Military history

Guns and Utu: A Short History of the Musket Wars
Penguin, Auckland 2011

‘A spectacular book…well worth reading’ – Don Rood, Radio New Zealand, 2 August 2011.

‘As is often the case with Matthew Wright’s work, a very readable analysis …’ - Kathryn Ryan, Radio New Zealand, 2 August 2011

'...a gallop through the tribal skirmishes of the early 19th century...a welcome look at a little understood - and these days little known - era of New Zealand history'
- Mike Houlahan, D Scene, 31 August 2011

'A valuable contribution to the growing wealth of well-written material on the subject’ - Tom O'Connor, Waikato Times, 19 September 2011

In the two decades before the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand was ripped asunder by island-spanning waves of cannibalism, warfare and extreme violence. Great war parties surged the length of the land to avenge historic grievances, killing and burning as they went. Whole peoples were uprooted and found new homes.

Despite the name given them by history, the one thing we can be certain about this tumult is that these dramatic conflicts were not ‘musket’ wars. This was an age of courage, of heroism, of great character and of astonishing deeds. And they are not dead history. Twenty-first century New Zealand has been profoundly shaped by them, not least in the location of most of the major cities.

In this book, noted historian Matthew Wright disputes the mythologies and looks at some of the whys and wherefores of this generation-long cauldron of cultures in collision.


Paperback, 256 pp
ISBN 978 0 14 356565 9

Print copies available direct from the author

Shattered Glory: the New Zealand experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front
Penguin, Auckland 2010

"Wright’s prose is clear, sober and unfussy, yet, when it needs to be, tellingly powerful. His judgements are sound and, above all, balanced and his final chapter, “Myth and memory”, is particularly fine. As one might expect, his research is thorough and wide-ranging....Shattered Glory deserves and, hopefully, will enjoy, a wide popular readership and survive even the sourest scholarly scrutiny.”

- Edmund Bohan, New Zealand Books, 1 March 2011.

A colony prostrated by tragedy!

The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 destroyed New Zealand's fantasies of war as a glorious schoolboy adventure on behalf of a beloved Empire. The Western Front campaign that followed in 1916-18 gave shape to the emotional impact. It was a horror world of death and mud that destroyed the souls of the young men who fought in it. Together, these two campaigns shaped the lives of a generation of New Zealanders and have given a particular meaning to the modern memory of war.

In Shattered Glory, Matthew Wright illuminates New Zealand's human experience behind these two First World War campaigns, exploring the darker side of New Zealand's iconic symbols of national identity and explaining some of the realities behind the twenty-first century mythology.

Paperback, 400 pp
ISBN 13: 9780143020561
ISBN 10: 014302560

Print copies available direct from the author

New Zealand's Military Heroism
Reed, Auckland 2007

"...a treasury of Kiwi courage...that will be cherished by everyone with an interest in New Zealand..."
- Mike Crean, Weekend Press, 13 October 2007.

"...a thoughtful look at changing social values."
- Dale Williams, Dominion-Post Weekend, 24-25 November 2007.

What could motivate someone to perform heroic deeds and endanger themselves? This illuminating analysis explores what courage meant to combatants and public alike, highlighting the deeds of some of the courageous Kiwis who fought in campaigns around the world - from New Zealand to South Africa, from the Western Front to the Pacific, and during the tumultuous years of the Cold War and beyond. In these pages the story of many of New Zealand's great military heroes are recounted, from Charles Heaphy to Bernard Freyberg, Charles Upham and Willy Apiata.

239 pp
ISBN-13: 978 0 7900 1154 7

Out of print.

Two Peoples, One Land: the New Zealand Wars
Reed, Auckland 2006

"Two Peoples, One Land marries an impressive breadth of research into a fascinating story that provides new assessments of events that still resonate in our lives. This is an important book that deserves to be read, and one that grips you from the first pages."
- Christopher Pugsley, Department of War Studies, Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

'Familiar places become much more fascinating and monumental as a result of Wright's multi-faceted treatment of his subject...the extent of his research into the archives is obvious... We can discern here the true paths of human interaction in all their complexity.'
- Mick Ludden, Wairarapa Times-Age, 17 February 2007.

