July book reviews

Book reviews: July 2023

It’s all about navigating the unknown with grit, determination, and overcoming in this month’s new releases. We review some of New Zealand’s most gripping winter reads.

Head On
Carl Hayman with Dylan Cleaver

July book reviews

Carl Hayman, All Black #1000: once a highly prized player in world rugby and a giant of the game in every sense, Hayman is a man who was respected, even feared. But after 17 years of playing professional rugby, his life began to go very wrong.

Exploited, then left out in the cold, Hayman is now counting the cost of those achievements as he looks for answers to his dementia and a degenerative brain condition called CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Head On is Hayman’s story about the testosterone-fuelled, play-hard drink-hard rugby mentality, where playing with pain wasn’t just accepted, it was expected, and physical performance was intrinsically tied to commerce.

Assisting Hayman in the writing of Head On is well-known sports journalist Dylan Cleaver, who was recognised in 2017 for his groundbreaking work linking high rates of dementia in former rugby players with head injuries.


A Secret Never To Be Told
Lynn John
Filament Publishing

July book reviews What if Mozart faked his death in 1761? What if he had lived on? Not many people can keep a secret safe. For a secret to have been kept for 231 years is almost impossible, especially when it concerns someone as famous as composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

There has always been controversy surrounding Mozart’s death. History records that he died on 5 December 1791, aged 35, but questions were raised almost immediately that have never been answered. Did he die of Military Fever, as claimed, or was he poisoned? Did he actually die on that date, and why was his body tipped into a communal, unmarked grave and covered in lime? Was his wife having an affair with his pupil, Süssmayr? Did the newspapers wrongly report Franz’s death five days after it actually happened?

On hearing an allegation that Mozart may well have lived on — establishing himself as Gioacchino Rossini — Welsh opera singer and prolific writer Lynn John wrote a scenario based on that research. The conclusion? It’s up to you.


Safe and Sound

July book reviews Wavewalker: Breaking Free
Suzanne Heywood

At the age of just seven, Suzanne’s parents took her and her brother on what the children thought would be a long summer holiday recreating James Cook’s third voyage. What followed turned instead into a 10-year way of life for the family, living entirely on at sea their boat, Wavewalker, through storms, shipwrecks, emergency hospitalisations, isolation, and very limited schooling. Nobody knew where they were most of the time, and no state had any active interest in what was happening to the kids. In this remarkable memoir, Suzanne describes the excitement, frustration, and heartbreak of growing up in extraordinary circumstances and how she fought her parents, longing to return to England, education, and stability. It’s a survival story of a child in dire circumstances deprived of safety, friendships, and schooling and a tale of how at the age of 17, Suzanne returned to the UK and won a place to study at Oxford University, eventually becoming a lawyer after doing her PhD at Cambridge University. She’s now COO of Exor and chair of CNH Industrial.

July book reviews Untethered: Living the Digital Nomad Life In an Uncertain World
Nathan James Thomas
Exisle Publishing

Nathan James Thomas, originally from New Zealand, bought a ticket for 20,000km on the Greyhound bus network in Australia when he was 17. Over the next decade, he lived in China, Spain, Poland, and Hungary, visiting dozens of countries along the way. In 2014, he founded a digital travel magazine as a vehicle for sharing stories from the road and as an excuse to meet and interview his favourite writers. That’s now a thriving community consisting of thousands of travellers. The allure of being a digital nomad has inspired many to leave their jobs and embrace a life that’s free from the daily 9 to 5 grind. Digital nomads work online from anywhere in the world, but the reality of this life is far from simple. In Untethered, you’ll uncover the secrets to crafting a digital nomad lifestyle in today’s complex world, with step-by-step guidance on how to move from where you are now to a fully location-independent freelancer or remote worker.


July book reviews The Story of New Zealand’s Unique Birds
Alan Froggatt
White Cloud Books

Travelling With Your Furbabies

New Zealand has an extraordinary range of plants and animals, yet many species are trending towards extinction. This title from tramper, hunter, bird watcher, wildlife photographer, freshwater angler, and conservationist Alan Froggatt explores why the remarkable bird life of New Zealand is subject to so much attention from ornithologists, scientists, and bird lovers around the world. As a country, we’ve done well in saving many of our species with some projects: saving the kākāpō and the yellow-eyed penguin driven by national organisations, while we also have many locally-led initiatives such as the creation of offshore island sanctuaries. This book begins by looking at the threats our natural habitat faces, and why it’s regarded as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. We learn the stories of the endemic species that became extinct after human arrival and European settlement. We’re a world leader on conservation issues, and in this book, we learn just how special this is to our bird life.

July book reviews Red, White & Blown: Is the United States of America A Cult?
Guy Rundle
Hardie Grant

Red, White & Blown is a piercing and provocative investigation into America’s resolute failure to reckon with its own divisions and blind spots. Interrogating the political events of the 2022 midterm elections, as well as their cultural and historical backdrop, book asks us to consider the US for what it may have ultimately become: a cult. From the Orange People in Oregon to the Moonies with their stadium weddings, the US is a country where cults have been able to take a foothold since the 1970s. But how far back do these origins go? Could one go so far as to say the US is a cult – one that has acquired immense power and imposed its vision on millions, but has now found its impossible fantasy collapsing from within, prompting it to do what cults do: believe in magic and look for enemies? Guy Rundle explores the embattled republic and asks why are countries such as Australia and New Zealand attaching themselves to the US when we have so far avoided the very things that have made the US what it is today.

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