Stephen Jewell on a turning point in human history, Kelly Bennett on the third man, Deirdre Robert on nutty houses, and Leonie Hayden on rock chicks

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HOUSE: Habitable Objects that are Unique, Spatial and Extraordinary
By Aleksandra Machowiak and Daniel Mizieliński (Gecko Press, 2010) $40

What exactly is a house? A simple dwelling with a roof and four walls? Sure, if you’re ordinary. But did you know a house can also be a nut, a suitcase, a UFO and even a giant balloon that you blow up? In HOUSE, authors Aleksandra Machowiak and Daniel Mizieliński seek to expand perceptions of what a house is by introducing children to 35 of the more unusual, distinctive and quirky houses found across the globe, detailing the witty inspiration behind each. Take the ‘Suitcase House’ in China for example, which features rooms that only appear as you need them, or the ‘Nut House’, resembling a hazelnut and sitting suspended in the Canadian forest.

Taking you on architectural journey far and wide—from Poland to Portugal, Iran to Australia— each dwelling comes complete with an array of specially designed icons to list the features of the house: Does it use solar energy? Is it located in the city or a small town? Is it made of sand, timber, plastic, steel, or even fabric? Who designed it and when was it built?

By utilising loads of bright colors, illustrations and funky infographics, the authors make global architecture a fun, accessible and educational experience for children and—as we discovered when the book was in our office—adults, too. In fact, one copy is still missing ...

Deirdre Robert is editor of Idealog’s Design Daily blog,

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The next Reformation

By Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams (Atlantic, 2010) $40

In 2006’s Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams examined how the advent of digital technology and the arrival of a new era of mass collaboration affected the nature of business organisations. Now, in Macrowikinomics, the Toronto-based authors explore how the arrival of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has altered society as a whole.

“Wikinomics was about corporations and how the architecture of value creation has changed,” says Tapscott. “Macrowikinomics is about civilisation and how public institutions are being revolutionised in the networked age. It turns out that business people also like Macrowikinomics because you can think about all these aspects of civilisation as businesses, such as newspapers, television, healthcare, energy and transportation.”

With the subtitle ‘Rebooting Business and the World’, Tapscott and Williams highlight how the relief effort after the 2009 Haiti earthquake was assisted by crisis-mapping website, which was constantly updated via email, text and tweets by those on the ground. “It’s a new era of participation,” says Tapscott. “People can participate in the economy and in society in ways that were previously unthinkable.”

With Twitter not even mentioned on the cover of Wikinomics, Tapscott admits keeping up with the rapid pace of technological change is proving increasingly difficult. “Back then it was a contest between Facebook and MySpace,” he says.

However, he believes that Macrowikinomics should stand the test of time. “My guess is that if you read this book in ten years, it will hold up very well because ten years from now we’ll hopefully be in a very different place, and if we’re not there’ll be blood on the streets!” he declares. “We’re looking at a revolution comparable to the shift from a feudal–agrarian society to the industrial age. Before that, knowledge was concentrated in a tiny handful of people but once knowledge became widely available it didn’t make sense for the church to be in charge of medicine or for a bunch of kings and nobles to be running everything. So you had the Reformation with the introduction of parliament and democracy, and the invention of the printing press was also very important. The transition was very difficult and it was punctuated by discord and even violence.”

According to Tapscott, the recent recession was caused not just by financial pressures but also by corporate organisations and governments’ inability to cope with technological advances. “I’m convinced that we’re not in a global slump at all,” he says. “We’re at a turning point in human history where many of the institutions that have ruled this world for decades and even centuries are now stalling, have frozen or even atrophied and failed. We need to rebuild them in a whole new model and we can do that because we’ve got the internet and a whole new set of principles. We can really re-think civilisation. That’s a pretty big idea.”

Stephen Jewell is a London-based Kiwi journalist

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Varnished truth

The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour
By Peter Mandelson (Harper Collins, 2010) $40

As one of the UK’s preeminent political strategists and spin-doctors, Peter Mandelson is revered and reviled in equal measure. I knew of his reputation before stumbling across his recently-published book on holiday and looked forward to reading it.