"Wright is rapidly emerging as one of our most prolific military and social historians, an assiduous researcher and no mere blinkered follower of academic and ideological fashion.  Far from it... Wright has produced as detailed, sensible and satisfactory a military history of the campaigns waged between 1845 and 1872 as one might hope to read...Wright corrects many of Belich's errors and his more fanciful and extravagant assertions, through superior knowledge of military history and ruthless logic... this book is to be warmly recommended.  It is splendidly illustrated and the footnotes are exemplary."
- Edmund Bohan, The Press, 16 September 2006.

"Wright does a good job portraying the complexities...Place this superbly illustrated volume alongside your James Belich volumes and your Michael King."
- James Richie, Waikato Times, 23 December 2006.

Myth and legend swirl about the New Zealand wars, nearly three decades of open warfare between Maori, British and settler that erupted in the mid-1840s and continued, intermittently, until 1872. In Two Peoples, One Land, noted social and military historian Matthew Wright draws on extensive primary research and investigation of the battlefields to paint a vivid and illuminating picture of personality, conflict and societies in upheaval. In the process he reveals that the wars were far more than just a military tale, they also shaped Maori and Pakeha worlds in ways that neither people fully understood at the time. And, although open fighting ended in 1872, the forces that drove the wars did not dissipate. Ultimately, Wright argues, these were wars without end

258 pp 
ISBN 13:978 0 7900 1064 9 

Print copies available direct from the author.


Western Front: The New Zealand Division in the First World War
Reed, Auckland 2005

"An immensely readable story"
- Denis Welch, New Zealand Listener, 7 May 2005.

"Readers of this excellent book will thank God and hope that such a war will never come again... Rating out of 10: 8"
- Des Bell, Northern Advocate, 30 May 2005.

"This is an excellent read, factual, often emotional and simply written. It should appeal to all New Zealanders"
- Graeme Cass, Hawke's Bay Today, 2 July 2005.

In November 2004, an unknown soldier from the Western Front was chosen to symbolise all New Zealand’s military heritage, underlining the way our experience in Belgium and France between 1916 and 1918 speaks to us over the years and generations. Why did so many New Zealanders sail from the ‘uttermost ends of the Earth’ to die by numbers in muddy foreign soil? And were the tactics really as mindless as climbing out of a trench and walking very slowly towards the Germans until everyone was dead? Matthew Wright provides some answers in this no-holds-barred account of New Zealand’s three-year hell on earth in Flanders and Picardy. Drawing on soldiers’ diaries and letters, some published here for the first time, Wright paints the vivid, harrowing picture of a life-and-death struggle shared, over the span of the war, by more than 100,000 young Kiwi soldiers.

204 pp
ISBN 0-7900-0990-0

Print copies available direct from the author.

Pacific War - New Zealand and Japan, 1941-1945
Reed, Auckland 2003

"New Zealand changed in so many ways during and because of the Pacific war and this publication brings this out so clearly...a good book for history students and ideal to have in the family library".
- Alan Harris, The Marlborough Express, 23 September 2003.

In December 1941, Japan attacked the British Empire and the United States, turning the European war that had raged since 1939 into a global conflict. For a few desperate months during early 1942, the Kiwis faced a deep crisis. Australia had its own threat to face. Britain was stretched to the utmost against Germany, and the United States - with millions still unemployed - took time to turn its huge industry to war production. Despite a heavy commitment to the European war, New Zealanders eventually fought the Japanese on land, sea and air, from Malaya to the Solomons and, finally, in Japanese home waters. This was not easy. New Zealand had heavy commitments in North Africa and Europe. Even after the crisis of 1942 had passed, the country struggled to find the resources to keep air force, navy and army operating in the Pacific. This book focuses on New Zealand's short-lived land contribution, the politics behind it, and the people who fought in it.

194 pp
ISBN 0-7900-0908-0

Out of print.


