What are you reading? – 24 November 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 24, 2016
Pile of books against blue background
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Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Teffi’s Rasputin and Other Ironies (Pushkin Press, 2016). “A playwright, author, journalist and social observer, Teffi lived through some of Russia’s most tumultuous years before eventually emigrating to Paris in 1919. She was well known in her own time, and in this new collection we find her writing perceptively and candidly about her memories of Tsarist Russia, from her childhood to working with Lenin and her final departure. Her voice is one of detached, somewhat wry amusement, but the range of emotional response is extensive. Her first childhood experience of love is spiked with grief, while a more mundane account of working as a journalist is shot through with menace when Lenin arrives – a ‘possessed maniac’ who was ‘truly terrifying’. This is history come to life and a wholly rewarding read.”

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Reading, is reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (Penguin, 2012). “When The Better Angels of Our Nature was published in 2011, it was acclaimed as an outstanding piece of scholarship that drew from a number of disciplines. Pinker’s thesis is that violence, in all its forms, has declined over human history. Even the grotesque barbarities of the 20th century do not undermine the basic argument when compared with times past. Among the explanations for this decline in violence is what Pinker calls the ‘escalator of reason’, with roots that stretch back to the Enlightenment, and the expansion of the ‘circle of sympathy’ as a result of a more cosmopolitan and global perspective. Although the book was published before the rise of Islamic State, Pinker’s persuasive and optimistic analysis suggests that the tide of history is against those who practise uncontrolled and random violence.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in media and communications, Coventry University, is reading Angus MacVicar’s Duel in Glenfinnan (Endeavour Press, 2016). “The late Angus MacVicar was a Scottish thriller writer with a penchant for heroic journalists – a man after my own heart. And the reissued Duel in Glenfinnan, originally published in 1969, is an atmospheric number featuring Rod Cameron returning to his childhood village in Scotland to recuperate after illness. He’s a BBC man through and through, and persuades his bosses that the priceless Jacobite treasure of Glenfinnan is worth a documentary. Except that nothing rings quite true about the Old Manse, Rod’s former home. Duel in Glenfinnan is a sprightly piece and boasts one of the best twists I’ve seen in aeons.”

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