Three Short Book Reviews: for the 2003 listener Books Of the Year.

Listener: 20 December 2003.

Keywords: Environment & Resources; Governance; Macroeconomics & Money;

TREASURY: The New Zealand Treasury 1840-2000, by Malcolm McKinnon (AUP, $50).

The most powerful government advisers in the land now have their own history. McKinnon shows how an institution of unimportant 19th-century clerks evolved through accountancy in the early 20th century into the abominable “no-men” economists who had a stranglehold on so much of government thereafter. The genial story is not without its Gothic elements, and it also has some intriguing personal details –– among the Secretaries of the Treasury were a chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union, a Grand Master of the Order of Freemasons and one who took ballet lessons to relieve stress. Superbly presented, and just the right size to throw at any Treasury official who has not time for history.

THE GREAT UNRAVELLING: Losing our way in the new century, by Paul Krugman (Viking, $35).

Who would have thought when the New York Times asked him to write a regular column, that eminent economist Paul Krugman would convert into one of America’s most gifted and crusading political journalists. George Bush and his administration are expertly and relentlessly savaged, in each op-ed that bristles with such words as “lying”, “mendacity”, “unscrupulous” and “fraud”. He has often been the first in the mainstream to identify the scandalous, which he presents with nary an acknowledgement to bipartisanship. If you can’t get to the Times for those two days a week when Krugman contributes, this book of the columns gives you the flavour of their vigour and insight. Oh, to be able to wake up to such writing in New Zealand.

THE LOST WORLD OF THE MOA: Prehistoric life of New Zealand, by Trevor Worthy and Richard Holdaway (Canterbury University Press, $169.50).

Okay, what a price. But as Tim Flannery, author of the acclaimed The Future Eaters, wrote: this book “documents in unprecedented detail the evolution of life in the strangest corner of our planet, the archipelago of New Zealand. Worthy and Holdaway [New Zealand scientists who work as independent scholars] are among the world’s leading palaeontologists, and in this book they have created a masterwork that will stand for years for those interested in the evolution of New Zealand’s vertebrate fauna.” This is as close as it gets to a live moa.