Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksJuly 22, 2022

Revealed: the books most borrowed from New Zealand’s parliamentary library

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

And why there are no novels on the list.

China and the Pacific. Te tiriti and Aotearoa. Covid. Disinformation. Gangs. And workplace bullying. The weighty issues of our time are reflected in the weighty tomes loaned out by the parliamentary library. Information provided to The Spinoff by the parliamentary library reveals that Contest for the Indo-Pacific: Why China Won’t Map the Future, was the most borrowed book in the first half of 2022. By Rory Medcalf, an Australian diplomat turned academic, it was published in March 2020, but shot to the top of the parliamentary library charts this year as the issues it traverses shot to the top of the news.

Second on the 2022 list of books most borrowed by library users – whose number include MPs, their staff, and staff of the Parliamentary Service and Office of the Clerk – is former National minister Chris Finlayson’s He Kupu Taurangi: Treaty settlements and the future of Aotearoa New Zealand. Fifth is another topic of the moment, in the form of Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation & What We Can Do About It by a former high-ranking US government official, Richard Stengel.

Disappointingly, the parliamentary library no longer stacks novels on its shelves. When I last undertook this exercise, nine years ago, for the Listener, the top 10 for the eight years to 2013 included titles by Marian Keyes, Lee Child and Alexander McCall Smith (Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men was number one).

“The Library stopped collecting and loaning fiction in 2014,” a library spokesperson told me, with – I am choosing to imagine – a wistful sigh. “As the collection exists to support the work of parliament the library decided that fiction was outside our scope. We closed the fiction collection in 2014 and offered the items to New Zealand libraries.”

As all library lovers know, poets – Lee Child among them – are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Just as there’s a parliamentary gym, there should be the material to exercise parliamentarians’ – and staffers’ – imaginations. The evacuation of the fiction collection is accordingly a terrible idea which can only impoverish our democracy and should be reversed immediately. 


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Memoir features highly across the annual top 10 lists, with Marilyn Waring topping the pops in 2019 and Holly Walker in 2017. Judith Collins makes fourth on 2020, but there’s no sign of Simon Bridges, who will have to convince himself that his colleagues simply had to buy a copy. 

In 2020, parliamentary readers looked to history to understand what was going on, with the story of the 1918 pandemic and “New Zealand’s worst public health disaster” the most loaned book. In 2017, a collection of “great speeches in history” makes the list – reflecting, perhaps, the oratorical ambitions of the new intake. In 2018, Michael Wolff’s jaw-dropping Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was first, ahead of Jonathan Boston’s study of social investment.

A couple of other titles that stick out: Workplace Bullying in 2017 and Beyond Burnout in 2020. 

And a bouquet to everyone who put Scotty Morrison’s Māori Made Easy in the top 10 three years in a row. 

2022 

(1/01/2022-07/06/2022)

  1. Contest for the Indo-Pacific: why China won’t map the future – Rory Medcalf
  2. He kupu taurangi: treaty settlements and the future of Aotearoa New Zealand – Christopher Finlayson and James Christmas
  3. Aging in a changing world: older New Zealanders and contemporary multiculturalism – Molly George
  4. The political economy of public administration: institutional choice in the public sector – Murray J Horn
  5. Information wars: how we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it – Richard Stengel
  6. Towards democratic renewal: ideas for constitutional change in New Zealand – Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler, with assistance from Scarlet Roberts
  7. The little blue book: the essential guide to thinking and talking Democratic – George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling
  8. Members and ministers in the New Zealand Parliament – compiled by Bernadette Thakur
  9. Housing allowances in comparative perspective – edited by Peter A Kemp
  10. The first 50 years: a history of the New Zealand National Party – Barry Gustafson

2021

  1. Women in the House: members of parliament in New Zealand – Janet McCallum
  2. Gangland – Jared Savage
  3. Lonely Century: how to restore human connection in a world that’s pulling apart – Noreena Hertz
  4. The Covid Chronicles: lessons from New Zealand – Paul Little
  5. Beyond Burnout: a New Zealand guide: how to spot it, stop it and stamp it out – Suzi McAlpine
  6. In Search of Consensus: New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its constitutional legacy – Elizabeth McLeay
  7. Māori Made Easy: for everyday learners of the Māori language – Scotty Morrison
  8. National at 80: the story of the New Zealand National Party – by Colin James
  9. The Procedure of the House of Commons: a study of its history and present form by Josef Redlich; translated from the German by A Ernest Steinthal; with an introduction and a supplementary chapter by Sir Courtenay Ilbert
  10. Politics and the Media – edited by Geoff Kemp, Babak Bahador, Kate McMillan and Chris Rudd

