orleans in 1428, a young woman mysteriously appeared in the court of Charles VII, urging him to march against the English troops and reclaim the crown of France. Yet, as Goldstone so forcefully reminds us in this tale of madness, mysticism, intrigue, and courage, we might never have heard of Joan of Arc if Yolande of Aragon, Charles’s mother-in-law and powerful queen of Sicily, hadn’t needed to convince him of his legitimate claim to the throne and bolster his courage in battle.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSilver like dust : one family’s story of America’s Japanese internment / Kimi Cunningham Grant.
“Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, wanting to fit in, Grant felt far removed from her Japanese heritage, including the internment of her grandparents during WWII. She’d visited Obaachan (which means grandmother ) in Florida since childhood but did not feel close to her. Later, with a new, burning curiosity about her family and that chapter of their history, Grant was compelled to visit as an adult and draw her reluctant grandmother into remembrances of the past. Slowly, Obaachan recalls the family’s immigrant history, the segregation and limited prospects even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the internment of Japanese in the U.S.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLytton Strachey / Michael Holroyd.
“Lytton Strachey, genius, wit, iconoclast, biographer, pacifist, and homosexual campaigner, was at the nexus of the literary and artistic life of Bloomsbury. In the 1960s he was seen as a progenitor of the hippy cult. Now he appears as a far more subversive and challenging figure. He revolutionised the writing of biography and smuggled deviant sexual behaviour into our history in his reassessment of Elizabethan and Victorian times. For this re-telling of his story Holroyd has had access to published and unpublished material unavailable in the 1960s when his biography of Strachey first appeared.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe life in my years / Virginia McKenna ; [foreword by Joanna Lumley].
“Coincides with the 25th Anniversary of the Born Free Foundation, which Virginia McKenna chairs.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
“It is a must read for all animal lovers & conservationists, movie buffs and fans of Virginia McKenna.
Author Info. Virginia McKenna OBE is perhaps best known for her role as Joy Adamson in Born Free, one of many films she made with her late husband Bill Travers. Her other films include Carve Her Name with Pride, A Town Like Alice, The Smallest Show on Earth and Ring of Bright Water.” – (author information from Global Books in Print)

Syndetics book coverDangerous ambition : Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West : new women in search of love and power / Susan Hertog.
“Hertog looks at two women writers born at the end of the Victorian era who tried boldly, if not always successfully, to negotiate the post-Victorian social upheavals. Although they lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson were confidantes with much in common. Pioneering feminists, their professional successes couldn’t compensate for massive personal unhappiness.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print)

Syndetics book coverShadow of the Titanic : the extraordinary stories of those who survived / Andrew Wilson.
“There’s just no rowing away from the 1912 shipwreck’s tragic backwash in this melodramatic biographical sketchbook. Journalist Wilson (Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith) surveys Titanic survivors’ after-stories and chalks up everything he can-suicides, accidental deaths, public disgraces, divorces, remarriages, frigid failures to marry, feelings of angst, embracings of life-to the disaster’s legacy. He sometimes visits steerage but focuses on flamboyant first-class passengers like White Star Lines chairman Bruce Ismay.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverGraven with diamonds : the many lives of Thomas Wyatt : courtier, poet, assassin, spy / Nicola Shulman.
“Learned divines despised it, sober heads ignored it, but for Henry VIII poetry made things happen. It affected his wars, his diplomacy and his many marriages. In this book, Nicola Shulman interweaves the bloody events of Henry’s reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master: Sir Thomas Wyatt.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverA good mail : letters of John Mulgan / selected and edited by Peter Whiteford.
“Your letter of November 1st makes sad reading. I’m no believer in the joys and comforts of correspondence. My life seems to have been spent in separation from the people I liked and cared about.” – John Mulgan to Gabrielle Mulgan, Jan 12th, 1944. The enigmatic figure of John Mulgan remains a striking presence in New Zealand culture, his sole novel, Man Alone, a landmark in the emergence of local literature. A GOOD MAIL presents a generous selection of his letters home – letters to those he cared about, but from whom he felt a permanent separation. When he left New Zealand in 1933, he had declared “I think I’m going to have the best year of my life”. That confident expectation carried him through the first half of the thirties, but the growing political unrest in Europe severely dampened his enthusiasm.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last colonial : curious adventures and stories from a vanishing world / Christopher Ondaatje ; images by Ana Maria Pacheco ; [introduction by Michael Holroyd].
“Christopher Ondaatje is a true child of the British Empire. Born in Ceylon in 1933 and brought up on a tea plantation, he was sent as a teenager to boarding school in England. But soon after Ceylon was granted its independence in 1948, his family found themselves destitute, and the young Ondaatje left school and got a job. In 1956 he made his way to Canada with just thirteen dollars in his pocket. From this improbable beginning there followed a series of commercial triumphs until 1988 when he abruptly abandoned high finance at the peak of his career and reinvented himself as an explorer and author, focusing mainly on the colonial period.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

