Times Higher Education summer reads 2016

Members of the higher education community tell us about two books they plan to take on holiday: a new must-read and a classic worthy of a second look

July 14, 2016
Woman lying in hammock reading book
Source: Getty

Joanna Lewis
Assistant professor in the department of international history, London School of Economics and Political Science

This summer while lying poolside in a bikini, ogling the waiters and sipping a mojito, I’ll be ready for Stig Jarle Hansen’s Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 (Hurst). Then I’ll be turning to Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie (Hodder & Stoughton). This is not least because I recently tried to ingratiate myself with the award-winning biographer and literary agent by congratulating him on his book on Stalin. D’oh!


Tim Hall
Professor of interdisciplinary social studies and head of the department of applied social sciences, University of Winchester

I’m looking forward to Nick Middleton’s An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States (Macmillan). Middleton’s alternative guidebook explores nations as artificial constructions – exercises of power that bind, or fail to bind, disparate groups together for often questionable ends. In preparation for a conference, I will also be reopening Richard Knowles and John Wareing’s Economic and Social Geography Made Simple, a classic textbook and now a dog-eared example of late 20th-century design. My copy is disintegrating and there are mysterious scribbles in the margin, in someone else’s handwriting.


David Healy
Professor of psychiatry, Bangor University

Katinka Blackford Newman’s The Pill That Steals Lives: One Woman’s Terrifying Journey to Discover the Truth about Antidepressants (John Blake) captures a central dilemma of healthcare today – what happens when a treatment causes you to suffer adverse effects that the system insists aren’t happening. This is a problem coming to you and yours soon, and it is brought vividly to life in a book that comes with a dramatic twist in its tale. Dorrit Cato Christensen’s Dear Luise: A Story of Power and Powerlessness in Denmark’s Psychiatric Care System, published in 2011, is the ur-book on adverse effects that the system doesn’t recognise. Not a great translation, but nevertheless a gripping account of a situation that may seem scarcely credible to outsiders, but is totally believable to insiders. Be very scared.


Malia Bouattia
President, National Union of Students

Last October I joined the #CaravanForJustice tour with Black Lives Matter and UK groups. We travelled the West Coast of America, and I bought Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (Text Publishing) at a famous bookshop, EsoWon, in Los Angeles. Its call for change is one that resonates deeply with me. Andrew McGettigan’s The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education makes important points on university governance and public accountability, and I would like to re-examine it this summer before the new academic year.


Sally Hunt
General secretary, University and College Union

From the opening paragraphs of Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Simon & Schuster), I loved this clever, insightful analysis of the changing way that women want to live their lives undefined by their relationships with men. On Jane Eyre: “Oh smart resourceful Jane. Her prize, readers, after a youth fighting for some smidgen of autonomy? Marrying him: the bad-tempered guy who kept his first wife in the attic...” Marvellous! I have been rereading the Equal Pay Act 1970. It is appalling that 48 years since a brave band of female Ford sewing machinists in Dagenham and Halewood went on strike for equal pay, male staff in higher education earn £6,103 more than their female colleagues – a gender pay gap of 12.6 per cent. Addressing that disparity is a key plank of our current fight for fair pay and conditions in our universities and colleges.


Thom Sullivan
Undergraduate programmes officer, department of geography, University of Sheffield

Reading the Essays by Michel de Montaigne was a good thing amid too many years huddled lonely in a ramshackle cottage trying to write a PhD. I tell everyone to read Montaigne but struggle to say why – other than that he is brilliantly human. But what do I know? I will reread him this summer in pursuit of a more eloquent reason. At work, I enjoy scouring the new publications lists that publishers send to the department. Christy Wampole’s Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor (University of Chicago Press) caught my eye recently and I will read that. Just as soon as the library is persuaded to purchase a copy.


Les Back
Professor of sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

I’ll sneak Lynsey Hanley’s book Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane) into my holiday hand luggage. She really is a Richard Hoggart for our time, with a gift for telling a big historical story while describing the luminous everyday fragments of class experience. Her open, honest and searching voice is absent any trace of hectoring credentialism. My classic is David Widgery’s prescient account of the emergence of rock against racism, Beating Time: Riot ’n’ Race ’n’ Rock ’n’ Roll. We so need a popular anti-racist movement of this kind now to drain the reservoir of racist anti-immigrant feeling that is so publicly pervasive.


