What are you reading? – 15 February 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 15, 2018

Richard J. Larschan, English professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is reading Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (edited by Noel Polk; Harcourt Brace International, 2002). “I was astonished that my first-year undergraduate English professor even considered assigning this 642-page book, something I couldn’t imagine doing 50 years later. But I was also curious whether this roman-à-clef about legendary Louisiana governor Huey Long had held up more than 70 years after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The answer is an unqualified yes. Noel Polk’s fully restored edition reminds us that Warren was a masterful prose stylist, whose compelling account of political chicanery is enriched with vivid details that evoke a particular time and place while showing how a populist demagogue gains power. Beyond its disconcerting resonances today, Warren’s narrative explores existential issues that transcend the local circumstances of 1930s politics as both narrator and reader are challenged to examine their own morality in judging Willy Talos.”

Dan Stone, professor of modern history, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union (edited by Mark Edele, Sheila Fitzpatrick and Atina Grossmann; Wayne State University Press, 2017). “Historians have long known that the lives of several hundred thousand Jews, mostly from the eastern regions of Poland, were saved from the Nazi onslaught by the fact that they fled, or were deported to the Soviet Union. This collection shows the complexity of their trajectories, such as moving thousands of miles to Siberia and Central Asia, and explains how, despite immense hardships, this ‘shelter’ ultimately saved their lives. After the war, as it became clear that they had no future in Poland, the Soviet ‘exiles’ comprised the largest proportion of Jews in the displaced persons camps of Germany and Austria. The book questions what is meant by the term ‘Holocaust survivor’ and asks why this important group of people has been neglected for so long.”

Sharon Wheeler, senior lecturer in journalism and PR, University of the West of England, is reading Simon Garfield’s The Wrestling (Faber and Faber, 2007). “When I was little, nothing could happen on a Saturday afternoon until my grandma had, in her words, ‘had a look at the wrestling’. Those were the days of Dickie Davies’ badger-striped hair, Kent Walton, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus and Big Daddy. No one seemed to give a damn that it was so obviously faked. And it all looks rather quaint these days now we’re used to the high-octane entertainment that is World Wrestling Entertainment. Garfield provides an off-beat look into an almost forgotten world – albeit one that is just about kept alive in town halls and leisure centres across Britain.”

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