Alex Danchev, professor of international relations, University of St Andrews, is reading The Kennan Diaries (W. W. Norton, 2014), edited by Frank Costigliola. “George Kennan, who died in 2005 aged 101, kept a diary for an astonishing 88 years. Calling him a Russian specialist hardly does justice to the depth of his knowledge and passion of his concern. On seeing The Cherry Orchard in London, he wrote: “It stirred up my Russian self, which is entirely a Chekovian self and much more genuine than the American… I sat there blubbering like a child and trying desperately to keep the rest of the company from noticing it”.
Stefan Doerr, professor of geography, Swansea University, is reading Fire on Earth: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), by Andrew C. Scott et al. “Vegetation fires have long been a natural and immensely important process for the Earth’s land surface and climate. This comprehensive and superbly illustrated synthesis covers the impact of fire on Earth from its beginnings, includes its interactions with ecology and men, and even manages to provide an accessible introduction to the complex science (and art) of wildland fire behaviour prediction.”
Glyn Hambrook, reader in comparative and European literature, University of Wolverhampton, is reading Vassily Aksyonov’s The Island of Crimea (Random House, 1983), translated by Michael Henry Heim. “Set in a Crimea reconfigured as an island that had resisted the advance of the Bolsheviks to become a haven of capitalism, this tale of resurgent pan-Russian identity anticipates to an eerily substantial degree current events in Ukraine.”
Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Martha Bayless’ Sin and Filth in Medieval Culture: The Devil in the Latrine (Routledge, 2014). “Bayless urges us to take medieval scatology seriously, showing the myriad ways in which such stories signified as well as what they signified in religious terms. Medieval theologians quite literally knew their shit. One 14th-century Franciscan argued that Edenic shit ‘would not stink’; while there was some disagreement over whether Judas’ guts slipped out of his anus or burst suddenly from his belly, both versions reflected ‘a popular understanding of the bowels as the seat of treachery’. An erudite encounter with a topic often consigned to the realms of puerile humour.”
James Underwood, doctoral candidate and tutor in English literature, University of Hull, is reading John Osborne’s Radical Larkin: Seven Types of Technical Mastery (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). “If Osborne’s love of Larkin didn’t radiate from every page, this book could be about any author, so fundamental is his treatment of how we study writers and their work. His 2008 monograph on the poet revolutionised the field; the follow-up is just as brilliant, fresh and contentious.”