I very much liked this book, which compares the histories of New Zealand and the United States, and in particular I liked:
1. The discussion of how the New Zealand government encouraged smaller land holdings through some deliberate policy decisions in the late 19th century (p.165).
2. The discussion of how New Zealand abolished its provinces in 1875 (circa p.193), and the importance of that decision (passim).
3. The near-uniformity of the crime rate throughout New Zealand (p.198).
4. The comparison between labor movements in the two countries and the possibly differing history of labor-saving devices (circa p.328).
5. The comparison between Bills of Rights; New Zealand for instance has a right not to be subjected to medical experiments and a right to refuse medical treatment, but no right to a jury trial (circa p. 464).
It is probably the best introduction to New Zealand history for an American, even though much of the book is not about New Zealand history at all. That said, while I found this a very good book, and certainly a book to recommend and to make the year’s “best of” list, it did not for me quite live up to its full potential. I have high standards in this particular area, so I would have liked:
6. A discussion of “cutting down tall poppies” before p.487.
7. A deeper discussion of the differences in role models in the two countries. New Zealanders admire Sir Edmund Hillary more than a successful businessman, though this has changed somewhat.
8. A comparison between American social conformism, as outlined brilliantly by Tocqueville, with the more outwardly conformist New Zealand working class variety.
9. A discussion of why New Zealanders are less prone to extreme thought and explicit missionary dedication; can you imagine a Kiwi version of Whittaker Chambers?
10. More attention to the commodities dependence in the New Zealand economy, and the importance of the UK abolishing NZ trade preferences in 1972-3, and the ongoing struggles to suss out a coherent vision for a relationship with Asia and China.
11. More discussion of how it mattered for New Zealand as many centres of activity shifted over time from the South Island to the North Island, culminating in the centralization of so much activity in or near Auckland.
12. Much more discussion of religion, and of the extreme enthusiasms which are bred in the United States.
13. A greater understanding of how Americans would not necessarily regard their society as “less fair,” but rather that some benefits are to be portioned out in accordance with a peculiarly American notion of what a person deserves.
15. Why are New Zealanders perhaps the most polite people in the Western world?
16. The importance of having so many people living so close to the water, and (in some parts of the country) being surrounded by relatively few trees, and the much lower productivity of hunting in New Zealand, as there is not so much to hunt.
17. A more explicit discussion of economies of scale, and of why New Zealand is sometimes accused of being boring. There is one quotation offered from an outside visitor: “”I suppose they are happy,” she wrote in her contemptuous way. “I couldn’t bear it.”” (p.xix).