What are you reading? – 29 June 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 29, 2017
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Liz Gloyn, lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London, is reading Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man (Penguin, 2017). “If you are after an accessible, clear and engaging explanation of the problems with contemporary masculinity, Perry has provided one. Using plenty of autobiographical material and helpful anecdote, he outlines the ways in which modern masculinity has become toxic and harms men as well as women. He is brutally honest about the losses that a small group of men will incur if we turn away from traditional patriarchy, but also outlines the benefits that everyone will experience if society shifts towards different expectations of gender. Perry writes with a sharp clarity and a wry sense of humour that communicates complicated theoretical material in a straightforward way. I shall be recommending this to my undergraduates as a first step in considering the issues the book deftly raises.”

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’ Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (Brown, 2017) “Despite their characteristic pace, verve and ability to capture the moment, instant political histories have their limitations. They lack time for perspective, can be over-reliant on unnamed sources and are often ‘creative’ with internal thought processes. Shattered exhibits such strengths and weaknesses. Yet it is unflinching in its final assessment that Senator Clinton’s fatal flaw was to blame everyone but herself for what went wrong. Her failure to articulate a vision for the country, an obsession with policy detail at the expense of face-to-face politics and a lingering sense that she always had something to hide doomed her campaign. Calmer assessments of the extraordinary 2016 presidential race will follow, but the core conclusions of Shattered may linger for years to come.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Allen Lane, 2001). “Cannadine’s take on the British Empire differs from most in its stress on hierarchy and status rather than race as defining features and on the two-way relationships between imperial epicentre and periphery. Similarities occupy rather more space here than differences in Cannadine’s overview of this ill-assorted spread of countries that constituted the Empire at its height. Unsurprisingly, Queen Empress Victoria, Lord Curzon, Delhi durbars and other ceremonial trappings, and imperial architecture all feature here, but an autobiographical appendix is thrown in for good measure. ‘To be sure’ – a phrase to which the author seems maddeningly addicted in this somewhat repetitive book – the British Empire lives on vestigially in the mind even if it has disappeared from the map.”

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