The 25th of January is Robert Burns Day

Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns was born on the 25th of January 1759, and the 25th of January every year is now celebrated as Robert Burns Day. Traditionally marked with a Burns supper, enthusiastic Burns Clubs all over the world will be celebrating tonight with a good measure of whisky.

The son of a tenant farmer in Ayrshire and a pre-Romantic poet, Robert Burns is a cultural icon in Scotland and the Scottish Diaspora around the world for his poetry and songs in both English and the Scots language (not Gaelic). An interesting New Zealand connection, is that his nephew – Thomas Burns – immigrated to New Zealand and was a prominent religious leader in the early settlement of Otago. There are many memorials to Robert Burns all over the world, and if you’ve visited Dunedin you will have seen the statue of Robert Burns in the Octagon that commemorates him there.

In lieu of celebrating with the more traditional haggis and whisky, we thought we’d collect together some books and web links to commemorate the Ploughman Poet. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverRobert Burns / selected by Donald A. Low.
“Let other poets raise a fracas ‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus, An’ crabbit names an’ stories wrack us, An’ grate our lug: In glass or jug.–from “Scotch Drink”. Robert Burns, the son of a tenant farmer in Ayshire, Scotland, endured great hardship before emerging as a poet and songwriter in his native dialect, as well as in English. This “Bard of Scotland” caught the spirit of his country, as these 23 verses and songs so vividly show. Though his works frequently focused on two of his greatest pleasures–women and Scotch–he also found inspiration in local subjects. His “Tam O’Shanter” is one of the finest examples of narrative verse ever written: it vividly evokes the Scottish landscape and weather, the native inns and native folk, all while telling a compelling, almost supernatural story of the drunken Tam. From “The Twa Dogs” to “Death and Doctor Hornbook,” this colorful collection is a pure delight.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe bard : Robert Burns, a biography / Robert Crawford.
“Biographies of Burns are as plentiful as hangovers after Burns Suppers, and some of them are equally unrewarding. But this one is genuinely useful. Evenhanded and earnest, it isn’t the raciest version of Burns’s high-octane career: Those who want a simplified story can look elsewhere. But The Bard, while approachable and concise, sets a new standard for scholarly readings of Burns’s life. This biography is enlightening and entertaining, a good read in a gray month.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverDirt & deity : a life of Robert Burns / Ian McIntyre.
“July 21, 1996, is the 200th anniversary of the death of Scotland’s great national poet, Robert Burns, which is reason enough to bring McIntyre’s exhaustively documented–indeed, for all practical purposes, documentary–biography, first published in England last year, to America. But besides marking the occasion, the book has strong virtues to commend it, too. McIntyre strives mightily to tell the facts about Burns; to that end, he constructs a fabric made up of excerpts from letters, recollections of those who knew Burns, occasional public records, and the testimony of Burns’ poems. He stitches these materials together with clear, precise prose, concisely sketching Burns’ historical and cultural milieu as he proceeds; and he refrains from speculating about cloudy details in Burns’ life or interpreting Burns’ works. He doesn’t coddle old legends or foster new ones but reinforces the familiar image of Burns as a sparkling conversationalist, something of a rake (as were several friends), and, unfortunately for his longevity (he died at 37), rather a boozer–and, supremely, what Jews call a mensch, for a’ that.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverRhymer Rab : an anthology of poems and prose / Robert Burns ; edited by Alan Bold.
“The poems and songs of Robert Burns are known throughout the world, yet many people are unaware of the wealth of writing of all kinds which he left at his death in 1796. This is a collection of verse and prose which gives insights into Burns’s complex and contradictory character. It includes some of his most revealing letters, ranging from formal appeals to potential patrons, to bawdy accounts of sexual conquests; from the elevated passion of the “Clarinda” letters to the touching domesticity of notes to his wife and family; and from fiery political satire to poignant pleas sent in the final days of his life. Here also are extracts from commonplace books, passages from travel journals and other significant pieces, including the complete text of the Autobiographical Letter, Burns’s only extended account of his meteoric rise to fame.” (Amazon.co.uk)

From our databases:

Website Links:

People and Places Newsletter for November

Summer has arrived, or at the very least is peeking through the clouds on occasion. With this burst of fine weather comes the promise of the holiday season and some relaxed reading. Take some inspiration from the best of November’s People & Places picks.

