History without Colour

By Grant, Ian F.; Ehnbom, Stig | New Zealand Management, April 2006 | Go to article overview

History without Colour


Grant, Ian F., Ehnbom, Stig, New Zealand Management


City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland business history Edited by: Ian Hunter & Diana Morrow Publisher: Auckland University Press Price: $49.99

City of Enterprise is part of the University of Auckland Business History Project which has the laudable aim of "reinvigorating and fostering the research, teaching and dissemination of business history in New Zealand".

However, by being as dull as it is worthy, City of Enterprise is not likely to whet the appetite of general readers for more business world books.

Business history is, as the better business magazines know, about people; people working in partnership and in competition; people with inspirational ideals; and people doing dirty deals. New Zealand history, business and otherwise, is as colourful, quirky and rumbustious as anywhere else--as James Belich and Graeme Hunt have shown--but the people in this book are ciphers rather than flesh and blood and the telling all the more dry and dusty because of it.

City of Enterprise is, sadly, a rather plodding parade of facts and figures about the growth of the Auckland business sector and the way it has changed over the decades. There is not a lot of analysis or insight and the reader has the impression that any colour in original drafts has been carefully edited out. Different writers have contributed chapters on early Maori business enterprise (one of the most interesting essays); shipping; the gas and timber industries; stock and station agents; retailing; the clothing, footwear and textile industries; and accountancy partnerships. Particular attention is paid to the activities of the Auckland Gas Company, Farmers Trading Company and Ross and Glendining.

The newspaper industry, which I know a little about, is certainly colourful and strong personalities dominate its history. Although readers of this chapter will find all the necessary information there is little of the industry's flavour or acknowledgement of its key role in recording and reflecting social change.

Nevertheless, while it is not an absorbing 'read', City of Enterprise contains a valuable and wide-ranging assembly of data about Auckland industry and business from the earliest days of European settlement to the present day. It is well-presented, with excellent reference notes, bibliography and index, but it is extraordinary that a book from a leading university press should provide only the barest--if any at all--information about the credentials of its contributors. …

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