What are you reading? – 7 January 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 7, 2016
Books open on table

James Stevens Curl, joint author of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (2015), is reading Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson (The Monacelli Press, 2015), edited by David A. Hanks. “Barr and Johnson, through MoMA, promoted German Modernism in the US from 1929: this splendidly illustrated, fascinating book records how they disseminated it, not least through Johnson’s championing of Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus (he was cooler about Le Corbusier, regarding his paradigmatic houses as ‘quite uninhabitable’). Proofreading is dire: Wiesenhoffseidlung is inexcusable by any standard.”

Paul Greatrix, registrar, University of Nottingham, is reading Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (Periscope, 2015). “A wonderful alternative history of the Spanish invasion of Florida in the 16th century in which Estebanico, a Moroccan slave, finds himself, along with four noblemen, as one of a handful of now-equal survivors travelling across the Americas and encountering many different tribes. When they are eventually reunited with the Spanish forces, the old hierarchies return, but Estebanico’s account remains.”

Uwe Schütte, reader in German at Aston University, is reading Gari M. Joubert’s Uptown Saturday Night Downtown Sunday Morning (CreateSpace, 2015). “In his enthralling first novel, Joubert evokes the atmosphere of 1980s subcultural Durban. The narrative follows the outsider protagonist James DuPont, evoked with what appears to be considerable autobiographical detail, on a roller-coaster ride through the alternative club and drug scene of South Africa under apartheid. Should you be in search of a boldly written novel to compensate for the daily chores of academic life, look no further.”

John Shand, associate lecturer in philosophy, the Open University, is rereading Martin Amis’ Experience (Vintage, 2001). “A masterpiece. Its autobiographical subject matter might seem too narrow to be of general interest, but just the opposite is the case. There is a generically valid wisdom that flows from its precision accounts of the particular. It easily reflects one’s own life. The writing is superb, managing to be both incredibly moving (the chapter on his father Kingsley’s final decline and fall) and funny.”

Robert Springborg, visiting professor in the department of war studies, King’s College London, is reading Hazem Kandil’s Inside the Brotherhood (Polity, 2015). “It is rare for a book on a much written-over topic to break new ground. This is one of those rarities. Marshalling and superbly analysing a welter of evidence, including personal interactions with present and former Brothers, Kandil makes a persuasive case that this organisation – authoritarian and intolerant of opposing views – can best be understood as a cult, and a cult that was bound to fail when and if it exercised power.

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