Empire City - Reviewed by Kerry Lee | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Empire City

Written by: John E. Martin

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Empire City is the most impressive book I think I have ever experienced, and honestly I did not think that I’d be as blown away by it as I was. Everything about it screams pure class, from the handmade drawings to the fold-out maps that show you what Wellington looked like in the mid-19th century.

Every legend started somewhere, and in the case of Wellington, it was with Indigenous Māori and the New Zealand Company (an organisation to help settle the country) first meeting each other. It also tells us about Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose vison helped settle what we now call Wellington – or Britannia as the then-new settlement was briefly called. Back then there were plenty of dangers to contend with: misunderstandings between Pākehā and local iwi could turn violent, earthquakes, and a lack of supplies made creating a permanent settlement difficult.

It was an amazing read that made me appreciate New Zealand all the more. In fact, I would dare anyone born here to not be impressed by the enormity of what our forefathers went through. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the people living today, including me, really are standing on the backs of giants. We talk about our Kiwi ingenuity all the time – well, now I know where it comes from.

Empire City is a very expansive book that goes into a huge amount of detail and unfortunately, I think that might be its downfall. It’s just so big. That may put some people off reading it, as it will be a bit of an investment of their time. It’s also a niche book, focusing on one specific area at one specific time, so unless you are mad crazy about New Zealand history, this may not appeal to you. 

I suspect that this book is geared toward a particular reader, one who will really get a kick out of reading about this country’s founding. If you are that person I can recommend this wholeheartedly.

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