Biography

Lives told through novels, houses and adventures. This month’s new biographies offer insight into a wide array of remarkable people.

Syndetics book coverAll in one basket : nest eggs / Deborah Devonshire.
“Entertaining, instructive, thought-provoking and hilarious, the unmistakeable voice of Deborah Devonshire rings out of this volume which combines her two collections of ‘occasional’ writings – Home to Roost and Counting My Chickens. The pieces are broad and eclectic in their subjects, ranging from treasures unearthed while the kitchen was being redecorated, musings about the reason for the reworded town sign, tourism at Chatsworth, a ringside view of both John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and funeral, and the value of deportment. No matter what she’s writing about she is always affectionate, shrewd and uproariously funny.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)

Syndetics book coverBligh : master mariner / Rob Mundle.
“It is the eighteenth century, the era when brave mariners took their ships beyond the horizon in search of an unknown world. Those chosen to lead these expeditions were exceptional navigators, men who had shown brilliance as they ascended the ranks in the Royal Navy. They were also bloody good sailors. There’s a lot more to the story of the infamous Captain Bligh than mutiny, rum and convicts – it is also the untold story of one of our greatest sailors.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVirginia Woolf / Alexandra Harris.
“Alexandra Harris’s hugely acclaimed book Romantic Moderns (winner of the 2010 Guardian First Book Award) overturned our picture of modernist culture during the interwar years. In this, her second book, she brings her attention to one of the towering figures of literary modernism. It is an intensely pleasurable read that weaves together the life and work of Virginia Woolf, and serves as an ideal introduction to both. Following the chronology of Woolfs life, it considers each of the novels in context, gives due prominence to her dazzlingly inventive essays, traces the contentious course of her afterlife and shows why, seventy years after her death,Virginia Woolf continues to haunt and inspire us.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)

Syndetics book coverBlue nights / by Joan Didion.“From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old. Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood — in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. ‘How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?’ Finally, perhaps we all remain unknown to each other. Blue Nights — the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, ‘the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning’ — like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk desription)

Syndetics book coverLemon sherbet and dolly blue : the story of an accidental family / Lynn Knight.
“150 Station Road, Wheeldon Mill – a short stride across the Chesterfield Canal in the heart of Derbyshire – was home to the Nash family and their corner shop, which served a small mining community with everything from Brasso and Dolly Blue, to cheap dress rings and bright sugary sweets. But just as this was no ordinary home, theirs was no ordinary family. Lynn Knight tells the remarkable story of the three adoptions within it: of her great-grandfather, a fairground boy, given away when his parents left for America in 1865; of her great-aunt, rescued from an Industrial School in 1909, and of her mother, adopted as a baby in 1930, and brought to Chesterfield from London. Full of light, life and colour, spanning three generations and two world wars, this memoir weaves a rich portrait of a community and of family love and loyalty regardless of blood ties.” – (adapted from Amazon.uk description)

Syndetics book coverDiamond Queen : Elizabeth II and her people / Andrew Marr.
“With the flair for narrative and the meticulous research that readers have come to expect, Andrew Marr turns his attention to the monarch – and to the monarchy, chronicling the Queen’s pivotal role at the centre of the state, which is largely hidden from the public gaze, and making a strong case for the institution itself. Arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, Marr dissects the Queen’s political relationships, crucially those with her Prime Ministers; he examines her role as Head of the Commonwealth, and her deep commitment to that Commonwealth of nations; he looks at the drastic changes in the media since her accession in 1952 and how the monarchy – and the monarch – have had to change and adapt as a result. Indeed he argues that under her watchful eye, the monarchy has been thoroughly modernized and made as fit for purpose in the twenty-first century as it was when she came to the throne and a ‘new Elizabethan age’ was ushered in.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)