Lisa Randall
Frank B. Baird, Jr professor of science in the physics faculty, Harvard University

I’m looking forward to Siddhartha Mukherhjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. The topic itself is fascinating, but I’m also keen to observe his skills as a gifted writer. I’m especially interested in seeing how he weaves together the many elements of his story. Given my recent interests (which might be digressions too!) in life on Earth, as hinted at in Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe, I look forward to reading Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harvill Secker). Despite our obsession with ourselves, both as individuals and as a species, our understanding of how we emerged is constantly in flux and I want to read the latest wisdom. I’ll also recommend Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Doubleday). I’m only halfway through, but I now understand much better the evolution of political thought over the past decade, including the role of universities and thinktanks, as well as the reasons important initiatives such as healthcare and battling climate change were almost entirely derailed. Her careful, edifying analysis of how ideas permeate culture and politics is a page-turner.


Shane O’Mara
Professor of experimental brain research and Wellcome Trust senior investigator, Trinity College Dublin

I’m greatly looking forward to Charles Fernyhough’s The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves (Profile), which investigates our inner voices. Psychology and neuroscience are developing tools and methods to understand how we talk to ourselves, and what we say to ourselves. Learning to rescript our inner speech is likely to be experientially and therapeutically important. I’m also looking forward to rereading Elliot Aronson’s The Social Animal, first published in 1972 and revised many times since. It ranges widely and wonderfully across the social landscape from a social psychological perspective, and offers a depth and range of understanding humans that make it a contemporary classic.


Deborah Cameron
Professor of language and communication, University of Oxford

I’m about to embark on a project that involves revisiting the classic texts of second-wave feminism, and I’m planning to begin with a book I haven’t read since I was 20: Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, an ambitious attempt at what its author called “a materialist view of history based on sex itself”. My new book is The Best I Can Do (degree zero), a collection of short essays in which the philosopher-turned-stamp-dealer Trevor Pateman reflects on everything from bus passes to the semiotics of lipstick – and whether scholarship should be a hobby rather than a salaried occupation.


Roisin Gwyer
University librarian, University of Portsmouth

I was inspired to hear Ulinka Rublack at the Hay Festival discussing her book The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for His Mother (Oxford University Press). Rather than astronomy, it deals with the effects of an accusation of witchcraft on a family. Kepler conducted his mother’s defence during her six-year trial. My favourite undergraduate unit was Victorian literature, so I like to return to these (usually) long novels annually. This year marks 200 years since Charlotte Brontë’s birth, but instead of one of Charlotte’s novels, I’m going for Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as I’m intrigued by Charlotte’s ambivalence towards it.


Jennifer Pollard
Computer officer for the faculty of English, University of Cambridge

I look forward to reading Edward Wilson-Lee’s account of the Bard’s influence in Africa, Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet (William Collins). I work in technology, but my background is in anthropology and the topic of cross-cultural knowledge transfer still fascinates me. A favourite is Maggie Black’s The Medieval Cookbook. It was my first introduction to medieval cookery, and knowledge transfer remains at its heart but is closer to home: what we eat and how. The world was becoming a larger place then and this was reflected in the variety of ingredients available to medieval English cooks.


Catherine Harper
Dean of creative and cultural industries and professor of textiles, University of Portsmouth

I’ll read Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis again this summer. In this centenary year of the Easter Rising, I’m writing about how Ireland has been romanticised as a feminine nation, where motherhood is sanctified, land-as-female is variously configured as a fertile or barren womb, and holy virginity is valorised above earthy error-prone sexuality. I’m growing a view of contemporary Irish women’s lack of real reproductive autonomy that could do with a “lens of monstrosity” view. Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (Canongate) is my intended new read: it’s on the solitude of a modern, technological and urban existence.


Ruth Arnold
Communications director, University of Sheffield

One of my favourite words is chutzpah – the audacity to challenge overwhelming authority to redefine justice. Alan Dershowitz says it is key to understanding Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer (Bravo). But you don’t need to be a lawyer or a Jew to enjoy this. If I were arguing with the Almighty, I’d want Dershowitz on my side. The book I’m going back to is Essays of E. B. White – if only for “Here Is New York”, his 1949 love song to the city that foreshadows 9/11 destruction from the skies and looks beyond it, sap rising. It’s just beautiful.


Willy Maley
Professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow

In a big year for the Bard, John Kerrigan’s Shakespeare’s Binding Language (Oxford University Press) stands out as a monumental intervention. This elegant and elaborate examination of the intertwined languages of law and drama will have a lasting impact on the field. Kerrigan’s work takes me back 20 years to Patricia Parker’s Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context, the book I recommend most often to students. Both critics have a jeweller’s eye and a musician’s ear, rich historical awareness, sensitivity to double binds, and a capacity to reveal a latticework of links across the Shakespeare canon.


