Summertime, and the reading is easy

Surveying the forthcoming crop of scholarly books, Karen Shook spots engaging reads suitable for the poolside lounger and weighter tomes for air-conditioned studies

July 16, 2009

The broadsheets' annual lists of Best Summer Reads always seem, in a British context, to be a triumph of marketing optimism over meteorological experience - and the fact that chilled Chablis and a nap trump Henning Mankell and Kate Atkinson every time. In an academic context, however, that much-awaited pause between one academic year and the next never fails to hold the shimmering promise of Catching Up on One's Reading. Which is just as well, as the release of noteworthy titles by academics beginning this month will gather steam right up until Christmas - and the next opportunity to try to combine a stack of volumes with heavenly peace.

There is no shortage of scholarly heavy hitters ahead: in This Incredible Need to Believe (Columbia University Press, October), linguist and philosopher Julia Kristeva considers the human desire for God via the lives of figures as diverse as Teresa of Avila and Donald Winnicott. John Haldane ranges from bioethics to education in Practical Philosophy: Ethics, Society and Culture (Imprint Academic, October), while Amartya Sen, the Nobel prizewinning economist, leads Penguin's list this month with The Idea of Justice, in which he reiterates the importance of public consent for the lawmaking process. The volume On Art and War and Terror (University of Edinburgh Press, July) collects Alex Danchev's beautifully lucid and thoughtful essays on the most difficult issues of our age and, in particular, the nature of humanity in times of conflict. In Terrorism: How to Respond (Oxford University Press, July), Richard English picks over a balance sheet of failure, while naval historian Andrew Lambert makes a pitch for Antony Beevor-sized sales with the gripping Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation (Faber, July).

And, in the financially fabulous land where scholarship and blockbusters meet, academic and White House communicator Cass R. Sunstein seeks to build on the success of Nudge by giving long shrift to loose talk in On Rumors (Penguin, September), while Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner put some fly-faster tights and a cape on their economically rewarding popular economics in Superfreakonomics: A Tale of Altruism, Terrorism and Poorly Paid Prostitution (Penguin, October).

As the flurry of books celebrating this year's Charles Darwin anniversaries abates, Ian Hesketh casts an eye over Darwin's peer reviewers in Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity and the Oxford Debates (University of Toronto Press, October). Unlike the supreme evolutionist, the supreme being continues to attract high-profile attention: Mark Johnston critiques the pious and impious in Saving God: Religion After Idolatry (Princeton University Press, August), while Richard Kearney argues for Anatheism: Returning to God after God (Columbia University Press, November).

Also ahead is a bumper crop of reflections on the lives of major figures. Fred Inglis' elegant prose and subtle insights provide the perfect vehicle for a tale of restless ambition, multidisciplinary talent and romance in History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood (Princeton University Press, September). Bardwell Press offers a Festschrift in honour of Raymond Boudon, A Life in Sociology (September), while Thomas Levenson tells a pacy tale of Sir Isaac and the Royal Mint in Newton and the Counterfeiter (Faber, August). Paula Byrne reconsiders a literary legacy in Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (Harper Collins, August), Dominic Moran lauds the poet, lover and activist Pablo Neruda (Reaktion, October) and David Nokes' Samuel Johnson (Faber, September) looks beyond the larger-than-life figure of Boswellian legend in a work that is likely to become definitive.

Drawing on the work of equally larger-than-life figures in science, Roger G. Newton's How Physics Confronts Reality: Einstein Was Correct, But Bohr Won the Game (World Scientific Press, July) serves up a quantum-mechanics scorecard; meanwhile, theoretical physicist Paul H. Frampton poses an alarming triptych of very big questions in Did Time Begin? Will Time End? Maybe the Big Bang Never Occurred (World Scientific Press, October). On a smaller scale, Karen-Sue Taussig presents an ethnography of genomics in the Netherlands in Ordinary Genomes: Science, Citizenship and Genetic Identities (Duke University Press, December).

For those who wish to mark a hiatus in their own lecturing by sizing up the competition, this month sees Manchester University Press publish "War on Terror": The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, edited by Chris Miller and featuring scholars including Ahdaf Soueif and Conor Gearty. The Banham Lectures (Berg, November), edited by Harriet Atkinson and Jeremy Aynsley, offers insights by leading scholars of architecture, art, design and culture, among them Sir Christopher Frayling, Gillian Naylor and Penny Sparke. Finally, Michael Sandel, professor of government at Harvard University and this year's Reith lecturer, tackles Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Penguin, September).

The academy continues to explore Islamic culture and society, with several notable new titles offering a female perspective, including Marnia Lazreg's Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women (Princeton University Press, October), Emma Tarlo's Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith (Berg, December) and anthropologist Anna Mansson McGinty's Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam (Palgrave, October). Meanwhile, in Thinking Through Islamophobia (Hurst, December) editors Salman Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil dissect a global phenomenon.