Syndetics book coverThe address book : a memoir about my homes (all 32 of them) / Jane Clifton.
“Where do you call home?Performer Jane Clifton had a classic army brat upbringing, constantly on the move as the family followed the postings of her English officer father from Gibraltar to England, Germany to Malaysia and eventually to Australia. Always the new kid in town, Jane became adept at fitting in anywhere. As an adult, living in the fast-moving worlds of anti-war demos, women’s lib, experimental theatre, rock ‘n’ roll, and TV, she kept up the family tradition of changing addresses without so much as a backward glance. But her stiff-upper-lipped father and glamorous, restless mother both died tragically young, and Jane was left with many unanswered questions. Where exactly is home? is it your family? Your memories? Or simply bricks and mortar? One day, Jane decided to go back and visit every house she’d lived in all 32 of them to see if she could piece together the jigsaw of her life. A funny, moving and unexpected story about one woman’s search for home, And The universal desire to find the place you truly belong.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

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Travel stories & guides

In our picks of the new travel books this month: the wide blue skies of the Otago Trail, a book from National Geographic’s ‘Adventurer in Residence’ Steve Backshall (wherein he tries to answer the question in the title of this post), and a look back at how it all started with a book that treats with the first ever Lonely Planet guidebook. Have a browse!

Syndetics book coverTell them to get lost : travels with the Lonely Planet guidebook that started it all / Brian Thacker.
When Tony Wheeler wrote Lonely Planet’s first ever guidebook in 1974, Southeast Asia offered ‘cheap and interesting travel without the constantly oppressing misery of some of the less fortunate parts of Asia’. Certain ‘hotspots’ in the region attracted the ‘tourist crowds,’ but there were many ‘untouched places that only the people who are willing to put in a little effort and withstand some discomfort will really appreciate.’ So how much has Southeast Asia changed since Tony ambled around the region in flared pants?” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMachu my Picchu : searching for sex, sanity, and a soul mate in South America / Iris Bahr ; [maps by Piper Verlag].
“…Feeling more alienated than ever, Iris decides to embark on another backpacking adventure, this time through Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Between love affairs with locals, clashes with travel companions, and near-death experiences, Iris discovers her ability to feel lost no matter where she goes. But through her struggle to find that elusive combination of healthy love, great sex, and peace of mind, she finally learns to embrace the joys of the search. The zany humor of Amy Sedaris meets the neurotic self-awareness of Woody Allen in this invigorating mix of hair-raising adventure, poignant reflection, and bawdy humor – it’s one hell of a wild ride.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTrail : [riding the Otago Central rail trail] / Paul Sorrell & Graham Warman.
“For the many thousands who have walked or ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail it holds particular, cherished memories. Some impressions will stick for a lifetime: bouncing over bone-rattling bridges, or sailing through sheer-sided canyons of schist. Or simply barrelling along, mile after mile, with the gravel crunching beneath your tyres under endless wide blue skies. In this vivid, beautifully drawn account, author Paul Sorrell and photographer Graham Warman take you on a 150-kilometre journey across the Otago Central Rail Trail, deep into the heart of the South Island’s spectacular interior.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLooking for adventure / Steve Backshall.
“How do you become an explorer? It’s a question every child has asked. And Steve Backshall was no different. But after a rainy-day visit to an exhibition of artefacts from Papua New Guinea, it was a question that began to obsess the seven-year old Backshall. But surely he’d been born a century too late? And yet through boundless enthusiasm, determination and a refusal to accept defeat. Backshall was soon carrying business cards from National Geographic describing him as their ‘Adventurer in Residence’. The vast, untamed wildness of Papua New Guinea was where Backshall forged his unlikely path.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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History

In our picks of the new history books this month: narratives that reveal the real Downton Abbey, the lives of the invisible Romans (the Romans that history forgot), and real stories about pirates of the Caribbean. Plus, the story of the rediscovery of the manuscript of Lucretius and its place in the cultural movement of the Renaissance. Have a browse!

