"A Pocket Guide to the Battle of Nu’uanu, 1795," by Neil Bernard Dukas (Mutual, $9.95)
As noted historian Dukas explains in this handbook, the battle remains known as "Nu’uanu" because that’s where the retreating, tattered remnants of Kalanikupule’s Oahu defenders wound up, their backs against the air, scrabbling on the sheer cliff of Nuuanu Pali. It was the end of a running battle that lasted a couple of days, as Kamehameha’s invading army swept ashore at Waialae and pushed the defenders up against Punchbowl. At that point, Kalanikupule seemed to invite Kamehameha’s troops up into Nuuanu Valley.
Why? Dukas can only speculate, as there were no written accounts of the battle, which he counts as one of the most decisive ever played out on American soil, right up there with Gettysburg and Little Big Horn.
The battlefield is now scrambled, overgrown with vegetation and subdivided into buildings and streets. The goal of this pocket-sized book is to acquaint readers with the actual locations of key portions, and Dukas does an admirable job in that regard, using maps, photographs and topographic projections to ground the visitor. There are also historic-hiking suggestions and guides.
The book has a fair amount of background information on Hawaiian war making and other bits of information. It is not, however, an in-depth retelling and analysis of the battle. It does rely somewhat on advance knowledge on the part of the reader.
Dukas does come to some conclusions, including the notion that Kalanikupule might have fatally compromised his defenses by suddenly turning on his British allies and unsuccessfully trying to seize their ships. Kamehameha’s war fleet was able to cross the Kaiwi Channel unmolested as the British stood off.
Other than the nightmare image of warriors falling to their doom, so little is known about the great clash at Nuuanu — as opposed to the thousands of books written about Pearl Harbor — that Dukas’ pocket guide is most welcome. Let’s hope he has an expanded edition in the works.
"Some Fishes I Have Known — A Reef Rescue Odyssey," by Snorkel Bob (Skyhorse Publishing, $25)
"Snorkel Bob" Wintner is well known for his Maui diving expertise and equipment. He’s something of a reef conservation activist, concerned that an incessant demand for fish for saltwater aquariums is depopulating the reefs. This book, packed with colorful photos and entertaining commentary by Wintner, can be considered environmentalist propaganda and, as such, is most excellent at what it accomplishes.
For a kind of manifesto, it is remarkably cheerful and fun, and the photography is excellent. Wintner seems to be on a first-name basis with all the fish in his neighborhood.
This isn’t a scientific study, nor is it a coffee-table picture book of pretty fish. Some aren’t that pretty. It’s a highly personal tour of a wet world, led by an enthusiastic and concerned guide. It’s the kind of book where the author sticks in pictures of his dog and his cat just because he likes his critters.