What are you reading? – 18 May 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 18, 2017
Person sat reading book at table
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Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015). “From the moment he took the name of the iconic saint, Pope Francis made a statement about the direction of his papacy. In his updated biography, Paul Vallely details the pontiff’s battles to clean up the Vatican Bank and reform the Church bureaucracy. Fresh insights are offered into Francis’ divisive 13-year tenure as head of the Jesuits in Argentina, a period that transformed his outlook as a priest and continues to shape him today. But this is no hagiography: the author is critical of the Pope’s dilatory handling of child abuse in the Church and slow progress on the place of women. Not easily categorised as either liberal or conservative, Francis is a pope ideally suited to these questioning times.”


Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Adrian Addison’s Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the Daily Mail: The Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain (Atlantic Books, 2017). “The Daily Mail evidently aims to represent the views of Middle England. This emerges from Adrian Addison’s account of its 120-year history: from its foundation by Alfred Harmsworth, who ended his days in a state of mental collapse; via his brother, who approved of Hitler; and a later revival in its fortunes under the vigorous editorship of David English and the present incumbent, Paul Dacre. The description of the paper’s management style makes it sound fearsome, but it appears to work because, although the Mail ’s circulation is in decline, it has fared better than most of its competitors while retaining the loyalty of a high proportion of its female readers. Moreover, its enterprise has drawn an online readership greater than that of any other newspaper, helped by what the author calls its Sidebar of Shame chronicling the activities of celebrities.”


John Gilbey, who teaches in the department of computer science at Aberystwyth University, is reading Patrick Barkham’s The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals (Granta, 2011). “In this deeply personal narrative, Patrick Barkham describes his hunt for the 59 native species of butterfly that can be found – with sufficient care, skill and deep dedication – in the varied landscapes of the British Isles. With humour and sharp observation, he recounts the daily delights and disappointments of the nature watcher, creating a snapshot of the human-influenced environment that makes this book a strong candidate to become a classic of its genre. Informed, cogent and engaging, it celebrates the enthusiasm and fortitude of those who cherish these celebrated and enigmatic insects – along with the wider, often threatened, ecologies that support them.”

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