What are you reading? – 23 November 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 23, 2017
Books on a shelf
Source: iStock

Eliane Glaser, senior lecturer in English and creative writing, Bath Spa University, is reading Peter Fleming’s The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation (Pluto, 2017). “I am looking at this alongside Carl Cederström and André Spicer’s Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimization Movement (OR Books, 2017). These complementary books examine the twin poles of contemporary consumer (post)-capitalism: the relentless exploitation of the human subject to feed the god of money, and the seemingly limitless ways of spending money to feed the god of the self. In an increasingly divided society, NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) and the precarious working poor find their lives fragmented into ever-tinier units of degrading and often unpaid labour, while financiers, executives and corporate barons have proliferating funds to invest in their well-being and further success. The great void at the heart of this dystopian present, as Fleming argues in his devastatingly witty diatribe, is public values and collective goals.”

Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics, University of Warwick, is reading James Hawes’ The Shortest History of Germany (Old Street Publishing, 2017). “I was given this book in a pub by a friend who had just finished it: brushing up on German history with a quick summary seemed an excellent idea. Except that it is by no means (only) a quick summary, but a challenging and even disturbing essay of 50,000 words on the nature of German identity. The Germany of modern history, Hawes argues, has been the formation of ‘East Elbian’, Prussian, Protestant, Juncker elements whose aspirations to eastwards expansion have proved disastrous for Germany. There was always an alternative identity, westward-looking and creative and commercial in its energies. Now, with reunification and Berlin as the capital, it can be said that Prussia has spoken from beyond the grave. Short histories will never replace long ones, but they have their role – and this is a good one.”

John Gilbey, who teaches in the department of computer science, Aberystwyth University, is reading Arthur C. Clarke’s The Other Side of the Sky (Harcourt, 1958). “I first came across this collection of 24 short science fiction stories in the late 1960s, when it had already graced the shelves of my local library for a decade. Rooted in the post-war optimism that saw radical new technologies harnessed in the service of humanity, they made a deep impression on me. Half a century later, they still trigger a wide range of emotions – albeit somewhat different ones, as you would expect. While some of the yarns remain teasingly true to their period, others are drawn on an infinitely larger, galactic, canvas – addressing the very human issues of love and loss that a life lived beyond the Earth will bring. As building a human population off-planet starts to become a serious proposition, the humanity and insight of Clarke’s writing deserve further study.”

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