Short, but perfectly formed

November 1, 2014
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A Short History of New Zealand, by Gordon McLauchlan (Bateman, RRP $30):

Being a relatively young nation, our history is naturally a tad shorter that that of some of the other countries on this planet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a story worth telling.

In this new edition of the best-selling Short History of New Zealand, journalist, author and social commentator Gordon McLauchlan adds a few extra layers to the earlier version, with updates covering Helen Clark’s years leading the country, John Key’s rise, the Canterbury quakes and (of course) the glorious 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Sadly, there isn’t anything on the equally glorious efforts of the Southland Stags securing the Ranfurly Shield for stints in both 2010 and 2011 but I suppose the author had to make some tough decisions when it came to this book: his brief was to write the history of New Zealand in fewer than 60,000 words.

New Zealand might be relatively young, and on the small side, but that’s still one hell of a challenge to take on.

This isn’t the usual dry history that you might expect from an academic offering but instead tells our story in a slightly more chatty way.

I have no doubt there are more comprehensive books out there covering specific eras or events in much deeper detail but I also have no doubt that while many of them may be left to gather dust in the reference section of your local library, this little book will be well used by the punters.

I thought I would probably flick through this book fairly quickly, skimming over just a few points of interest before sitting down to knock out a quick review but I ended up reading every chapter from beginning to end. I also found it quite refreshing that the author didn’t feel compelled make make some deep and meaningful observation on where we are as a nation or where we might end up: this is quite simply our story without the unnecessary embellishments.

McLauchlan has risen to the “fewer than 60,000 words” challenge and produced a very readable and surprisingly comprehensive account of how we got to where we are. Even if he did miss out the mighty Stags.

Jillian Allison-Aitken

I come from the other land down under, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. I'm a sub-editor and in the past have been a proof-reader, news editor and web editor. I am also an ex-columnist, and book and software reviewer for the local daily newspaper.I still read. A lot. And surf the web. Also a lot.You'll find a little about both of those pastimes here, and on By George.

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