Huw Morris
Director of skills, higher education and lifelong learning in the Welsh government

This summer I’ll be reading The Market Oriented University: Transforming Higher Education (Edward Elgar), John Davis and Mark Farrell’s assessment of what greater competition, technical change and more demanding students will mean for higher education in the future. As a counterweight to this forecast, I will also be rereading The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum of the Conduct of Universities by Business Men, Thorstein Veblen’s recently reissued, annotated and now classic account of the purposes of higher learning and comment on the formation of the University of Chicago. (Prescient comment from a curmudgeonly economist and sociologist?)


William Kolbrener
Professor of English, Bar Ilan University in Israel

Before teaching a mini-course on Hamlet, I’ll be rereading Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. Kermode describes our “fictions about time” – how endings shape beginnings, as well as the interim between, allowing for the experience of the “fullness of time”. For Kermode, “there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow”. On the beach, I’ll read Adam Phillips’ Unforbidden Pleasures (Hamish Hamilton). Phillips typically reveals the repressed underside of our normative stories, relationships and desires. Having already undone monogamy, self-knowledge, even satisfaction, Phillips’ associative mind leads around to the other side – the earlier talk of taboo yielding to unforbidden pleasures. I’m prepared to be surprised, again.


Sandra Leaton Gray
Senior lecturer in education, UCL Institute of Education

We are analogue people in a digital world, living uncomfortably through what is in effect the Industrial Revolution 2.0 – a technology phase. I am planning to put on my out of office and really do some justice to Benjamin H. Snyder’s timely analysis, The Disrupted Workplace: Time and the Moral Order of Flexible Capitalism (Oxford University Press). Willard Waller’s 1932 book The Sociology of Teaching is to my mind the foundation stone of the discipline, and I plan to revisit the final chapter, “Recommendations”, to see if they still apply today.


Richard J. Williams
Professor of contemporary visual cultures and head of history of art, University of Edinburgh

My 2016 book is Felicity D. Scott’s Outlaw Territories: Environments of Insecurity/Architectures of Counterinsurgency (Zone Books), which, at 500-plus pages, is the most substantial book that has ever been, and perhaps ever will be, written on the architectural counterculture of the 1970s. It’s an amazing piece of research. My revisited reading will be Reyner Banham’s 1960 study Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. It’s too long since I read this properly, and I need to return to it in advance of going through his papers next year. But it’ll be a pleasure – he’s full of quirky ideas, and his writing style is captivating.

Kingfisher bird in flight
Source: 
iStock

Tim Birkhead
Professor of behaviour and evolution, University of Sheffield

Not only was the world a biologically richer place in the 1950s, it was also (apparently) safer, allowing young would-be biologists the freedom to explore on their own. This, and a brutal boarding school pseudo-education, made Peter Marren into an outstanding naturalist and writer, as his captivating memoir Where the Wild Thyme Blew: Growing Up with Nature in the Fifties and Sixties (Nature Bureau) so beautifully demonstrates. My old favourite: Alfred Newton’s 1896 book A Dictionary of Birds. Some academic friends tell me scholarship is dead. I hope not. I love this book because it exudes scholarship. With Victorian expansiveness and some Cambridge pomp, Newton’s bulky but informative volume is where I start whenever I’m seeking a historical reference to anything ornithological.


Peter J. Larcombe
Professor of discrete and applied mathematics, University of Derby

I’m intending to trawl through the recently released textbook Combinatorial Identities for Stirling Numbers: The Unpublished Notes of H.W. Gould (World Scientific Press), published by Gould himself with new disciple and talent Jocelyn Quaintance. The book is based on a lifetime of largely unpublished notes, and we are taken through Gould’s personal development of the theory of Stirling numbers, combined with informative and valuable historical context – perfect. Undoubtedly, I will also revisit the memories and outspoken opinions of Gian-Carlo Rota in his wonderful Indiscrete Thoughts. This 1997 book has inspired me to write expositively on my own discipline and, in offering brutal rhetoric and stark insights into the world of mathematicians at a particularly interesting time in mid- to late 20th-century America, it is simply a must-read.


Trisha Greenhalgh
Professor of primary care health sciences, University of Oxford

To reread: Ray Monk’s Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. Six years ago, my son asked a sales assistant in Heffers in Cambridge for “a book for my professor mother that is seriously intellectually challenging but entertaining enough to feel like a treat on Christmas Day”. The assistant replied: “One book, above all others, fits that brief.” It is both a scholarly introduction to Wittgenstein’s intellectual contribution and a sensitive and meticulously researched portrait of a troubled soul. To read: I’ve ordered the new Annie Proulx novel Barkskins (Fourth Estate), a 300-year epic tale of two rival families and a disappearing forest.


