The week in books

November 27, 2008

Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution by Pardis Mahdavi, assistant professor of anthropology, Pomona College. Stanford University Press, £23.95, ISBN 9780804758567

"Mahdavi has charted a noteworthy phenomenon but she overstates her case. She demarcates trends that are slowly changing Iran's social landscape and demonstrates how decades of Islamist rule have shaped a counter-culture that rejects Islamic ideology in favour of Western-style pursuits. Mahdavi is optimistic that the state will continue to evolve, allowing ever-greater social freedoms. But the unanswered question posed at the end is the most interesting: what will happen to Iran's youth if the regime does not change?"

Kamin Mohammadi, Financial Times

The Triumph of Music: Composers, Musicians and Their Audiences, 1700 to the Present by Tim Blanning, professor of history, University of Cambridge. Allen Lane, £25.00, ISBN 9781846141782

"(Blanning) more or less ignores contemporary classical music, whose story has been told so well by Alex Ross in The Rest Is Noise. Whereas his narrative of 18th-century composers is always informed by the surrounding political culture, his analysis of rock and pop is less critical. Eric Clapton, we are solemnly informed, has 'quasidivine status'. Hi-5, 'a brash Australian programme ... televised every morning in the UK', is described as 'a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk'. Only someone with no real interest in pop music would write like this."

Bee Wilson, The Sunday Times

How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross W. Duffin, Fynette H. Kulas professor of music, Case Western Reserve University. W. W. Norton & Co, £9.99, ISBN 9780393334203

"He knows that he is dealing with what may superficially look like an abstruse subject. And, looked at one way, it is: for the past 200 years or so, musicians have been nudged towards the orthodoxy of Equal Temperament, until its almost complete ubiquity in the 20th century ... As I say, you might find this an abstruse subject, but Duffin goes out of his way to make it accessible to as many people as possible: short, punchy and interspersed with potted biographies of musicologists and, should you need them, cartoons."

Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. Edited by David Womersley, Thomas Warton professor of English literature and fellow, St Catherine's College, Oxford. Penguin Classics, £18.99, ISBN 9780140436624

"No, you won't read this majestic new edition of the grandaddy of all biographies by next week, or even next year. What you may well do, mightily assisted by editor David Womersley's notes, is cherish it for ever as a source for dips, browses and rambles around an inexhaustible life."

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent.

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