What are you reading? – 26 July 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 26, 2018
Books on a shelf
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R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Mark Holloway’s Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America 1680-1880 (Dover, 1966). “In this book, first published in 1951, Holloway offers a breathless survey of the sprawling legion of idealistic experiments in communal living in 18th- and 19th-century America, some of them religiously inspired and of European origin. Shakers and the Oneida and Amana settlements get most space and most favourable treatment. Others, such as the impractical ambitions of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, are unsparingly exposed. Many receive little more than a mention in an apparently unending catalogue. The author’s occasionally mocking tone irritates the reader, but even he is forced to recognise the utopians’ good points and lasting legacies – not least the social and economic benefits they conferred and their contribution to female and black emancipation.”

Lucy Bolton, senior lecturer in film studies, Queen Mary University of London, is reading Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (Chatto & Windus, 1992). “This philosophical magnum opus runs to over 500 pages and is a thrilling read, not at all the baggy monster it has been dismissed as by some. It is a carefully crafted criss-crossing of philosophical traditions, from Plato to Schopenhauer and Kant to Weil. Murdoch turns to the mysticism of Buddhism and Hinduism and proposes we reposition Jesus of Nazareth as a spiritual guide, rather than stay hung up on his divinity. An atheist but a profoundly theological thinker, in her final philosophical work Murdoch suggests practical theology as a way forward for moral thinking. I am currently writing a book on contemporary cinema and Murdoch’s philosophy, and Metaphysics is an invaluable demonstration of how relevant philosophical issues are to our everyday lives, particularly in our relationship to art.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading James Hawes’ The Shortest History of Germany (Old Street Publishing, 2018). “I went through this in a single sitting. The author’s thesis is that West Germany, the Germany of Charlemagne, Adenauer and Helmut Schmidt, has always been West-facing, liberal and a child of the Enlightenment. From this heritage it was briefly and disastrously dragged by Prussian, East-facing authoritarianism. The arguments are persuasive and backed by maps of Germany in its various manifestations. Hawes concludes that, following Brexit, ‘Germany is the sole hope for Europe – a mighty land at the very heart of the West.’ What a pity about Brexit, though.”

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