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Tales from the Lucky Generation by Bob Calkin

In Tales from the Lucky Generation, 88-year-old Bob Calkin looks back on a long and eventful life marred by one huge mistake.

Born in 1935, he grew up in a humble working-class family in Whanganui and enjoyed a happy and stable childhood.

He was one of the cohort of Kiwis born between 1929 and 1945 which he calls ‘The Lucky Generation. Unlike the previous generation whose lives had been marred by two World Wars and The Great Depression they grew up at a time when the New Zealand economy was booming.  He writes:

There was a feeling that we could be what we wanted to be based on our own merits, rather than what we were expected to do because of our background and what the traditional order dictated.

Bob went on to become a very successful lawyer and businessman. But his restless ambitious nature, and his obsession with material success drove him to climb further and further up the ladder until there was a spectacular fall from grace.

To save his failing business he foolishly took out an ever increasing series of fraudulent loans. By the time he was caught these amounted to the best part of half a million dollars, or around three million dollars in today’s money. It was one of the most serious white-collar crimes in New Zealand at the time. He was sentenced to six years in prison. 

Reading his account of how when he was first incarcerated in Wi Tako prison he was in a constant fog of desperation, trauma, and mental anguish is heart-wrenching. How could he have lost his moral code which had been instilled in him, gone so badly off the rails, and in so doing harmed Claire (his wife and the love of his life) and his children so badly?

What saved him was twofold. First there was a spiritual awakening. He turned to God and was drawn to Catholicism and the redemption it offered which was a path to regaining his self-respect and purpose and reintegrating back into society.

Secondly he was given the opportunity to further his academic journey by studying for a degree in sociology gaining a Master’s and a PhD  following his release.

When he was released back into society he was a changed man. He spent the rest of his life seeking atonement for his crime by helping to change the lives of socially and economically disadvantaged people.

Into his memoir Bob has also woven important stories about the political and economic changes which happened in this country during his lifetime. He recounts how policies adopted by the government of the day affected the lives of ordinary New Zealanders and especially how Neoliberalism had such an adverse effect on the fabric of New Zealand society.


For his PhD he sought to explain the social mechanisms which caused a big crime wave between 1970 and 1985, predominantly by young men. This resulted in many  of them being caught in a cycle of offending and imprisonment.


His interest in this topic was more than academic. He had met many of these young offenders while he was a prison inmate and later through his work with the Salisbury Foundation. Spending time with them had made him realise how traumatised they were and that coming down hard on them was not the answer.


At a time when we are currently experiencing a similar crime wave, his findings are especially relevant. Sending them to prison and running bootcamps might make us feel that we’re tackling the problem, but it does nothing to build the cohesion and support required to stem the social exclusion that is driving the behaviour in the first place


By his last chapter he is clearly at peace with himself. His main concern now is about the world he will be leaving his grandchildren and future generations and how unless a number of key issues are addressed the very survival of the human species is at risk. In a deeply thoughtful, and visionary analysis he maps out the big five on which action must be taken:  inequality; social exclusion and alienation; climate change and ecological sustainability; technological upheaval; and nuclear war.

For these to be achieved he has coined a new word, humanunity which encompasses unprecedented coperation and collaboration at an international level. And challenges us to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

I found his memoir a compelling and thought-provoking read. Apart from his own inspiring story of how a person can pay back their debt to society in a positive way and so find redemption, it also provides food for thought of how important it is to build a just and fair society where everyone can flourish.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Quentin Wilson Publishing


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