Syndetics book coverLady Almina and the real Downton Abbey : the lost legacy of Highclere Castle / by the Countess of Carnarvon.
“The remarkable story behind the real Downton Abbey. Lady Fiona Carnarvon became the chatelaine of Highclere Castle – the setting of the hit series Downton Abbey – eight years ago. In that time she’s become fascinated by the rich history of Highclere, and by the extraordinary people who lived there over the centuries. One person particularly captured Fiona’s imagination – Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred de Rothschild. She was his only daughter and he doted on her. She married George, the Earl of Carnarvon, at 19 with an enormous dowry. At first, life at Highclere was a dizzying mix of sumptuous banquets for 500 and even the occasional royal visitor. Almina oversaw 80 members of staff – many of whom came from families who had worked at Highclere for generations. But when the First World War broke out, life at Highclere changed forever.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverSpanish Gold : Captain Woodes Rogers and the pirates of the caribbean / David Cordingly.
“Stories of individual pirates in the Caribbean, from Blackbeard to Calico Jack, have been the stuff of legend since the eighteenth century, but in Spanish Gold pirate expert David Cordingly at last gives us the big picture in all its bold and ruthless truth.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe swerve : how the Renaissance began / Stephen Greenblatt.
“Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late 30s took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. The book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic. This title tells the story of this discovery.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverInvisible Romans : prostitutes, outlaws, slaves, gladiators, ordinary men and woman … the Romans that history forgot / Robert Knapp.
“Knapp finds traces of the invisible Romans in the nooks and crannies of history; he tracks down and pieces together tell-tale bits of evidence cast aside by the visible mass of Roman history and in doing so he recreates a world lost from view for two millennia. He shows how the invisible Romans sought to survive and control their fates under powers that sometimes controlled and sometimes ignored them and before the afflictions of disease, war and violence that could at any time assail them. Devoting a chapter to each of the main groups he reveals the ways in which their worlds are linked in need, dependence, exploitation, hope and fear. Slaves and ex-soldiers seep into the world of the outlaw; slaves become freed men; the sons of freed men enlist as soldiers; and the concerns of women transcend every boundary. We see them all at last in the seething tumult of a great city that shapes their worlds as it reshapes the wider world around them.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverIf Rome hadn’t fallen : what might have happened if the Western Empire had survived / Timothy Venning.
“This is a fascinating exploration of how the history of Europe, and indeed the world, might have been different if the Western Roman Empire had survived the crises that pulled it apart in the 4th and 5th centuries. Dr Timothy Venning starts by showing how that survival and recovery might plausibly have happened if several relatively minor things had been different. He then moves on to discuss a series of scenarios which might have altered the course of subsequent history dramatically. Would the survival of a strong Western Empire have assisted the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire in halting the expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa? How would the Western Roman Empire have handled the Viking threat? Could they even have exploited the Viking discovery of America and established successful colonies there? While necessarily speculative, all the scenarios are discussed within the framework of a deep understanding of the major driving forces, tensions and trends that shaped European history and help to shed light upon them. In so doing they help the reader to understand why things panned out as they did, as well as what might have been.” (Global Books In Print)

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New Zealand

This months recent picks celebrate the iconic NZ cartoon Footrot Flats. There are also some beautiful new books featuring National parks, scenery and native trees and a travellers guide to birds of New Zealand. The last item is the new book on the Parker – Hulme murder and trial.

Syndetics book coverThe art of Footrot Flats / by Murray Ball. “The Art of Footrot Flats showcases the magnificent body of work of New Zealand’s greatest cartoonist, Murray Ball. This book, however, is not simply a cartoon book. It is, as the title suggests, an art book. The Art of Footrot Flats will be different and very, very special. The cartoons will still be there, but more importantly this book will focus on the art of the strip.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNational parks of New Zealand / photography by Rob Suisted ; text by Alison Dench. “Leading New Zealand photographer Rob Suisted delivers a magnificent portrait of New Zealand’s national parks. Within these treasured parks is diverse wildlife and stunning scenery representing all kinds of unique landscapes from golden sands to snowy mountains, rainforests and rugged coastlines. With five of the parks sitting in World Heritage Areas, this is a celebration of scenic Aotearoa at its best. Alison Dench emphasises the great pride and spiritual connection New Zealanders hold for their land with an introduction to each park.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTrees of New Zealand : stories of beauty and character / Peter Janssen & Mike Hollman. “This is a new kind of tree book, not a guide to species or simply a photographic study, it is a collection of individual portraits of the most remarkable trees in New Zealand. From the 800-year-old pohutukawa that stands at ‘the place of leaping’ at Cape Reinga to the Moriori carved ‘kopi’ (karaka) trees of the Chatham Islands but also trees that have histories that are linked to our own, such as the Gallipoli Pine at Taradale Cemetery, grown as a memorial from the seed of Gallipoli’s Lone Pine Tree.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSo brilliantly clever : Parker, Hulme & the murder that shocked the world / Peter Graham. “In this mesmerising book, lawyer and true crime writer Peter Graham tells the whole story for the first time – giving a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial, dramatic revelations about the fate of Juliete Hulme and Pauline Parker after their release from prison, their strange lives today and a penetrating insight into the crime using modern psychology.” (adapted from back cover)

