What are you reading? – 19 October 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 19, 2017
Pile of books
Source: iStock

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Deborah Cadbury’s Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe (Bloomsbury, 2017). “A skilfully woven account of Queen Victoria’s attempt to bring peace and democracy to Europe by marrying her descendants to European royalty, finally frustrated by the belligerence of her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II. There are many surprises. Her beautiful granddaughter Alix turned down the approaches of the unappealing ‘Eddy’, eldest son of Edward VII, but suffered a worse fate by marrying, for love, the future Tsar Nicholas II, with whom she was executed by the Bolsheviks. And the even more beautiful Hélène, granddaughter of Louis Philippe and hence a member of the French royal family, actually fell in love with Eddy and was prevented from marrying him only by her Catholic faith. The narrative is greatly assisted by a family tree that shows clearly the relationships of those who were the objects of Victoria’s domineering intrigues.”

Harriet Dunbar-Morris, associate pro vice-chancellor, University of Portsmouth, is reading Victoria Hislop’s Cartes Postales from Greece (Headline, 2016). “This is a bid to keep the summer holidays in view for a little while longer. Not a set of short stories, as I had imagined, but a discovery of Greece. Hislop writes in such a captivating way that I’d like to go to Greece on my next holiday, much as the main character in the book receives postcards that entice her to discover the country for herself. The book also contains photographs by Alexandros Kakolyris, making it what Hislop describes as a visual storybook for grown-ups, perhaps not my cup of tea, but an interesting experiment for a novel. If, like me, you enjoy travelling vicariously through fiction, then this is a book for you.”

Fred Inglis, honorary professor of cultural history, University of Warwick, is reading Jonathan Daube’s Educator Most Extraordinary: The Life and Achievements of Harry Rée, 1914-1991 (Institute of Education Press, 2017). “Rée was a war hero, headmaster and first professor of education at the then sparkling new University of York. At first sight, the book seems a trifle scrappy, a tapestry of recollections by Rée’s innumerable admirers. Gradually, the reader comes to see this as the only way to bring to life his solid political principles, dazzling colourfulness, breadth of achievement, deep contradictions and vivid moral sense. Wonderful anecdotes abound: Rée in occupied France cycling frantically uphill after Nazi fuel trucks and unscrewing their stopcocks, so they arrived empty at the top, leaving Rée in a ditch helpless with laughter. Once persuaded of the egalitarian rightness of comprehensive education, he championed the cause from his chair. Scruffily dressed, utterly commanding, extremely funny and a bit wild, he would have stared incredulously at today’s pinched, over-managed schools of education.”

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