But now having spent more than 500 pages in his company, I suspect that readers of this memoir (like me) will conclude he is destined for a place as a footnote in more important life histories.

That’s because The Third Man never delivers on the promise of revealing what he was privy to as the longstanding courtier of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

It becomes clear that he was a plotter, schemer and policymaker of the first order, always destined for a political career and a campaign/leadership junkie through and through.

And in many ways it’s his references to media management, brand building and the similarities between policies and products that are the most interesting part of the tale.

He gets a job with the BBC that demystifies the whole media process. Then he parlays that into a job as director of communications for the Labour Party, where he famously packs up the Labour Party red flag (“like Nike dumping its swoosh, or McDonald’s chopping down the golden arches”) and ushers in a nifty red rose logo to reflect ‘new’ Labour.

He even goes on to create an advertising agency (CHI and Partners) that “became a huge success—with little thanks to my creative genius”.

But Mandelson’s 30- year political career, and his role in resurrecting an ailing Labour party in the late 80s, rebranding it and then attempting to ensure it stayed in power, has always been tainted by scandal and subterfuge.

The titlenis a bit of a giveaway: Graham Greene’s original Third Man was an amoral wartime racketeer who sold adulterated drugs to hospitals and spent much of his time hiding in the shadows.

Undisclosed loans, deals with dodgy businessmen, firings, arguments and acrimony seem to have plagued Lord Mandelson incessantly. So it’s probably no surprise that the central character in the book, as the Guardian suggested, ends up remaining a fugitive figure, constrained by his title as ‘The Prince of Darkness’.

When I returned from my holiday, having finished reading “the unvarnished truth from the man himself”, I learned that he’s allegedly been paid a transitional allowance of £8,600 a month by the European Union despite leaving his Brussels post two years ago. Predictably, there was no reference to this in the book.

Mandelson ends up coming across as a sycophant. He wants to play on the political world stage but is consigned to a bit-part role in what’s billed as, but never amounts to, “the most compelling political drama of our times”.

It’s frustrating then, that like its author, the book promises so much but ultimately delivers very little.

Kelly Bennett is managing partner at PR and experiential consultancy ELEVEN\PR, part of the TBWA\ group

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Front of stage

Kiwi Rock Chicks, Pop Stars & Trailblazers
By Ian Chapman (Harper Collins, 2010) $45

From The Chicks to Ladi6, Otago University contemporary music lecturer and pop-culture fan Ian Chapman takes a look at 54 of New Zealand’s most beloved women musicians in Kiwi Rock Chicks, Pop Stars & Trailblazers.

You might wonder why. In this enlightened age of multiculturism and supposed sexual equality, what purpose is served by spotlighting musicians of a specific gender, let alone nationality?

As Debbie Harwood points out in her foreword, New Zealand’s music media hasn’t always been as forward-thinking as we might assume. She cites as an example the glaring omission of all female musicians from the swingin’ ’60s onwards in TVNZ’s 2003 series Give It A Whirl: The History Of New Zealand Rock N Roll. However the chart and sales successes of women in this country tell a different story, being on an almost equal footing with that of their male counterparts. This disproportion of success to available literature alone makes Kiwi Rock Chicks, Pop Stars & Trailblazers not only relevant, but well overdue.

The entries are written by the artists themselves, with varying degrees of length, eloquence and Kiwi selfdeprecation. Chapman has lent structure by having each artist share her history, influences and career highs and lows. A catalogue of each artist’s awards and discographies is included for trainspotters.

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Collections of this nature will often be defined as much by what they’ve excluded as included. The focus here is too much on solo artists, resulting in the exclusion of some of our best bands in favour of younger, less historically interesting, or groundbreaking, musicians. If you’re going to include ‘rock chicks’ in the title, it would seem prudent to feature more proper rock bands.

However, these stories are diverse, honest accounts and should be valued at least as an archive for a topic about which there was very little available. Some are merely historical background colour and absolutely fulfill their purpose academically, while many are compelling insights into what drives musicians the world over, regardless of gender or nationality.

Leonie Hayden is a freelance writer and former editor of Groove Guide

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