Perhaps inevitably, the Middle East, terrorism and the war thereupon again appear on almost every publisher's list via an ever-wider range of disciplines. Slavoj Zizek, Catharine MacKinnon and Susan Sontag add heft to Cultures of Fear: A Critical Reader (Pluto, October), edited by Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith. Australian historian Ian Bickerton revisits The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History (Reaktion, July), while economist Eli Berman does the deadly sums in Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (MIT Press, October). Finally, tracing a path from 16th-century Germany to today's Islamists, sociologist Alberto Toscano takes a long and broad view of extremism in Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (Verso, November).

Rivalling the War on Terror for sheer weight of pages, of course, is the other great bogeyman of the age - the economy - and thus far the economists are having a good war. US-based political scientists David L. Blaney and Naeem Inayatullah mince no words with Savage Economics: Wealth, Poverty and the Temporal Walls of Capitalism (Routledge, December); Douglas Dowd assesses a system run amok in Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis (Pluto, September); and Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Duke University Press, October) sees Karen Ho among the suited-and-booted natives. Sociologist Michel Villette and historian Catherine Vuillermot put in a stylish boot or two of their own with From Predators to Icons: Exposing the Myth of the Business Hero (Cornell University Press, November).

Meanwhile, John Maynard Keynes returns to the spotlight via Robert Skidelsky's Keynes: The Return of the Master (Penguin, September) and Paul Davidson's The Keynes Solution: The Path to Global Economic Prosperity (Palgrave, September). Looking beyond Wall Street, sociologist Jennifer Sherman explores the neo-Steinbeckian landscapes of California in Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality and Family in Rural America (University of Minnesota Press, October). Finally, Joel Waldfogel brings us the gloriously eye-catching Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays (Princeton University Press, November): it's more than just a savvy work of economic insight with bestselling appeal - free inside, it includes a host of "valuable gift-giving alternatives".

In matters literary, the seventh edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford University Press, September), edited by Dinah Birch and Margaret Drabble, is keenly anticipated. The new edition promises more than 150 contributors, extensive revisions and enhanced coverage of genre literature.

On the other side of the pond, October sees Harvard University Press unveil A New Literary History of America (September), in which editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors present more than 200 original essays covering the nation's earliest literary endeavours, as well as hip hop, cartoons and television.

It seems only right to make a scholarly nod to the travel guides, self-help screeds, genre fiction and culinary adventures that are the stock-in-trade of the Best Summer Reads. This month, editors Mike Robinson and David Picard show us fear in a handful of blurry snaps of the Parthenon in The Framed World: Tourism, Tourists and Photography (Ashgate). In the autumn, Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier probes sticky moments at the corrida in A History of Bull-fighting (Reaktion, November), and Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens hint at Louvre longueurs in Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art? (Routledge, October). David Maclagan furnishes crib notes on Outsider Art: From the Margins to the Marketplace (Reaktion, November), while eminent French philosopher Jacques Ranciere, in The Emanci-pated Spectator (Verso, August), argues for a new politics of the viewer - albeit with little discussion of the viewer's abiding urge for a nice sit-down and a cup of tea.

Psychologist Terri Apter suggests answers to What Do You Want from Me? Learning to Get Along with In-Laws (Norton, July), and evolutionary anthropologist Michael Tomasello's Why We Cooperate (MIT Press, October) makes a counter-intuitive case for children's innate desire to help. Feminist scholar Mary Evans turns her keen eye and cool prose on the morally ambiguous world of the gumshoe in Imagination of Evil: Detective Fiction and the Modern World (Continuum, October). In Expectations of Romance: The Reception of a Genre in Medieval England (Boydell & Brewer, November), Melissa Furrow considers a tradition predating even Barbara Cartland's earliest works.

Danish biophysicist Ole G. Mouritsen waxes lyrical over Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul (Springer, October); in counterpoint, with apron and tongs in hand, biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham offers tips on Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Profile, September). Patrick McGovern's Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (University of California Press, October) views the world through a glass, gladly; meanwhile, Roger Scruton, with customary brio, announces I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (Continuum, September).

Of course, no matter how bucolic the surroundings, summer's lease hath all too short a date, and key forthcoming titles on higher education hint at the labours to come. Amanda H. Goodall leads the back-to-work charge with Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars (Princeton University Press, October), ably seconded by James C. Garland's Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America's Public Universities (University of Chicago Press, October).

Miriam David focuses on women in Global and Social Transformations in Higher Education and Lifelong Learning: A Personal and Professional Perspective (Institute of Education, November); Adrian Furnham's The Elephant in the Boardroom (Palgrave, December), in its exploration of the "dark side" of leadership, may have resonances for the academy; and Gaye Tuchman's Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (University of Chicago Press, November) is a sharply observed dissection of the business-facing among us. And, in a perfect tonic for the returning troops, sociologist Frank Furedi holds forth with passion and wit in Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating (Continuum, September), arguing for a way forward as he lays into the compromise and mendacity he sees all around him.

And if that prospect sounds too active when viewed from the placid comfort of one's study, editors Eileen Carnell and Caroline Lodge offer a collection of scholarly perspectives on end-of-career transitions and the siren song of utterly uninterrupted reading in Retiring Lives (Institute of Education, September).

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.


Featured jobs