Ursula Martin
Professor of computer science, University of Oxford

Understanding how new technologies come about, and the creation of abstract ideas and design principles that far outlive rusting hardware, takes an understanding of history and context alongside technical material, admirably combined in ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer (MIT Press) by Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope. In pre-internet days, Autumn Stanley scoured patent records and legal documents to put together her extraordinary 1998 compendium Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology, and I’ll return to it for tantalising hints of stories as yet untold of forgotten or misremembered female pioneers.


Biancamaria Fontana
Professor of the history of political ideas, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

My summer reading is Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs (1613-1918) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). The history of all royal dynasties has dark and unexpected aspects, but nothing can match the visionary quality, cruelty and extravagance of the making of the Russian empire. I shall reread R. R. Palmer’s Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Published in 1940, it is a wonderful collective portrait of the Committee of Public Safety; from the first sight of the room where they met at the Tuileries, you are plunged into the unique drama of their adventure.


A. W. Purdue
Visiting professor of history, Northumbria University

The Seven Years War was arguably the most important war, and certainly the most successful one, that Britain ever fought. In A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War (I. B. Tauris), Martin Robson describes the Royal Navy’s role in a conflict that transformed Britain from a nation that was still very European in outlook to one able to project its power globally. Anthony Powell’s 1968 novel The Military Philosophers offers by far the best description of British society during the Second World War: Powell evokes a London in uniform, a sexually charged world in which men and women are motivated by a mixture of patriotism, ambition and a search for pleasure.


June Purvis
Professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth

Women in Transnational History: Connecting the Local and the Global, edited by Clare Midgley, Alison Twells and Julie Carlier (Routledge), contains some fascinating chapters about this recent turn in women’s history. Networks and intersections have always shaped women’s lives. A chapter a day keeps one bright and chirpy! Sylvia Pankhurst’s The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals is an old favourite that I regularly reread. The subtext is her love/hate relationship with her more famous mother, Emmeline, and her sibling rivalry with Christabel, the apple of Emmeline’s eye. Writing as an angry socialist and rejected daughter, she reveals more than intended in this autobiographical memoir.


Bruce Scharlau
Senior lecturer (scholarship) in the School of Natural and Computing Science, University of Aberdeen

This summer, I’m looking forward to reading This Is Service Design Doing: Using Research and Customer Journey Maps to Create Successful Services (O’Reilly Media), by Marc Stickdorn, Markus Edgar Hormess, Adam Lawrence and Jakob Schneider, a book that coalesces the authors’ extensive knowledge on teaching service design to everyone from students to business executives. Everything is a service these days, so I’m sure this will become my go-to volume for use with students. I’ll reread W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis so that I better understand why you need to modify the organisation if it’s not delivering desired results. He recognised that individuals want to do well, and that it’s the system that stops them from doing the right thing.


Emma Rees
Professor of literature and gender studies, University of Chester

I’ve wanted to read Neoliberalization, Universities and the Public Intellectual: Species, Gender and Class and the Production of Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan) since it came out in May, not least because the co-authors, Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor, had me at their dedication: “To everyone affected by and struggling to resist neoliberalism.” In September, I shall sit by a pool in Portugal and gear myself up for the new academic year by rereading Sheila Rowbotham’s glorious Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World. It was first published more than 40 years ago, but its central message is, frustratingly, still utterly pertinent: “Oppression is not an abstract moral condition but a social and historical experience.”


Finola Kerrigan
Reader in marketing and consumption, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham

While I long ago gave up on the idea that the summer will allow me to catch up with the pile of books I have binge-bought over the past year, I am making my way through Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture, in which Cele C. Otnes and Pauline Maclaran explore the royals as objects of consumption, with the expected combination of great scholarship and a peppering of humour. I will also return to Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations. Story, translation and art and technology are big themes in my current research, and I know that Walter can help me out.


