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About the book
  • Published: 1 March 2012
  • ISBN: 9781869793906
  • Imprint: RHNZ Adult ebooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 520

Man for All Seasons

The Life and Times of Ken Douglas

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Biography of the most powarful union leader in modern NZ history.

Ken Douglas was raised in a hardworking, tough-talking, union-focussed Wellington family and got into union politics as a very young working man. Hard-nosed, pragmatic and never scared of a scrap, he rose through the ranks, got deeper into left-wing ideology and activity with his membership of the Socialist Unity Party, and ultimately became head of the FOL, and the most powerful unionist in the land. Depending on your politics, he was one of the most respected or the most hated men in the country; ironic then that in later years he was appointed to some of the country's most important boards.

In this powerful biography, David Grant -- who had unprecedented access to Douglas -- explores the facets of this remarkable man, who was there during the union movement's most powerful days and watched its emasculation. It is a unique portrait of a unique New Zealander, whose life has been this country's times.

  • Pub date: 1 March 2012
  • ISBN: 9781869793906
  • Imprint: RHNZ Adult ebooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 520

About the Author

David Grant

David Grant is a Wellington historian and author with a background in journalism and teaching. In 1999 he was awarded Victoria University’s JD Stout Research Fellowship in New Zealand cultural studies. He reviews for New Zealand Books, and is a guest lecturer in history at Victoria University. As well as contributing to a wide range of anthologies, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, journals and magazines, he did background research for the TV series One People: Our Century. His books include: Man For All Seasons: The life and times of Ken Douglas; The Big Blue: Snapshots of the 1951 waterfront lockout (as editor); Those Who Can Teach: A History of Secondary Education in New Zealand from the Union Perspective; Two Over Three on Goodtime Sugar: The New Zealand TAB turns 50; Jagged Seas: The New Zealand Seamen’s Union 1879–2003; Field punishment No. 1: Archibald Baxter, Mark Briggs and New Zealand’s anti-militarist tradition. He has also researched prime minister of the Third Labour Government, Norman Kirk, and a history of the Christian Pacifist Society, New Zealand's first major pacifist group.

The New Zealand Listener wrote of Man For All Seasons: The life and times of Ken Douglas:Douglas, Grant says, wanted a warts-and-all biography and the Wellington historian has delivered one, with no glossing over … A Man for All Seasons is a timely contribution to our recent history …’ Nevil Gibon, editor of the National Business Review proclaimed it ‘a good read’ and said ‘David Grant gives an excellent summing up of arguably the controversial and enigmatic public figure of recent times’, while Metro judged it a ‘very, very fine biography’ and ‘a vivid and detailed social history’, and the Weekend Herald, too, commended it as ‘a vivid social history’.
Oliver Riddell, a political journalist with the Otago Daily Times, declared: ‘The early chapters are the best account of late-19th and early 20th century New Zealand life I have ever read.’

Writing in the New Zealand Journal of History, Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr Jim McAloon wrote: ‘Grant’s treatment of the issues is wide-ranging, balanced and comprehensive. This biography is a significant contribution to contemporary New Zealand history.

Historian and librarian David Verran, in the Labour History Project Newsletter, wrote: ‘The story of Douglas’s political, personal and union development is analysed in depth but always with clarity and context … all readers will receive a much clearer understanding of from where the labour movement has come, and Douglas’ role in that.

Chris LaHatte Blog said of it: ‘One of the best political biographies published in recent years … required reading for anyone who wants to understand trade union history … . It is well written — the insight into working class New Zealand in Wellington in the last century is a sociological triumph on its own.’

Writing in the Hawkes Bay Weekend, Owen Brown described how this ‘well crafted and highly recommended’ biography has ‘interwoven [the] themes’ of personal biography and ‘a broad historical account of industrial relations in New Zealand since the 1940s’. Comedienne and political activist Michelle A’Court, speaking on Radio New Zealand National’s Nine to Noon, said: ‘I was really excited by this book … .David Grant does an extremely good job in explaining the contradictions of Ken Douglas … it’s full of brilliant stories.’
The Timaru Herald found that this ‘extremely readable book’ helps us ‘understand more about Ken Douglas than we did before’ and concluded ‘He was certainly a much more rounded man than was portrayed at the time, a deep thinker on a wide range of topics in spite of his lack of education.’
Bryan Walker, in the Waikato Times, pinpointed the ‘engaging detail’ in this ‘painstaking account’ of the story of how Douglas truly ‘earned his place in the New Zealand Order of Merit. Grant has done a fine job of showing that.’

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