What are you reading? – 9 June 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 9, 2016
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Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history, University of Buckingham, is reading the late David Cesarani’s Disraeli: The Novel Politician (Yale University Press, 2016). “This attempted hatchet job fails to convince. Cesarani casts doubt on Dizzy’s commitment to Anglo-Jewish political emancipation but ignores key elements of the story. His assertion that – through his novels – Dizzy made a singular contribution to the crafting of what turned out to be a murderous racialised anti-Semitic discourse is not merely fantastic but wallows in hindsight – the historian’s worst enemy.”

Peter Paul Catterall, reader in history, University of Westminster, is reading Hermann Hesse’s The Prodigy (Peter Owen, 2002). “This reminds us that a state-led education system emphasising knowledge at the expense of learning how to think or how to apply knowledge is not a new phenomenon. Too many of our students arrive with the ability to learn educated out of them. Too many expect to continue to be spoon-fed. This is a tragedy of sorts, though not of the kind with which Hesse’s book closes.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, has just finished Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016). “Jacobson updates The Merchant of Venice, setting it among the spoiled rich of Cheshire. The play’s Gratiano is Gratan, a pig-ignorant professional footballer in hot water for making a Nazi salute. Simon Strulovitch is an art collector and philanthropist whose rebellious daughter wants to marry the footballer. Shylock talks Strulovitch through such questions as anti-Semitism, paternal authority and racial resentment. In places this veers towards caricature, but at its best, Jacobson’s witty anger underlines and undermines the longevity and deep-rootedness of prejudice.”

Randall J. Stephens, reader in history and American studies, Northumbria University, is reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Dancing in the Dark: My Struggle Book 4 (Vintage, 2015). “Knausgaard, a 21st-century Proust, has written a remarkable, unflinching memoir series. This volume chronicles the late-teen years he spent teaching at a school in northern Norway. The spare prose crackles with dark humour and brings to life the shame, embarrassment and sense of failure that so many experience at this age.”

Peter Whitewood, lecturer in history, York St John University, is reading John Bew’s Realpolitik: A History (Oxford University Press, 2016). “The term ‘realpolitik’ is often misunderstood, yet it has been central to statecraft and diplomatic history from the 19th century. Bew’s readable guide to the concept takes the reader through its contentious history, and its critics, advocates and practitioners. This is a well-researched account and a superb introduction to a concept that still has relevance to today’s foreign policy questions.”

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