What are you reading? – 2 June 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 2, 2016
Seated man on sofa reading book
Source: iStock

Rob Behrens, formerly chief executive of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, is reading David Cesarani’s Disraeli: The Novel Politician (Yale University Press, 2016). “With ruthless application of text and context, Cesarani’s book is a thrilling, important corrective to those who used Disraeli’s endless ambiguities to legitimise their own pet causes. With toe-curling precision, Dizzy is acknowledged as a ‘Jewish thinker’, but nailed as a slippery opportunist, and a ‘counterfeit squire’ whose stereotypes of Jews turned them (us) into ‘poster children of reaction’.”

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (CreateSpace, 2015). “If you are going to make enemies, do it as Whistler did in this 1890 work: with language so sharp that it wounds deeply, and with phrases so memorable that any riposte is forgotten. I knew something of his wit. What I did not know was the profundity of his artistic judgements, and why these matter. The book delights and sometimes disturbs. I did not know it until now, but I should have done.”

Mary Evans, centennial professor in the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, is reading Les Back’s Academic Diary: Or Why Higher Education Still Matters (Goldsmiths Press, 2016). “This is a note not just about what I’m reading but about what two other family members have also read, with equal delight. Back sets out the daily life of an academic with all its highs and lows. If the lows are the usual ones (often idiotic demands and constraints), the highs are the important ones: positive encounters with students, commitment to teaching and the sheer pleasure of what the academy can offer. This book is worth a ton of hubristic mission statements.”

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (Penguin, 1993). “A classic dystopian sci-fi novel in which D-503 discovers he is more than just a number and begins to rebel against the wholly controlling regime as he falls for a beautiful dissident. Written in the 1920s, it prefigures both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World and offers an intelligent critique of totalitarianism that resulted, unsurprisingly, in its being banned in the Soviet Union.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, has been re-reading David Caute’s Comrade Jacob (Deutsch, 1961). “An enthralling novel that forms part of an interactive continuum with Christopher Hill’s study The World Turned Upside Down (1972) and Kevin Brownlow’s film Winstanley (1975). All deal with the mid-17th century Diggers and their doomed utopian experiment in communal agriculture. It is a deliberately multilayered and episodic book, and an unavoidably disjointed one that does not always ring true in its handling of events and characters and in its re-created dialogue.”

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