New and noteworthy – 22 September 2016

Tomes deserving of your time include our island story in art, rescuing religion from jihadis and Islamophobes, going to town on an egg and a veritable word-fest

September 22, 2016
Review: Art of the Islands, by Michelle Brown

Art of the Islands: Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking Visual Culture c.450-1050
Michelle P. Brown
Bodleian Library

An eminent scholar’s detailed, extensively illustrated account of traditions and treasures forged in the what were far from Dark Ages, including the Alfred Jewel, the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfarne Gospels and other works of undimmed beauty that would have such an influence on 19th- and 20th-century art movements and the imaginations of museum-haunters everywhere. An account, should anyone need reminding in post-Brexit times, of islands that have always been sites of migration and the adoption of far-flung influences.

Is Islam an Enemy of the West?
Tamara Sonn

Forget Geert Wilders and his only apparently more reasonable fellow travellers, says Georgetown University scholar Sonn in this short work. It’s not Islam that is the problem but politics, she argues, noting that jihadists are outliers, most of their victims are co-religionists, and their approach is more Maoist than Muslim. Taking in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, just war theory, Palestinian refugees, Chechnya and East Timor, she contends that addressing “basic human rights including access to food, healthcare, education, and political participation” is the only way to ensure that neither terrorists nor Islamophobes can exploit grievances to foment hatred between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Scientists Making a Difference: One Hundred Eminent Behavioral and Brain Scientists Talk about Their Most Important Contributions
Robert J. Sternberg, Susan T. Fiske and Donald J. Foss, editors
Cambridge University Press

Big names (Daniel Kahneman, Roy Baumeister) are a given, but the best of these essays exceed expectations, offering the enthusiastic first-person accounts you’d hope to hear if you had the chance to collar one of these scientists and ask about the curiosity that drives them. Standouts include those from Carol Dweck, Michael Davis, Susan Carey, Uta Frith, Richard Nisbett and Michael Gazzaniga (“I was captivated: captivated by Caltech, by Sperry, by research, and by all the questions that split-brain research had engendered”). Highly recommended.

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg
Tim Birkhead

Spurred to write this book by a television presenter’s confident recounting of a long-disproven myth about guillemots’ eggs, Birkhead’s enthusiasm for this “everyday miracle of nature” is infectious and his erudition lightly worn. A clutch of tales of Alfred Russel Wallace, John Clare on the “pen-scribbled o’er” pigments of yellowhammers’ eggs, albumen and the “microbe war”, “millionaire oologist” Johnnie du Pont, physiological polyspermy, and Birkhead’s own adventures on wind-whipped Skomer Island studying the guillemots that have occupied him for 40 years make for a magical account.

The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Peter Gilliver
Oxford University Press

“Chapman, however, was having none of it. He knew all too well the ruinous financial consequences of allowing Un to expand to such a scale; and upon his return from America he once again tried to enlist the help of an independent but authoritative figure in bringing Craigie to heel. He wrote to Henry White, the Dean of Christ Church, setting out his view of the situation…” High drama among stern lexicographers, haughty helmsmen, treacherous protégés and naive deputy editors; words spurious (“cherisaunce”) and malicious (“magnificent fossil”); Kingsley Amis taking against the Second Supplement to the Second Edition; fleeting glimpses of actual women: it’s all here for the fossicking in this exhaustive tale of the OED from 1884 to the present, told by one of its editors.

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