by Chloe Blades
Going Mainstream by Julia Ebner (Bonnier, 2023)
Julia Ebner, an Austrian researcher, works for a counter-extremism think tank in London that specialises in research and policy advice on hate, extremism, and disinformation. Her second book published in 2019, Going Dark, presented this research from the perspectives of her undercover aliases that gave her access into the lives of neo-nazis, incels, trad wives, ISIS, and Jihadi brides, to name a few, as well as the networks that would radicalise the Christchurch terrorist. Going Mainstream goes deeper, looking at how these groups, that were once upon a time on the fringe of society, are infiltrating our politics, influencing elections, and recruiting others who feel united by their shared sense of grievance and scepticism about institutions. Through the activists and the educators fighting against them and the spread of misinformation, Ebner looks at how these groups have spread into the mainstream and have used dark money to create alternative information ecosystems and to build sophisticated networks. Ebner asks what is happening here? And her answers are terrifying.
The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel (Knopf, 2023)
Stéphane Breitwieser is the world’s most masterful art thief. Targeting churches and museums across Europe with his girlfriend, Breitwieser stole more than three hundred artworks over a decade and amassed a collection with an estimated value of $2 billion. It began with a love for collecting pottery shards and tile fragments with his grandfather in the ruins of medieval fortresses. But the obsession became addictive and eventually he began stealing huge works such as Musicians and Walkers in a Park by Louise de Caullery from a 16th Century collection at the City Museum in Bailleul, France, and an oak Lion and Lamb statue from the Abbey of Moyenmoutier. The frequent risks of almost getting caught are tangible in this work of non-fiction. Finkel narrates Breitwieser’s story with humanity, excitement, compassion, and captures his precise, skilful and eccentric personality brilliantly. One time, Breitwieser is stopped by guards in Brussels and asked to show his ticket but the two-foot-tall chalice he’s stolen is up the sleeve of his coat, making it impossible to bend his left arm. The whole story, every heist, is absurd. It sounds like something from the 1700s, but this thief was born in France in 1971 and Finker took eleven years to meet, interview and tell Breitwieser’s story. What drew me most to this art thief was he didn’t steal for money, rather he displayed them in secret rooms in his house to admire.
5 Ingredients: Mediterranean by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph, $65)
The king of down-to-earth British cooking and banter, Jamie Oliver, returns with one of the simplest, most accessible cookbooks on the market. Assuming you have the basics of salt, pepper, olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine vinegar, you’ll be able to rustle up a meal to feed the family on just five ingredients with minimal hassle and maximum taste. From lamb tangia and balsamic pork stew to a couscous and chicken bake with a side of grilled fattoush salad, there’s a dish that will, if you close your eyes, take you to a place where the sun shines. Jamie masters the art of ceviche and carpaccio in Thessaloniki and discovers the magic of dried prunes on the island Skopolos. He ate chargrilled lemon and tzatziki chicken in Tunisia, red prawns and juicy pork chops in Spain and garlic aioli in Marseille. Then he returned home to translate his findings into five ingredients so we can get a taste of it. Jamie’s got the best job of being paid to eat his way around the Med in the name of research. Although I’d say no thanks to the green gazpacho (is there anything more revolting than cold soup), every single recipe is a treat and impossible to fuck up.
Gangster’s Paradise by Jared Savage (Harper Collins, $40)
The crimes committed by New Zealand’s gangs, as detailed in journalist Jared Savage’s Gangster’s Paradise, show that the crimes in his first book, Gangland, were simply stepping stones for overseas meth-dealing honchos to hop their way in on. Aside from them infiltrating New Zealand gangs from Asia and beyond, the escalation in violence, Savage says, is down to the ‘501’ deportees from Australia who’ve started Mongol and Comanchero chapters across Aotearoa having been dumped with “nothing to lose” and a penchant for pissing off the likes of the Head Hunters and Mongrel Mob. Can the escalation of organised crime and violence between gangs be controlled with Luxon’s (*insert sarcasm*) ingenious idea to strip gangs of their patches? In 2017, Savage says, ”[Simon] Bridges had shown a canny knack for knowing what pushed voters’ buttons. Gangs was one of them. National would get a bump in the polls whenever Bridges vowed to get ‘tough on gangs’”. Luxon could have done with a fresh idea for the debate motivated by safety, rehabilitation and people’s wellbeing rather than political gain. The crimes and the covert undercover operations in Gangster’s Paradise are detailed with captivating yet un-romanticised facts, and while reading this will make you question how safe New Zealand is we’ve just been crowned as the seventh friendliest country in the world by Conde Nast. Which, on the surface, we probably are. It’s just that darn underbelly.