What are you reading? – 24 August 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 24, 2017
PIle of books
Source: iStock

Anna Hartnell, senior lecturer in contemporary literature, Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Assata Shakur’s Assata: An Autobiography (Zed Books, 2014). “Shakur, the black ‘revolutionary’ fugitive residing in Cuba, was elevated to the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list in 2013. Picking up her autobiography, first published in 1988, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I was struck by an odd sense that her brave and powerful account of the black power movement in the 1960s and 1970s feels almost more relevant than when I first read it. Her condemnation of the ‘one per cent’ (who control the wealth) and the criminal justice system resonates strongly with contemporary movements such as Occupy and Black Lives Matter. Read alongside Donald Trump’s recent description of her as a ‘cop killer’, Assata is also an important reminder of the US government’s systematic attempt to strip black activists of their political identities in order to falsely cast them as criminals.”


Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge is reading Giles Udy’s Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left (Biteback, 2017). “This is a polemical but convincing account of the extent to which the British Left in the 1930s connived at Stalin’s terror. The Webbs were fools. Others, from George Bernard Shaw to Hugh Dalton and Stafford Cripps, turned blind eyes in every direction. Particularly alarming is the account of Ramsay MacDonald’s government’s decision to purchase Russian timber, which was produced and shipped by slave labour. Attempts to raise the matter in Parliament were rebuffed with the help of naive and complacent reports featured in The Manchester Guardian. By contrast, the testimony of prisoners who had escaped from the camps was disregarded. Britain needed the timber! A shameful story. An unfamiliar hero is the often-lampooned Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, who stood out against those whose wilful ignorance and wishful thinking blinded them to the truth.”


Ursula King, emeritus professor of theology and religious studies, University of Bristol, is reading Thomas Berry’s Selected Writings on the Earth Community (Orbis Books, 2014). “The prophetic voice of the American eco-philosopher Thomas Berry (1914-2009) is still too little known. Yet his creative engagement with the great ecological crises of our time and his new understanding of the history of evolution as a story in whose further development humans are critically involved attracts an ever larger international following. What can be difficult is to find one’s way around his numerous works. The editors of this book, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, have done a marvellous job of presenting the heart of Berry’s thought. We hear about ‘Living a New Story’ and ‘The Great Work’ and the wisdom required from human beings to live in a mutually enhancing relationship with Earth and the Earth community. This is a most inspiring read to which I shall return again and again.”

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