What are you reading? – 28 April 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 28, 2016
Books on bookshelf

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Sarah L. Kaufman’s The Art of Grace: On Moving Well through Life (W. W. Norton, 2015). “Kaufman seeks to define an elusive concept. She does it through people she considers to have exhibited gracefulness in their actions and behaviours. The inclusion of Margaret Thatcher will raise eyebrows, but maybe, in the end, grace is in the eye of the beholder – or, as Kaufman puts it, the ability to go through life with ease and unselfconsciousness.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin, 2009). “Poor Uncle Julian must examine his papers; Constance bakes, contented to remain within the bounds of the garden. Only sister Merrikat remains the sole link to the town and, for us, the past, until the night everything changes. Unsettling, unnerving and unreliable, the past is unravelled as the present falls apart, with Merrikat and her magic at the centre. Deliciously chilling.”

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is reading Placebo Talks: Modern Perspectives on Placebos in Society (Oxford University Press, 2016), edited by Amir Raz and Cory Harris. “Edited collections have a reputation for being boring, but this one is really sprightly and even punchy. The starting point is that the much sniffed-at placebo effect is real and affects many things. Antidepressants are modern placebos. So is acupuncture. In fact, it turns out that a great swathe of modern life can be explained via the humble placebo.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Andrew Jennings’ The Dirty Game: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA (Century, 2015). “A wordy but convincing account of the sad condition of ‘the beautiful game’. Why did it require America’s FBI to open the door to the Augean stables rather than an agency of one of the world’s leading football powers? Can FIFA be rescued, or is it beyond saving? And when may the next arrests be expected?”

E. Stina Lyon, professor emeritus of educational developments in sociology, is reading David Walker’s Exaggerated Claims? The ESRC, 50 Years On (Sage Swifts, 2016). “To deliver impact, social knowledge needs application, requiring stable institutional contexts and resources. Not very likely in volatile times of ideological conflict and economic austerity. So why does Walker blame academics? At least in a democracy, academics, like Walker in this thought-provoking but ultimately misleading book, keep critical debate about facts, values and consequences alive and open to scrutiny.”

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