Sir Michael Berry, Tim Birkhead, Stephen Halliday, Sarah Ison and Roger Morgan...

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 19, 2013

Sir Michael Berry, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Bristol, is reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011). “With such a past, here dissected magisterially and meticulously although not without wry humour, one wonders that anyone can still bear to live in the place. Ruthless conquests, pitiless dictators, destructive vandalism and massacres of thousands followed over millennia, with breathless regularity. Good reason to repudiate the three Abrahamic religions, one might think. But they thrive, alas.”

The Guga Stone, by Donald S. Murray

Tim Birkhead, professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield, is reading Donald S. Murray’s The Guga Stone: Lies, Legends and Lunacies from St Kilda (Luath Press, 2013). “From the 17th century onwards, visitors to the Hebridean island of St Kilda came away with strange tales of residents’ customs, blissfully unaware that they’d often been duped. Murray creates a semi-fantasy collection of writings about events taking place in the mind of a man sent back to protect residents’ properties after an enforced evacuation in 1930. The book swirls evocatively around the St Kildan obsession with stones, and with the seabirds – fulmars, puffins, guillemots and gugas (gannets) – that they relied on for sustenance.”

Love Nina, by Nina Stibbe

Stephen Halliday, panel tutor in history, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Nina Stibbe’s Love, Nina (Viking, 2013). “An account of a nanny’s experiences in the artistic heart of Primrose Hill, with walk-on parts for the likes of Jonathan Miller and, above all, Alan Bennett – whose practical knowledge of the finer points of cuisine, bicycle maintenance and washing machine technology came as a surprise to this reader and are clearly a great asset to his neighbours.”

Jerusalem, by Guy Delisle

Sarah Ison, information adviser, St Peter’s House Library, University of Brighton, is reading Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (Drawn and Quarterly, 2012). “Delisle documents his experience of settling into living in Jerusalem, there while his partner is working with Médecins Sans Frontières. This and his other graphic novels (about his time in Burma, China and North Korea) offer an entertainingly personal take on a foreigner’s experiences of living in a new place. His witty observations and beautiful pictures are delightful.”

The Passage to Europe, by Luuk van Middelaar

Roger Morgan, formerly professor of political science, European University Institute, Florence, is reading Luuk van Middelaar’s The Passage to Europe: How a Continent became a Union (Yale University Press, 2013). “The author, a senior EU official, combines inside knowledge with the insights of a philosopher. He distinguishes interestingly between the broad ‘Europe of States’, the narrower ‘Europe of Offices’ (bureaucracy) and the intermediate ‘Europe of Citizens’. His discussion of these three Europes, and their interactions in the long process of creating a European Union, is illuminating and remarkably readable.”

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