2020

  1. Black Flu 1918: the story of New Zealand’s worst public health disaster – Geoffrey W Rice
  2. Māori made easy: for everyday learners of the Māori language – Scotty Morrison
  3. Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist – Kate Raworth
  4. Pull No Punches: memoir of a political survivor – Judith Collins
  5. The Political Years – Marilyn Waring
  6. The Business of People: leadership for the changing world – Iain Fraser, Madeleine Taylor
  7. How to Escape from Prison – Dr Paul Wood
  8. Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament – Erskine May
  9. New Zealand Government and Politics – Janine Hayward
  10. = Promises, promises: 80 years of wooing New Zealand voters – Claire Robinson; 10.= Antisocial media: how Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy – Siva Vaidhyanathan

2019

  1. The political years – Marilyn Waring
  2. Marijuana legalization: what everyone needs to know – Jonathan P Caulkins, Beau Kilmer, and Mark AR Kleiman
  3. Government for the public good: the surprising science of large-scale collective action – Max Rashbrooke
  4. How to be a parliamentary researcher – Robert Dale
  5. Building the New Zealand dream – Gael Ferguson
  6. Public policy in New Zealand: institutions, processes and outcomes – Richard Shaw and Chris Eichbaum
  7. How to escape from prison – Dr Paul Wood
  8. Māori made easy: for everyday learners of the Māori language – Scotty Morrison.
  9. Promises, promises: 80 years of wooing New Zealand voters – by Claire Robinson
  10. Parliamentary practice in New Zealand – editors Mary Harris, David Wilson; assistant editors David Bagnall, Pavan Sharman

2018

  1. Fire and Fury: inside the Trump White House – by Michael Wolff
  2. Social Investment: a New Zealand policy experiment – by Jonathan Boston
  3. Which Two Heads Are Better than One?: how diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions – by Juliet Bourke
  4. The House: New Zealand’s House of Representatives, 1854-2004 – by John E Martin
  5. The Whole Intimate Mess: motherhood, politics, and women’s writing – Holly Walker
  6. The Write style guide
  7. Post-truth – Lee McIntyre
  8. By Design: a brief history of the Public Works Department, Ministry of Works, 1870-1970 – Rosslyn J Noonan
  9. Saints and Stirrers: Christianity, conflict and peacemaking in New Zealand, 1814-1945 – edited by Geoffrey Troughton
  10. Reform: a memoir – Geoffrey Palmer

2017

  1. The Whole Intimate Mess: motherhood, politics, and women’s writing – Holly Walker
  2. Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife – Dave Hansford
  3. Lean In: women, work, and the will to lead – Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell
  4. Lend Me Your Ears: great speeches in history – selected and introduced by William Safire
  5. Workplace Bullying – Frank Darby, Andrew Scott-Howman
  6. Child poverty in New Zealand – Jonathan Boston & Simon Chapple
  7. John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister – John Roughan
  8. Democracy in New Zealand – Raymond Miller
  9. New Zealand Government and Politics – Janine Hayward
  10. Bridled Power: New Zealand’s constitution and government – Geoffrey Palmer and Matthew Palmer

2016

  1. Moments of Truth: the New Zealand general election of 2014 – edited by Jon Johansson and Stephen Levine
  2. The Girl with Seven Names: a North Korean defector’s story – Hyeonseo Lee with David John
  3. Parliamentarians’ Professional Development: the need for reform – Colleen Lewis, Ken Coghill, editors
  4. The Advantage: why organizational health trumps everything else in business – Patrick Lencioni
  5. Richard Seddon: King of God’s own: the life and times of New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister – Tom Brooking
  6. New Zealand Government and Politics – edited by Raymond Miller
  7. Constitutional Conventions in Westminster systems: controversies, changes and challenges – edited by Brian Galligan and Scott Brenton
  8. The House: New Zealand’s House of Representatives, 1854-2004 – John E. Martin
  9. Helen Clark: inside stories – Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon
  10. Māori and Parliament: diverse strategies and compromises – edited by Maria Bargh

20052013

  1. The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception – Nicky Hager
  2. Bridled Power: New Zealand’s Constitution and Government – Geoffrey Palmer
  3. One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery – Kate Atkinson
  4. The Hour Game – David Baldacci
  5. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
  6. Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand – David McGee
  7. The Other Side of the Story – Marian Keyes
  8. Persuader – Lee Child
  9. Tears of the Giraffe – Alexander McCall Smith
  10. Political Animals: Confessions of a Parliamentary Zoologist – Jane Clifton

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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