The 20 best New Zealand books of the past 50 years

To celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand national book awards, The Spinoff asked 50 literary experts – authors, publishers, academics, booksellers – for their 50 best picks of the last five decades.


Here’s the top 20, led by Maurice Gee’s Plumb and completed by Tony Simpson’s The Sugarbag Years.

1. Plumb by Maurice Gee (Oxford University Press, 1979)

2. To the Is-Land by Janet Frame (Hutchinson, 1983)

3. the bone people by Keri Hulme (Spiral, 1984)

4. Potiki by Patricia Grace (Penguin, 1987)

5. An Angel at My Table: An Autobiography, Volume II by Janet Frame (Hutchinson, 1984)

6. Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki by Judith Binney (Auckland University Press & Bridget Williams Books, 1996)

7. The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, 1999)

8. The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones (Penguin, 2001)

9. Other Halves by Sue McCauley (Hodder & Stoughton, 1982)

10. Te Puea: A Biography by Michael King (Hodder & Stoughton, 1978)

11. Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press, 2017)

12. Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff (Tandem, 1991)

13. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Victoria University Press, 2014)

14. Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books, 2016)

15. The Life of Katherine Mansfield by Anthony Alpers (Viking, 1981)

16. The Treaty of Waitangi by Claudia Orange (Allen & Unwin, & Port Nicholson Press, 1988)

17=. Pounamu, Pounamu by Witi Ihimaera (Heinemann, 1973); A Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury, 2009)

19. Smith’s Dream by C. K. Stead (Longman Paul, 1972)

20=. The Sugarbag Years by Tony Simpson (Alister Taylor, 1974); Not Her Real Name, and Other Stories by Emily Perkins (Victoria University Press, 1996)