What are you reading? – 22 November 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 22, 2018
PIle of books
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Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, is reading Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics. “The title of Muller’s book provides an unsubtle clue about this American academic’s views. As well as providing a short history of ‘metric fixation’, he looks at philosophical critiques before assessing the impact of metrics, using examples from education, health, the military and business. Occasionally, a form of professional defensiveness is present in his writing. Yet an obsession with judging performance purely on the back of ‘hard’ data can have a number of deleterious effects, such as distorting organisational behaviour and reducing legitimate risk-taking. Muller’s overall argument that metrics need to inform judgement in a nuanced and sophisticated way is a compelling one. Whether politicians and policymakers, on both sides of the Atlantic, pay any attention is another matter.”

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, is reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (Penguin, 1966). “This is the true story of the horrific murder of an entire family living on a remote farm in Holcombe, western Kansas. The book is based on the official paperwork, media accounts and police interviews that documented the tragedy. Capote conducted his research for the book with Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird), and from this reconstructed the events and consequences surrounding the vicious and callous murders. His writing is intense and gripping, with a mixture of journalistic style and intellectual and imaginative power. Not for the faint-hearted, but a superb account of the cruelty and viciousness human beings are capable of – which is why it remains one of the biggest-selling crime books in publishing history.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin, 2000). “Originally published in 1961, this darkly comic novella is set in a 1930s Edinburgh girls’ school. The egotistic and friendless Miss Brodie selects a group of 10-year-old girls – ‘the Brodie set’ – to whom she confides the details of her holiday romances, her contempt for her colleagues and her admiration for all things Italian, from the Renaissance masters to Mussolini. In defiance of her headmistress, Brodie’s idiosyncratic methods ensure that the girls ‘receive the fruits of my prime’ – mainly accounts of her dalliances with the music teacher, Lowther, or the one-armed art teacher, Lloyd, to whom she considers herself to be a ‘Muse’. Eventually ‘betrayed’ by one of her girls, Brodie’s own decline is almost cursory, but the damage she leaves behind her is long-lasting: ‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life’ – sinister indeed.”

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