Daniel Binney, John Gilbey, Richard Larschan, Jessica Meacham and Sara Read...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 1, 2014

Daniel Binney, postgraduate administrator, department of history, Classics and archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Nick Spencer’s Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury, 2014). “Although it initially seems to be a welcome and balanced book on the key origins and motivations of an important area of intellectual activity, its overall tone and conclusion is too preachy for a historical depiction. Its key point, that traditions of atheism arise typically where its antithesis presides and mostly flourish where it proscribes, while true, deserves defter philosophical treatment than this book provides.”

Review: Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, by Charles Babbage

John Gilbey, lecturer in IT service management, Aberystwyth University, is reading Charles Babbage’s Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (Cambridge Library Collection, 2013). “This stern 1830 treatise has a fascinating, dispiritingly familiar ring: the assertion that ‘nothing but the full expression of public opinion can remove the evils that chill the enthusiasm, and cramp the energies of the science of England’ could have been tweeted last week. Babbage urges reforms in the awarding of degrees, noting ‘the pursuit of science does not, in England, constitute a distinct profession’ before laying into the learned societies, fists flailing.”

Review: Through the Children's Gate, by Adam Gopnik

Richard Larschan, formerly professor of English, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is reading Adam Gopnik’s Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York (Quercus, 2007). “Gopnik’s insights into post-9/11 New York intermingle seamlessly with observational humour. Whether recounting a narcoleptic psychotherapist, his son’s addiction to ‘screen culture’ or the death throes of his daughter’s pet fish, Gopnik resists both glibness and sentimentality to produce occasional essays that go far beyond their immediate occasions.”

Review: Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson

Jessica Meacham, study skills coordinator, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, is rereading Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet (Transworld, 1997). “My favourite of her novels, a hallucinogenic mix of Shakespeare, time travel, family violence and humour. I came back to it again after her recent Life After Life; tracing the development of her interest in the what-ifs of a character’s life is a fascinating game, and her metafictional techniques add to the fun.”

Review: The Cooke Sisters, by Gemma Allen

Sara Read, lecturer in English, Loughborough University, is reading Gemma Allen’s The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester University Press, 2013). “A superb piece of scholarship examining the writings and influence of five well-connected 16th-century sisters. It was revealing to learn more about the educational context and talents of women from the generation before those I normally work on. Allen extends, develops and sometimes challenges previous understandings of elite women’s influence on politics and religion as well as domestic matters.”

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