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October 8, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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My year of living dangerously

By Rodney Hide,
Random House, 2007

Although a late starter in politics, many of Rodney Hide’s attitudes were formed driving trucks around Canterbury with his father. His earliest lessons were that “Governments restricted a man who was out to get the job completed”, and that union members “hated work” and were “lazy layabouts who should all have been fired on the spot.”

Despite such amusing invective, Rodney’s later behavior on British construction sites was actually much worse. He deliberately lied about a “violent and unprovoked” assault on a construction foreman because the assailant “was one of us… we would back him.” Actions he derides as “featherbedding and drunkenness” by New Zealand unions are explained away as a “sense of solidarity with workmates” when he does them. Rodney seems blissfully unaware of this contradiction.

The book includes elements of biography, history, political science and motivation. The gaudy cover reveals the prominent role Rodney’s stint on Dancing with the Stars plays in the text. I remain unconvinced by his assertion “If I said no [to dancing], my political career would be over” nor do I accept he became a “good dancer” who just made one mistake by powerbombing his partner. His tremendous public support, assuming rumors of an ACT auto-dialler are unfounded, was based more on admiration for his courage than any belief in his technique.

The dancing, however, is the hook for many casual readers and it has been spectacularly successful.

Rodney’s book has reached out to people who don’t usually read political books in a way that Jim Bolger’s self-indulgent tome or Chris Trotter’s antiquated class rant do not.

This book is a key part of the strategy to present ACT in a softer, kinder light as it attempts to build up membership from the current nadir of just 1654 members and supporters.

Rodney is at his best telling the stories of his life and travels. An entertaining writer, he even manages to turn Peter Dunne making a speech about the price of sausage rolls into an engaging story. This is an enjoyable book with too much about dancing and a desperate plea for membership tacked on at either end.

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