What are you reading? – 1 September 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 1, 2016
Seated man on sofa reading book
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R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading The Journals of Gilbert White (Futura, 1982), edited by Walter Johnson. “Much less well known than The Natural History of Selborne, the journals White kept from 1768 to 1793 provide a parallel series of observations on family solidarity and kinship networks, village life, servant-keeping, vernacular architecture, ailments in humans and animals, the changing seasons and freakish weather, crops, local and regional distinctiveness, wildlife, breeding habits and oddities of nature. Although he was a churchman, ecclesiastical matters curiously do not loom large here. To modern eyes, moreover, its lack of sentimentality is often striking. White was more likely to dissect or eat even a rare creature than to admire it. Occasional visits to London and Oxford extend the social and geographical range and break out of the quintessential provincialism displayed here. There is even a single cursory mention of the (safely distant) French Revolution.”


Cathy O’Sullivan, course director for the MSc in global healthcare management, Coventry University, is reading Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness (Ebury, 2012). “Peters is brilliant at explaining how the brain works in simple and common-sense language, underpinned by his clinical and academic training. He trains elite sporting teams to optimise the functioning of their brains by understanding why the brain has evolved as it has, and thus how to harness the mind effectively either to win or to cope with losing. So I am reading this to reflect on what took people to the top at the Rio Olympics, but also so that I can support my students better in their personal development in the new academic year. Increasing self-awareness is a vital step for aspirant healthcare leaders as much as for elite sports figures.”


Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, is reading Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time (Jonathan Cape, 2016). “Novels about composers are rare, partly because they work only when readers know something of the life of the composer, and partly because writing about music is difficult, which Barnes carefully avoids by writing a novel with the music largely left out. This is an exploration of what Shostakovich might have thought, and said, at three excoriating moments in his life when the state sought to silence or use him. On each occasion he sought a musical vindication, demonstrating that art can triumph by encoding deeper truths. The novel works by taking Shostakovich’s greatness for granted. It is really about something else, still more elusive. This is a novel about ambivalence. Ambivalence in the face of tyranny; ambivalence in the face of being silenced; and ultimately an ambivalence encoded in Shostakovich’s music.”

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