What are you reading? – 8 December 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 8, 2016
Seated man on sofa reading book
Source: iStock

Sir David Eastwood, vice chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Rick Rylance’s Literature and the Public Good (Oxford University Press, 2016). “‘Typically,’ Rylance suggests, ‘debates about literature are exploratory and contingent, and not categorical.’ This ability to categorise without being categorical gives this timely essay its brilliance. Rylance understands the power and reach of literature, and is as happy with numbers as he is in sympathetic literary criticism. At the book’s heart is a counterpoint between ‘the instrumental and the immersive’, and Rylance happily acknowledges the power of the instrumental while ultimately according primacy to the immersive. Although its title is a play on Q. D. Leavis’ 1932 study, Fiction and the Reading Public, the book eschews absolutism for subtlety and sympathy; and its authority, paradoxically, lies in its relaxed critical stance, and in an understanding that you don’t have to condemn in order to celebrate.”


R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading John Galsworthy’s Strife in his Collected Plays (Duckworth, 1929). “Best known these days for his Forsyte novels, in his own lifetime Galsworthy was probably most famous as a cutting-edge, socially probing dramatist. Strife (1909) was the third of his many plays and, still relevant today, is likely to take on a new lease of life from its forthcoming high-profile revival at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Written during the turmoils engulfing Edwardian liberalism in the years immediately before the First World War, it examines the tensions between capital and labour, factory owners and shareholders, trade unions and workers, men and women, economics and religion. Collisions between forthright, unbending individuals on both sides of the industrial divide and between different generations of the same families bring out in stark, uncomfortable detail the personal dramas that underpin the wider struggles.”


Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles’ The Madhouse Effect. “A prominent scientist and a star Washington Post cartoonist combine to skewer climate change denialists. The result should be both informative and entertaining. They take us from ‘what is science?,’ to ‘why is geo-engineering dangerous?’ via the evidence for climate change and the approach and politics of the climate change conspiracy. Yet readers of Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science or Jane Mayer’s Dark Money (both of which are better, weightier books) will find little new in Michael Mann’s short narrative. And Tom Toles’ cartoons tend to use a bludgeon where a rapier could be more effective, at least for my taste. The book’s main problem, as the authors acknowledge, is that those they really want to read it are (very) unlikely to.”

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