Sir David Bell, Stephen Halliday, Richard Joyner, Peter J. Smith and Paul White...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 14, 2015

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Oliver Kamm’s Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015). “This book came as a great relief. Although I feared I had a shaky grasp of formal grammar, Kamm reassures me that I have – in fact – acquired mastery as a native English speaker. With bracing confidence, he lays into pedants, sticklers and prescriptivists everywhere. Nevertheless, he’s no anarchist: this book provides invaluable advice on writing with style, wit and verve.”

Book review: Princes at War: The British Royal Family’s Private Battle in the Second World War, by Deborah Cadbury

Stephen Halliday, panel tutor in history, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Deborah Cadbury’s Princes at War: The British Royal Family’s Private Battle in the Second World War (Bloomsbury, 2015). “Fascinating, fresh insights into a story of four brothers: George VI, more stoical, loyal and exhausted than ever; the Duke of Windsor, at best even more foolish, disloyal and besotted with his horrible wife than previously suspected; the Duke of Gloucester, brave, hard-working and resourceful; the Duke of Kent, diligent and very unlucky to die.”

Book review: Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information, by Eva Hemmings Wirten

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Eva Hemmings Wirtén’s Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information (University of Chicago, 2015). “If you want to know about celebrity culture in belle époque Paris, this may be the book for you. Ditto if you want to understand French property law and the married woman. If you believe that her science was what made Marie Curie a double Nobel laureate, you will have to go elsewhere.”

Book review: Diary of a Bad Year, by J M Coetzee

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, has just finished reading J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year (Vintage, 2008). “A series of polemics on Blair-Bush aggression, ageing, terrorism, language, probability, and so forth – running separately from, but sharing the pages with, an account of the writer’s sexual attraction to his typist and her ulterior response, and also her boyfriend’s increasingly jealous awareness of the situation. Sometimes you read horizontally and sometimes vertically. This boldly contrapuntal form insists that however sophisticated we may sound in terms of current affairs, erotic attractions and rivalries are never far away.”

Book review: The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice, by Polly Coles

Paul White, deputy vice-chancellor, University of Sheffield, is reading Polly Coles’ The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice (Robert Hale, 2013). “Coles’ background is in teaching and anthropology, and she recently moved with her family (including her Italian husband) to Venice. Here she brilliantly unmasks the prejudices and idiosyncrasies of the Venetians themselves, as well as mass tourism’s impact on the city. Coping with Italian bureaucracy is never easy, but the added complexities of formal and informal rules governing life in a city that is slowly dying as a real place of residence are fascinating. Recommended for anyone about to visit or revisit Venice: I’ve been there many times and I now see the city in new ways.”

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