Steven Vaughan
Senior lecturer in law, University of Birmingham

I’m working on a project on the career experiences of LGBT+ barristers and am very aware that those lawyers are more than just their sexuality. Because of this, this summer I’m going to devour Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge’s Intersectionality (Polity), which, even judging just from the few pages I’ve read so far, is beautifully crafted. I’m also going to return to the fabulous 53 Interesting Ways to Assess Your Students (The Professional and Higher Partnership), edited by Victoria Burns, as I have a new law module to plan and (shock horror) am thinking of doing something other than exams or coursework for the assessment…


Sharon Wheeler
Visiting lecturer in media studies, Birmingham City University

I’ve squirrelled away Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (Pan Macmillan) for my summer treat. If you’re a social media devotee, you’ll have seen Stanton’s mini-profiles, which prove that everyone has a story to tell. I feel like I’ve only skimmed their surface – I’m looking forward to wallowing. I can’t take pix for toffee, but Don McCullin is an inspiration to media folk of a certain age. His haunting memoir Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography should be required reading for any meeja wannabe. I reread it periodically – and now I have the best excuse to do so, as there’s an updated version out for his 80th birthday.


Matthew Feldman
Professor in the modern history of ideas, Teesside University

Surveillance. Its conception today owes incalculably to Nineteen Eighty-Four, which spiked sharply in sales post-Snowden. Peter Marks’ wonderful Imagining Surveillance: Eutopian and Dystopian Literature and Film (Edinburgh University Press) shows that Western thinkers have engaged such Panopticon-esque utopias for centuries. If George Orwell’s 1949 masterpiece surpasses them all, Marks’ thematic exploration of film and literature argues that it engendered contemporary rivals. Yet is actively watching over citizens’ lives necessarily malign? Consider the examples covered in the tightly edited Violent Extremism Online: New Perspectives on Terrorism and the Internet (Routledge), edited by Anne Aly, Stuart Macdonald, Lee Jarvis and Thomas Chen. For instance, surely “electronic jihad” merits interdiction? Pace Orwell, these timely, accessible chapters might temper outright condemnation of monitoring among liberal imaginations.


Paul Greatrix
Registrar, University of Nottingham

I’m reading John Beckett’s Nottingham: A History of Britain’s Global University (Boydell & Brewer), a terrific new history that covers the university’s growth and distinctive development. With strong coverage of student life and the development of Nottingham’s international campuses, plus lots of pictures, it really is rather good. Governance continues to be one of the more difficult and little understood areas of university operations, and one that is going to be challenged by the Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17. It therefore seems timely to revisit Michael Shattock’s Managing Good Governance in Higher Education, which offers much wisdom and practical advice on this crucial topic.


Jen Izaakson
PhD student in philosophy, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University

Two decades since Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble first problematised identity, I intend to revisit her account of how biological sex is awarded the affects of gender – a particularly worthwhile endeavour, as Butler’s work remains widely misunderstood. Viewed in light of the current moment of freewheeling identities, Gender Trouble is a sobering read. Kat Banyard’s Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality (Faber & Faber) addresses the recasting of prostitution as “sex work”, indistinct from other forms of work, currently in vogue within feminism. Sexual consent as commodity? Violent porn as harmless fantasy? Banyard argues that such myths reinforce a profit hierarchy in which inequality between men and women is the core beneficiary.


Tony Mann
Director, Greenwich Maths Centre, University of Greenwich

My must-read new book this summer is Iris Bohnet’s What Works: Gender Equality by Design (Harvard University Press), which came to my attention through a review in Times Higher Education. Working in mathematics, I want to understand how we can tackle the “leaky pipeline” whereby at every stage promising female mathematicians are lost to the subject. The older book I will read is Erica N. Walker’s Beyond Banneker: Black Mathematicians and the Paths to Excellence, which I missed when it came out. Aside from the obvious human interest, I hope to gain insights into how mathematical talent can be fostered.


Rob Behrens
Formerly independent adjudicator and chief executive, Office of the Independent Adjudicator

James Titcombe’s Joshua’s Story: Uncovering the Morecambe Bay NHS Scandal (Anderson Wallace) is required reading for ombudsmen. It concerns the hospital death of a baby in 2008, repeated failure of oversight bodies to uncover what happened and the heroic efforts of a father to discover the truth and associated systemic weaknesses. Conal Condren’s The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts: An Essay on Political Theory, Its Inheritance and the History of Ideas is a work of genius. A “classic” text derives its status from its ambiguity and use, and the availability of a number of interpretative options from a single passage. As a result, says Condren, “through exploitation comes immortality”.


Andrea Didier
Head of academic skills, University of East London

Helen Pearson’s new book, The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives (Allen Lane), chronicles the major British birth cohort longitudinal studies that began in 1946. Findings from these studies have fed into a wealth of social, health and economic policy, but most intriguing will be the studies’ insights into participants’ lives and contemporaneous research methods undertaken. Daniel Kahneman’s excellent Thinking, Fast and Slow (Penguin) describes the cognitive processes at work that underpin all our judgements and decision making. Revisiting these insights over the summer will act as a reminder of the fallible nature of human thought and rationality.


