Daniel Binney, Paul Greatrix, Sara Read, Nigel Rodenhurst and Richard J. Williams...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 24, 2013

Daniel Binney, postgraduate administrator, department of history, Classics and archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London, is rereading Paul M. Churchland’s Matter and Consciousness (MIT Press, 2013). “An accessible and wide-ranging work (now in its third edition) on the only issues that philosophers of mind, or even real people, need in order to shake off deeply embarrassing beliefs about the brain that are no more sophisticated than the ancient Greeks’ idea that it was a form of refrigeration device. The stance Churchland argues for is the only one that is not, ironically, mental.”

Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter (Orion, 2011). “Poor and lonely in 1930s London, Jack leaps at the chance to join an Arctic expedition and heads with his companions and huskies to the remote uninhabited north of Spitsbergen. Their campsite has a history, though, and soon Jack finds himself alone as the perpetual night arrives and he discovers there is another presence in the dark. A genuinely suspenseful and really quite chilling tale.”

Sugar, by Elizabeth Abbott

Sara Read, lecturer in English, Loughborough University, is reading Elizabeth Abbott’s Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Duckworth, 2010). “In many ways the full impact of sugar on Western diets is just becoming apparent. This is a timely, richly illustrated history of the crop that overtook honey as the sweetener of choice from the 16th century. It shows, as the subtitle suggests, that it’s a substance linked not only with pleasure but also with some of the worst aspects of human history, such as the slave trade.”

Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno

Nigel Rodenhurst, specialist support lecturer at Aberystwyth University, is reading David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger (Simon & Schuster, 2013). “A huge disappointment. Any claims to go beyond previous attempts to uncover the mystery of the reclusive author are excessively grandiose. The authors cite liberally from those previous attempts, flesh the book out with historical accounts that tell us nothing specific about Salinger, and ultimately indulge themselves in futile guesswork. Despite any claims to the contrary, Salinger remains an enigma.”

Difficult Men, by Brett Martin

Richard J. Williams, professor of contemporary visual cultures, University of Edinburgh, is reading Brett Martin’s Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution (Penguin, 2013). “A book about cable TV drama from The Sopranos to the present. I got it because I was hooked on Breaking Bad. Lots on the producers, who are nuts. In short, you do want to work for Vince Gilligan, and you want to avoid Matthew Weiner at all costs. And if you work on The Wire, consider a liver transplant.”

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