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My Big Fat Gypsy Book List

Have you been avidely watching My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding on TV One, the Channel 4 doco series about the UK gypsy and traveller community?

I have watched yesterday’s episode and I still find it hard to believe! So in an effort to educate myself, I had a look at our catalogue to see what books we had about this topic. And, as a good librarian should, I made a list which I am very happy to share with you.

The following books are all non-fiction and include biographies as well as historical accounts and portraits of this fascinating community.

Syndetics book coverOld ways, new days : a family history of gypsy life in South London and Kent / Rosie Smith & Lindsey Marsh.
“This is an introduction to the language, working lives, music, poetry and song of Gypsies and a record of the changes that have taken place in their way of life in recent years. […] the book also exposes the hostility that Gypsies have endured at the hands of gavvers and local councils over the years. A remarkable book, a social history and the seldom heard voice of Gypsy life” (Adapted from back cover)

Syndetics book coverThe traveller-gypsies / Judith Okely.
“The Traveller-Gypsies is the first monograph to be published on Gypsies in Britain using the perspective of social anthropology. It examines the historical origins of the Gypsies, their economy, travelling patterns, self-ascription, kinship and political groupings, and their marriage choices, upbringing and gender divisions. […] Explanations for beliefs are sought in their contemporary meaning as opposed to their alleged Indian origin. None of these aspects are analysed independently of the wider society, its policies, beliefs, and practices. This book will be invaluable for teaching purposes, both as a study of a Gypsy community per se, and for its discussion of the problems involved in carrying out fieldwork within the anthropologist’s own society. It will also interest the general reader and the academic specialist” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe new gypsies / Iain McKell with texts by Iain McKell, Ezmeralda Sanger & Val Williams.
“Photographer Iain McKell offers an extraordinary – and breathtakingly beautiful – glimpse into the lives of a real and raw group of present-day nomads whose culture is built around ideals of freedom, nature, and simplicity.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGypsy boy / Mikey Walsh.
“Mikey’s story grabs you from the start, his conversational style of writing and colourful descriptions of his life growing up (starting with his hilarious birth) will have you immersed in his world immedietely. Mikey is a Romany Gypsy and his story revolves around his upbringing in this harsh, colourful, secretive and sometimes brutal world.” (Amazon.com customer review)

Syndetics book coverThe girl in the painted caravan / Eva Petulengro with Claire Petulengro.
“Born into a Romany gypsy family in 1939, Eva Petulengro’s childhood seemed to her to be idyllic in every way. She would travel the country with her family in their painted caravan and spend evenings by the fire as they sang and told stories of their past. She didn’t go to school or visit a doctor when she was unwell. Instead her family would gather wild herbs to make traditional remedies, hunt game and rabbits, and while the men tended horses to make a living, the young girls would join the women in reading palms. But Eva’s perfect world would be turned upside down as the countryside became increasingly hostile to all travellers.” (Summary from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe scholar gypsy : the quest for a family secret / Anthony Sampson.
“Anthony Sampson knew his grandfather, John, had been an authority on the gypsies, but very little was told of his private life. Using rhymes, letters, and illustrations, this work follows a trail of clues to uncover a hidden life and a gypsy world now disappeared.” (Summary from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverRabbit stew and a penny or two / Maggie Smith-Bendell.
“Born on a Somerset pea-field in 1941, the second of eight children in a Romani family, Maggie Smith-Bendell has lived through the years of greatest change in the traveling community’s long history. As a child, Maggie rode and slept in a horse-drawn wagon, picked hops and flowers, and sat beside her father’s campfire on ancient verges, poor but free to roam. As the twentieth century progressed, common land was fenced off and the traditional ways disappeared. Eventually Maggie married a house-dweller and tried to settle for bricks and mortar, but she never lost the restless spirit, the deep love of the land and the gift for storytelling that were her Romani inheritance. Maggie’s story is one of hardship and prejudice, but also, unforgettably, it recalls the glories of the traveling life, in the absolute safety of a loyal and loving family.” (Summary from Syndetics)

