What are you reading? – 26 May 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 26, 2016
Pile of books against red wall

Harriet Dunbar-Morris, strategic adviser to the vice‑chancellor, University of Bradford, is reading Patrick O’Brian’s The Far Side of the World (Harper, 2010). “I am halfway through reading O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Based on historical accounts of actual naval events, this book combines exciting battles with political intrigue and great characterisation. If you’ve only seen the film Master and Commander, which is based on the first book, you really ought to read the series.”

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Letters of Gerald Finzi and Howard Ferguson (Boydell Press, 2001), edited by Howard Ferguson and Michael Hurd. “Composers Gerald Finzi (born 1901) and Howard Ferguson (born 1908) exchanged correspondence from 1927 until Finzi’s death in 1956. Their letters are rarely profound, but offer a lively picture of British musical life. Their period was dominated first by an ageing Elgar and then by a mature Vaughan Williams. The BBC and the Three Choirs Festival played significant roles throughout.”

Jane O’Grady, visiting lecturer in philosophy of psychology, City University London, is reading Richard Bourke’s Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke (Princeton University Press, 2015). “This outstanding intellectual biography shows that the 18th-century Irish MP Edmund Burke can be appropriated by neither Right nor Left. Thanks to Bourke’s meticulous and wide-ranging scholarship, what seem to be inconsistencies, such as condemning Warren Hastings’ injustice in India but supporting the notion of empire, and supporting the American Revolution and deploring the French one, are shown to be part of Burke’s nuanced, if time-bound, humanitarianism.”

Diana Rose, professor of user-led research, King’s College London, is reading Peter Beresford’s All Our Welfare: Towards Participatory Social Policy (Policy Press, 2016). “This book does not duck the complexities of the history of the welfare state and its current forms. It interleaves formal analyses with personal testimony to great effect. A wonderful trip down memory lane for me! Beresford’s proposed alternative – where those receiving the range of collective services are final arbiters over the forms they take – is well researched and refreshing.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Penguin, 2012). “This novella is more compelling than I expected. The narrative shifts – letters, alternative points of view, confessional – parallel the generic imbroglio of whodunnit, science fiction, gothic and sensation. London’s pea-souper has rarely been so obviously deployed as a malevolent pathetic fallacy. The story’s Halloween silliness barely masks a genuine anxiety regarding the fragmentation of human psychology that was about to be theorised in the work of Sigmund Freud.”

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