Jem Bloomfield
Assistant professor of English literature, University of Nottingham

I’ve been looking forward to Emma Smith’s Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book (Oxford University Press) ever since I heard her give a paper that asked, “Can you actually read the First Folio?” It’s that sort of arresting question that wouldn’t occur to many other people that makes her scholarship so inventive and absorbing. I’ll be revisiting Deborah Cameron’s Verbal Hygiene: The Politics of Language (Routledge), which demonstrates with precision and wit how all controversies about how we use language are enmeshed with questions of power and perspective.


Marianne Damoiseau
Lecturer in contextual studies for fashion, Southampton Solent University

This summer I will go back once more to Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects. While Baudrillard is mostly discussed nowadays in relation to his concept of hyperreality, his analysis of consumption and his understanding of objects as signs remain insightful 48 years after they were first published. I am looking forward to reading Arun Sundararajan’s The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism (MIT Press) to discover how the author discusses the lack of job security and the fading boundaries between professional and personal lives in this new “crowd-based capitalism”.


Simon Underdown
Senior lecturer in biological anthropology, Oxford Brookes University

I’m going to enjoy rereading Analytical Archaeology by David L. Clarke, my academic grandfather (my PhD supervisor’s PhD supervisor). It remains one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read and it’s impossible to overstate its importance to archaeology. My new book is The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere by Eric Smith and Harold J. Morowitz (Cambridge University Press). It’s an awe-inspiring attempt to develop a model of the development of life on Earth by combining physics and biology. The authors suggest that life on Earth was a result of non-equilibrium phase transitions that opened new chemical pathways for energy flow – wow!

Old photograph of family in East London

Kayleigh Garthwaite
Postdoctoral research associate, department of geography, Durham University

Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane) is on my list for this summer. I’m looking forward to reading about her transition from growing up on a West Midlands council estate to being a member of the “established middle class”. Even though I’ve read Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London more than once, I want to revisit it, as it was the first sociology book I ever read. When I first read it, I was fascinated by Willmott and Young’s representation of working-class families, communities and their social worlds. Almost 60 years on, it’s still relevant.


Noel-Ann Bradshaw
Faculty director of employability and principal lecturer in the department of mathematical sciences, University of Greenwich

As someone interested in how we learn and understand mathematics, I am planning to read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching (Jossey-Bass). This book has produced some controversy in parts of the mathematical world for daring to suggest that almost anyone can learn mathematics if taught and supported appropriately. On the same theme, I want to revisit George Polya’s How to Solve It, a gem that never fails to excite me about the varied ways we can solve all sorts of problems. It is as relevant now as it has always been.


Tabish Khair
Associate professor of English, Aarhus University, Denmark

One negative consequence of Amitav Ghosh’s well-deserved success as a novelist has been the lack of any major book of non-fiction from him after In an Antique Land. But now comes The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago Press), in which Ghosh examines our failure, verging on derangement, to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. I would like to reread E. P. Thompson’s 1963 book The Making of the English Working Class this summer, for the “working class” had purportedly evaporated in the 1980s but has now made a comeback of sorts with the decline of the middle classes – although in warped shapes, as Ukip, Trump and Islamism indicate.


Peter Paul Catterall
Reader in history, University of Westminster

P. Hume Brown’s 1924 book A Short History of Scotland first interested me in history when, aged eight, I found a copy. Its opening line, “How did there come to be a country called Scotland and a people called the Scottish people?”, pointed to the contingent ways that these peculiar politico-cultural constructs called nations emerge. It closes optimistically about the benefits of Union through the shared enterprise of the Industrial Revolution. To think about that revolution and its causes further, I am looking forward to reading E. A. Wrigley’s The Path to Sustained Growth: England’s Transition from an Organic Economy to an Industrial Revolution (Cambridge University Press), in which he moves on from his pioneering work on demography to exploring the role of changing energy use in Britain’s economic take-off.


Linnie Blake
Head of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University

I will return this summer, as I have many times since the book’s initial publication, to Alex Callinicos’ Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique. I’ll also be reading Yanis Varoufakis’ And the Weak Suffer What they Must? Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability (Bodley Head). Both explore the social injustice and economic inequality entailed by the neoliberal project, and propose alternatives that range from the revolutionary to the reformist, decrying the upward redistributionism of trickle-down economics and austerity politics alike, while affirming the necessity of collective action in the face of the overweening individualism and unashamed ethical relativism of our times.


