What are you reading? – 6 July 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 30, 2017
Source: iStock

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac’s The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers (William Collins, 2017). “An absorbing account, by two academics, of the relationship between 19 prime ministers (from Asquith to Cameron) and the security services now known as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It contains extraordinary revelations such as Generalissimo Franco’s papers reporting the Duke of Windsor’s thinking that a few bombs on Britain in 1940 would bring the war to a necessary conclusion; National Union of Mineworkers president Joe Gormley working for Special Branch to frustrate the machinations of communists inside his union; a brainstorming session in Downing Street that, swiftly leaked, led to an anxious phone call from Dublin ruling out any desire for unification with fractious Ulster; and a proposal by Harold Wilson to assassinate Idi Amin that was vetoed by MI6. Captivating.”

Richard Larschan, English professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, is reading David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday, 2017). “Part investigative exposé, part anthropological study, this compelling page-turner narrates in meticulous detail the horrifying genocide of Native Americans in 1920s Osage, Oklahoma – arguably even worse than what occurred at Wounded Knee 30 years earlier. It was driven by a lethal combination of racism and venality, as more than 250 Osage Indians were murdered for wealth generated by selling the ‘head rights’ to underground oil reserves beneath their reservation. But for the integrity of one tenacious FBI operative, the American judicial system might have failed to bring any of the perpetrators to justice. As it was, the combination of negligence and outright corruption could have kept this ugly episode in American race relations from being fully understood were it not for Grann’s journalistic tenacity.”

A. W. Purdue, visiting professor of history at the University of Northumbria, is reading A. J. Pollard’s Edward IV: The Summer King (Penguin, 2016). “In 1471, King Edward’s position seemed secure. A bold warrior, he had usurped the throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI, lost it after a tumultuous decade of conflict and then regained it. In this short but masterful study, Pollard confronts the question as to why one of our most important and charismatic medieval monarchs is so little known. He analyses the virtues and faults of Edward, a man of courage and ability but flawed by self-indulgence. He assesses claims that the years from 1471 until 1483 were a time of peace, stability and economic progress. And he questions whether, but for his early death, Edward would have left a strong monarchy to be inherited by his elder son, thus avoiding the deposition of the young Edward V by his brother Richard III.”

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