Smarty Pants

Sick of beach reading? Drop that Us Weekly and pick up one of these enlightening titles.

I have to admit that I had A Spark Is Struck in a pile of books on a chair for a long time before I picked it up.  The story behind Hawaii’s International Longshore & Warehouse Union? But author Sanford Zalburg immediately reminded me that, when it’s well-told, history makes for zesty reading. Take, for example, the 1946 sugar plantation-workers’ strike, nearly undone by a white-rice shortage. “Locals 150 and 152 do not want brown [rice] under any circumstances,” a union leader frantically reported at the time.

It doesn’t hurt that Zalburg’s main subject, union leader and labor-movement activist Jack Hall, is so interesting. This is a guy who ran away from home at age 12 and by 17 was a seaman alighting in Honolulu. Hall’s audacity helped give workers new strength, but drinking problems plagued him. “Like five blind men touching the elephant, your opinion of him depended on where you touched him,” notes Zalburg.

A Spark Is Struck ($17.95) was originally published in 1979, but has been re-released by Watermark Publishing (a sister company to PacificBasin, which owns this magazine).  In 2008, it still seems fresh.

The history of Hawaii is a history of lands moving from the Native Hawaiian people into the hands of others,” writes Jon Van Dyke in his new book, Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii? Van Dyke, a professor of law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, delves into complex cultural and legal issues surrounding land ownership, dating back to decisions made by King Kamehameha III in 1846. Van Dyke has created an exhaustive resource on the Crown Lands, viewing them as pivotal in Native Hawaiians’ quest for recognition and sovereignty. This book is $28, from the University of Hawaii Press.