Asiya Islam
PhD student in sociology, University of Cambridge

As I get ready to embark on fieldwork for my research on women’s work in Delhi, I will read Naisargi Dave’s Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics (Zubaan Books). Besides being a timely contribution to discussions on LGBT+ rights in India and globally, it promises to offer interesting insights into ethnographic activist research. And while I await Sara Ahmed’s forthcoming book Living a Feminist Life, I’d like to revisit The Promise of Happiness. Her recent resignation over her institution’s inaction on sexual harassment reminded me of the book’s provocative argument that “happiness” requires and dictates certain kinds of silences.


Eve Worth
DPhil student in modern history, Queen’s College, Oxford

In Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane), Lynsey Hanley offers an evocative and analytical account of her working-class childhood in Thatcher’s Britain, and her subsequent fraught transition to middle-class professional. This timely contribution to a recent body of scholarship that has re-centred experience challenges narratives of a classless, fluid society. Hanley takes inspiration from male writers such as Richard Hoggart, but in doing so neglects to fully consider that the label of “respectable” (or not) is most often applied to females. Someone all too aware of the gendered notions of “respectability” is Carolyn Steedman: her Landscape for a Good Woman remains a peerless exploration of class, girlhood and longing in post-war Britain.


Elizabeth Cobbs
Professor of history, Texas A&M University, and research fellow, Hoover Institution

Richard Hofstadter wrote The Paranoid Style in American Politics about conspiracy nuts of both the Right and Left after the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. I read it in graduate school with that comfy, faraway feeling of observing a medieval plague. Donald Trump and his seething followers have convinced me to read it again. I wish I could meet brilliant Madame de Staël, the woman bold enough to stand up to Napoleon Bonaparte and brave enough to keep going back to revolutionary Paris, but Biancamaria Fontana’s intriguing new book, Germaine de Staël: A Political Portrait (Princeton University Press), will have to do.


Svetlana Stephenson
Reader in sociology, London Metropolitan University

For an under-explored perspective on how ordinary people have survived and rebuilt their lives under the impact of transition, I look forward to reading Jeremy Morris’ ethnographic study of workers and their families in a central Russian industrial town, Everyday Post-Socialism: Working-Class Communities in the Russian Margins (Palgrave Macmillan). I will also be returning for inspiration to Erving Goffman’s classic study, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Proof that less is more, this short but densely packed book provides a wellspring of insights into how people manage their own and others’ stigmas (both the visible ones and the hidden ones) in face-to-face interaction.


Avril Goodwin
Dumfries campus librarian, University of the West of Scotland

I’m looking forward to plugging some gaps in my folklore knowledge with Lizanne Henderson’s new book. Witchcraft and Folk Belief in the Age of Enlightenment: Scotland, 1670-1740 (Palgrave Macmillan) promises to show that while witchhunts declined, folk belief in the supernatural remained throughout the Age of Reason. As I am a librarian, people assume I love books...well, yes, I am very fond of them, but it is reading that I love! So my classic recommendation is Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Every chapter offers a unique insight into its many forms, its champions and enemies, and, most importantly, the reader.


Victoria Bateman
Fellow in economics, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

This summer, as the world’s economies are still experiencing tremors, I’ll be revisiting a philosophical critique of economics, Ontology and Economics: Tony Lawson and his Critics, edited by Edward Fullbrook. And with gender having long been neglected by the mainstream, despite the persistent presence of the sex trade, I’m also looking forward to Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality (Faber & Faber) by Kat Banyard. This should provide a healthy counterpoint to Amnesty International’s call for the decriminalisation of consensual prostitution, and could be an especially interesting read alongside Alison Phipps’ The Politics of the Body: Gender in a Neoliberal and Neoconservative Age. There’s something to think about while lazing around in beachwear!


Ciaran Burke
Lecturer in sociology, Plymouth University

I have purposefully saved Anna Mountford-Zimdars’ Meritocracy and the University: Selective Admission in England and the United States (Bloomsbury) as a summer treat. Based on rich empirical data, this text will expand our critical understanding of the socially reproductive mechanisms within elite higher education by looking at a group so often forgotten: those who hold the keys. I have also promised myself to revisit C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination. Mills’ arresting account of the role of sociology and, in particular, the relationship between theory and empirical research provides a continually necessary call to arms as we see a shift towards narratives of “troubles” rather than “issues”.