Italian Odyssey - New Zealanders in the battle for Italy, 1943-45
Reed, Auckland 2003

"Wright is one who has been able to place himself within the culture and sense the history...This new book is a worthy contribution to our understanding..."
- Frank Glen, The Southland Times, 14 June 2003.

"Author Matthew Wright... has brought the Italian campaign alive. The book is as important as it is highly readable - so much better than the standard military histories".
- Graeme Hunt, The National Business Review, 17 October 2003.

From 1943 to 1945 New Zealand forces fought alongside British and American troops in Italy. It was a very different kind of war from the North African campaign of 1940-43. The free-wheeling tactics of the desert were replaced by the closer fighting required to master buildings, roads, farms and rivers. New Zealand's campaign pivoted around Cassino, the central Italian village that offered such stubborn resistance in early 1944. More than five decades on, debate still rages over the decisions made by the New Zealand commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg. Yet the truths can be uncovered, and one of the aims of this book is to take a fresh look at what happened. Italian Odyssey is the third book in Matthew Wright's history of the Second New Zealand Division.

ISBN 0 7900 8797 1

Out of print.


Desert Duel - New Zealand's North African War, 1940-1943
Reed, Auckland 2002

"Mr Wright is a professional historian who has written on many subjects. Desert Duel is all the better for that."
- Graeme Hunt, National Business Review, 8 November 2002.

In June 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Panzerarmee Afrika surged into Egypt. It was his second effort to take the Nile Delta, and within a few days the main force standing between the Axis army and Cairo was the Second New Zealand Division, classified by Rommel as the elite of the British Army. Desert Duel tells the story of of New Zealand's four-year war in North Africa. In a lively and well-documented account, making extensive use of original source material, Matthew Wright argues that - in part thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg - the division put up a performance well in excess of what might have been expected from a small and youthful South Pacific nation. Desert Duel is the second book in Matthew Wright's history of the Second New Zealand Division.

ISBN 0 7900 0852 1

Out of print.


Blue Water Kiwis
Reed, Auckland 2001

New Zealand has a long and proud naval tradition, recorded here in Matthew Wright's thoroughly researched one-volume history. This should not be mistaken for a history of the Royal New Zealand Navy alone. Wright's text focuses on the ways New Zealand tackled its naval defence from the 1880s, when New Zealand government and people first began to feel vulnerable to a foreign naval threat, through to the twenty-first century.

ISBN 0 7900 0817 3

Out of print


Battle for Crete - New Zealand's Near-Run Affair, 1941
Reed, Auckland 2001, reprinted 2003

Nearly 60 years on...this book will prove a heart-stabbing reminder of the agonies of a great soldier and his incomparably brave men...' (Battle for Crete - New Zealand's Near-Run Affair, 1941)
– Gordon McLauchlan, New Zealand Herald, 7 October 2000

New Zealand soldiers arrived in Crete during May 1941, short of equipment after a hasty evacuation from Greece. Three weeks later, the Germans attacked, and for a while the fate of New Zealand's active armed force lay in the balance on an island half a world away from home. Even six decades after the battle, Crete continues to prompt intense debate. British historians writing during the 1990s have argued that both the New Zealand soldiers and the island commander, Major-General Bernard Freyberg, fell short of the mark during the battle. Matthew Wright draws on a wide range of archival sources to refute this criticism, arguing that in the face of total German air superiority, the battle was unwinnable. The fact that the British came so close to successfully holding the island can be largely credited to Freyberg's outstanding abilities as a commander, and to the quality of the men he led. Battle For Crete is the first book in Matthew Wright's series on the Second New Zealand Division, first published as A Near-Run Affair, New Zealanders in the Battle for Crete, 1941

ISBN 0 7900 0732 0

Out of print.


Kiwi Air Power
Reed, Auckland 1998

This well-illustrated and solidly referenced volume outlines the story of New Zealand's air force from its origins in 1930s defence politics through to the mid-1990s.

ISBN 0 7900 0625 1

Out of print

For other Matthew Wright military titles see also Biography, Childrens and Editor.

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