Bright stars- Women scientists known and unknown

Many listeners are tuning into “The stars are comforting” which is currently being played on Concert FM each Sunday at 2PM. This programme follows the life of the internationally-renowned New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Hill Tinsley through her many letters to her family and the music she played or which she heard at concerts. Astronomy and music were her two great interests in life. A brilliant scientist who began her work in the America of the 1960s, Beatrice struggled to reconcile her life as a woman with her passion for astronomy so that her story is very much tied up with feminist cause. She died at the tragically early age of 37. Those who have enjoyed the radio programmme may like to read this comprehensive biography.

Syndetics book coverBright star : Beatrice Hill Tinsley, astronomer / Christine Cole Catley.
“A New Zealand hero brought out of obscurity in this fascinating 445 page biography by author Christine Cole Catley. Beatrice Hill Tinsley showed astronomers new ways of thinking and taught teachers new ways of teaching. A lover of nature and a conservationist who idealised New Zealand, she was also a musician, a feminist, a battler for zero population growth and a champion of the oppressed. Her life is a classic study in the interaction of nature and nurture, genetics and environment. It is also an inspiring and unforgettable picture of a girl determined to be a scientist who grows up in provincial New Zealand and wins through to world renown.”(Summary from www. globalbooksinprint.com)

Rosalind Franklin’s life is one which is sometimes compared with that of Beatrice Hill Tinsley, although she lived a generation before her (she was born in 1920) – and on the other side of the world (she grew up and worked in London). Rosalind Franklin faced different problems from those faced by Beatrice – she never married and did not have children – but she suffered from male jealousy and hostility.There is a strong suggestion that her pioneering work on DNA was poached and that she was denied a share in the the Nobel prize. She also died tragically young – at the age of 38.

Syndetics book coverRosalind Franklin : the dark lady of DNA / Brenda Maddox.
“Her photographs of DNA were called “among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken,” but physical chemist Rosalind Franklin never received due credit for the crucial role these played in the discovery of DNA’s structure. In this sympathetic biography, Maddox argues that sexism, egotism and anti-Semitism conspired to marginalize a brilliant and uncompromising young scientist who, though disliked by some colleagues, was a warm and admired friend to many. Franklin was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Jewish family and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. After beginning her research career in postwar Paris she moved to Kings College, London, where her famous photographs of DNA were made. These were shown without her knowledge to James Watson, who recognized that they indicated the shape of a double helix and rushed to publish the discovery; with colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, he won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Deeply unhappy at Kings, Rosalind left in 1953 for another lab, where she did important research on viruses, including polio. Her career was cut short when she died of ovarian cancer at age 37. Maddox sees her subject as a wronged woman, but this view seems rather extreme.”(Oct. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Marie Curie preceded both these women scientists – she was born in 1867 – but she lived to a comparitively ripe age. Her work on radiation with her husband Pierre has made her a household name throughout the world and won the Nobel prize for physics for both in 1903. She herself won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1911, becoming the only woman to win two Nobel prizes and to win them in two fields. Her full and interesting life was beset with difficulties – among them the struggle to become a scientist, despite an impoverished background, and to honour her intense patriotism to her native Poland while living as a loyal French citizen. She received full recognition only after her husband’s death.

Syndetics book coverThe Curies : a biography of the most controversial family in science / Denis Brian.
“Brian notes that in a recent French poll on the greatest Frenchmen (sic) of all time, Marie Curie (1867-1934) was voted number four. The author of Einstein: A Life examines the personal and professional lives and legacy of a family that won a total of six Nobel Prizes. The controversies he treats include Madame Curie’s battles with the chauvinistic French science community and affair with a married scientist after Pierre’s death. The biography includes photos. Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)” (Syndetics summary)

The three women scientists featured here are found in this book too, but it also highlights the work of many others whose names have been forgotten or obliterated. It raises interesting and timely questions about the paucity of top women scientists in the modern world, despite the fact that girls excel in examinations and repeatedly outstrip boys in the discipline.

