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New book reveals horror and humanity of war

War and how it has shaped us as a people and a country is the subject of a joint venture by Victoria University English Professor Harry Ricketts and Ministry for Culture and Heritage Senior Historian Gavin McLean.

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing, launched in Wellington today, is a fascinating and perceptive insight into the conflicts this country has been involved in from precolonial times to Iraq and Afghanistan, Neill Atkinson, Chief Historian of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage said.

Book cover for the Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing.

"With its powerful fiction and compelling non-fiction accounts this book details both the horror and the humanity of war and conflict and its impact at home and abroad," Neill Atkinson said.

"Gavin McLean has included vivid accounts from the trenches of the First World War, material from New Zealand’s official Second World War histories and writing on the conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s, when New Zealanders were actively engaged in Korea and Vietnam.

"Work by former and current Ministry historians Claire Hall, Ian McGibbon, Alison Parr and Jock Phillips features in the book, along with soldiers’ writings from the front, and work by journalists on the ground, biographers, and our nation's poets, novelists and playwrights," Neill Atkinson said.

Gavin McLean adds, "While people with an interest in military history will enjoy the book, it should appeal to a wider audience.

“We made our selections on the basis of literary quality, intellectual depth or emotional impact. In other words they had to be a good read.

"The genres range from waiata through to poems, plays, short stories, novels, memoirs and histories. We've got some real gems including Janet Frame's Vietnam-era anti-war poem.

"The final section brings together a range of Kiwis reflecting on the cost of war and its impact on our changing views of national identity,” Gavin McLean said.

Gavin McLean has previously co-edited The Penguin Book of New Zealanders at War (2009), which begins with accounts of the New Zealand’s 19th century wars and culminates with the Gulf War and New Zealand's role in modern-day peacekeeping. He was also co- editor of Frontier of Dreams: the Story of New Zealand and is the author of many New Zealand history works, including The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Governors-General

With more than 500 pages, The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing is priced at $65 and is available in book shops now.

For more information about the Ministry for Culture and Heritage publications please check the website.

Updated on 26th November 2015