Syndetics book coverScientists anonymous : great stories of women in science / Patricia Fara.“Why, when girls outstrip boys in exams, are there still so few women in the top levels of science? Why have women been excluded and is there still discrimination? Acclaimed science writer and children’s author Patricia Fara investigates science past and present to find the answers. She examines women scientists’ struggle against unequal opportunities, and shows how they have succeeded despite the obstacles stacked against them. The renowned names are here – Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Rosalind Franklin – but Scientists Anonymous also reveals the forgotten contributions of many other dedicated and brilliant women. Combining history, science and biography, Fara presents the stories of female explorers, mathematicians, astronomers and chemists from all over the world.”(Book summary Amazon.co.uk)

Alice Neel – art books to check out!

Alice Neel is an American painter who produced works in the mid-part of the twentieth century.   A feminist before her time, Neel’s lifestyle, and even her art, was sometimes considered controversial.  She is now thought of as one of the best American artists of last century, even though her work is not as well known as contemporaries Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko.   Her style is figurative, linear and emotional and I think it’s similar to Elizabeth Peyton or John Curran.  The library has two new books about her that are worth checking out if you enjoy modern, American art and discovering new artists.

Syndetics book coverAlice Neel : painted truths / Jeremy Lewison … [et al.].
This book was published to coincide with an international exhibition of Alice Neel’s work held last year.  It’s a comprehensive collection of her art, spanning seven decades, with wonderful colour plates of both her paintings and drawings.   The essays examine her stylistic development and complex pyschological themes.

Syndetics book coverAlice Neel : the art of not sitting pretty / Phoebe Hoban.
Well known writer Phoebe Hoban covers Neel’s personal life and artistic career in this biography.  Neel had a tough life – living in 1920s Cuba, struggling with the death of her child, suffering a nervous breakdown – but continued to create contemporary works of art amidst all the drama.  Her paintings were highly personal and she often used her experiences as subjects, or subtexts, for her paintings.  The book places Neel in the social context of her time and considers her place as an artist who worked outside the accepted New York art world and as an important figure in the feminist art movement.  It is an interesting read about a talented artist with a tumultuous life and career.

Like to read about things that drink petrol and live in the garage?

Or about things that go really fast? How about engineering ingenuity in New Zealand? Here are a few titles for you:

Syndetics book coverKim : the Kiwi on the konig / by Tim Hanna.
This recommendation came from my father, who is always taking bits of car apart or putting them back together again, and who definitely considers cars and motorbikes to be mechanical members of the family. He reviewed this book very enthusiastically, and although it does have a very sad ending (see here for more information about Kim Newcombe), he very much enjoyed it and I think also enjoyed discovering an aspect of Kiwi motoring history he’d previously been unaware of. Some backstory (as understood by me, the non-mechanical family member): Kim Newcombe developed a 500cc motorbike called the Konig using a two-stroke outboard motor – so actually a boat engine. This was during the 60’s when hydroplane (a type of very fast motorboat) racing was very big. There’s a lot more to the story – and from all accounts it’s an amazing story – but I’ll let you read the book and enjoy discovering it for yourself.

Syndetics book coverJohn Britten / Tim Hanna.
A biography of John Britten, a Motorcyclist of the Millennium (he placed fourth equal with the founders of Harley Davidson in a popular motorcylcing magazine poll). Here was another New Zealand innovator who took the world by storm and a dyslexic whose genius for design and mechanical engineering won him a place on The New Zealand Edge’s list of design heroes, as a “Maverick Genius of Motorcycle Design”. Incredibly, he designed and built the V1000 bike in his spare time. Another story with a very premature ending, but a lot of inspirational content.

Syndetics book coverOne good run : the legend of Burt Munro / Tim Hanna.
Seen the movie? Follow it up with this biography of Burt Munro by Tim Hanna. Amazon has this to say of this title:
“Here is the amazing story of Kiwi motorcycling legend, backyard engineering genius, and land speed record holder Burt Munro. Munro was the archetypal eccentric inventor. He took an original Indian motorbike and modified it in his shed so it became capable of extreme speeds. From small town New Zealand in the 1920s to heroic accomplishments in the USA, Munro was still inventing up until his death in 1978. This is very much a “little guy beats the odds” story-Munro still holds several records in the US-as a mark of respect, the category he raced in was “frozen” for all time.” (The release of this biography was originally timed to coincide with the movie release.)

I like the phrase ‘backyard engineering genius’ – it sums up all three of these titles nicely! Enjoy.