Mary Evans
Centennial professor in the Gender Institute, London School of Economics

In a society as divided by differences of class as the UK, Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane) is an important challenge to the pernicious assumption (of use primarily to the rich) that we now live in a “classless” society. The word “experience” enlarges previous ideas about the “hidden injuries” of class to suggest the ways in which the social net of classed aspirations closes around individuals. Most importantly, in light of the politics of the past six years, Hanley encourages us to think about how we are increasingly losing the positive possibilities of belonging to any group other than that of the materially aspirational, the new form of the “respectable”. The magisterial range and originality of John Jervis’ Sensational Subjects: The Dramatization of Experience in the Modern World takes me back to it repeatedly. From the discussion of the suffragettes as the first “sensational subjects”, Jervis illuminates the history of the modern in ways that challenge moralistic or miserabilist judgements about the contemporary world. It is a book so rich in its range of understanding that whatever the social phenomenon we wish to explore, there is something here to illuminate it.


Cait MacPhee
Professor of biological physics, University of Edinburgh

I look forward to reading Lucie Green’s 15 Million Degrees: A Journey to the Centre of the Sun (Viking) with the thought that a coronal mass ejection will bring our petty concerns into stark perspective. We have more than one global crisis bearing down on us while we stubbornly look the other way; how would we respond to this one? I plan on revisiting Michael White’s Rivals: Conflict as the Fuel of Science (Secker & Warburg); it might be an exaggerated account, but it’s entertaining. I see science as a collaborative activity, but we’re always aware of our competitors nipping at our heels.


Emily Glendenning
Research technician in the department of animal and plant sciences, University of Sheffield

I first read Jerry A. Coyne’s Why Evolution is True during my undergraduate studies. After a rudimentary and underwhelming introduction to evolution at high school, this book opened my eyes to the intricacies of, and the misconceptions surrounding, the process of natural selection. Coyne’s evidence-based approach initiated my desire to study evolutionary biology in greater depth. I seek out books that challenge me, offer new insights or cement existing views with new evidence. That’s why I’ll be reading Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (Columbia University Press) this summer; it promises to question conventional wisdom on how best to address our changing climate.


Michael P. Oman-Reagan
Vanier scholar in the department of anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

As an anthropologist of outer space, I’m anticipating Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Duke University Press), in which Lisa Messeri tells the captivating story of her research with scientists who transform distant planets into places infused with meaning – from Mars to exoplanets around other stars. To prepare for upcoming fieldwork with scientists conducting interstellar exploration, I’m revisiting scholarly science fiction. Speculative ethnographer Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and The Dispossessed are complemented by the exoethnology adventures of historian Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Twenty Planets series, from Halfway Human to the latest, Dark Orbit.


Priyamvada Gopal
Lecturer in the faculty of English, University of Cambridge

As I finish up the book I’m currently writing, I’ll be returning to Edward Said’s posthumously published slim volume Humanism and Democratic Criticism. Here, Said argues against humanism as a form of cultural smugness, making a powerful case for values such as tolerance and freedom as not just Western but an aspect of all cultures. The new book I’m raring to read is investigative journalist Rana Ayyub’s self-published – no press dared take it on – bestseller, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up (Rana Ayyub). She goes undercover to investigate unanswered questions about state complicity in the chilling 2002 bloodbath in Gujarat in which hundreds of people, the overwhelming majority of them Muslim, were massacred.


Jeremy Singer
Lecturer in computer science, University of Glasgow

Every summer holiday I wade into a new self-help book. This year I picked Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths’ Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (William Collins). Now I apply ruthless logic to everyday problems. In essence, I behave like a Vulcan when selecting a parking space or ordering from a restaurant menu. For light relief, I will reread Michael Innes’ The Weight of the Evidence (House of Stratus). Innes writes hilarious donnish detective fiction, but I find this tale even funnier because of the Oxford man’s snide put-downs of redbrick universities and their denizens.


Harold Thimbleby
Professor of computer science, Swansea University

Charles Kenney’s 2010 study Transforming Health Care: Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Pursuit of the Perfect Patient Experience is an engrossing story about organisational improvement for everybody. At face value, it’s the story of a Seattle hospital, and how it recognised that it had problems and then improved beyond recognition by adopting the Toyota Production System. There was understandable resistance – patients are not cars! – but Virginia Mason dramatically improved and everybody is happier, staff and patients. The moral is that these insights aren’t just confined to improving healthcare but that they work anywhere. Why don’t we apply similar thinking in our own departments and universities?


Hazel Christie
Lecturer in university learning and teaching, Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh

I love Saranne Weller’s research on academic identities, and I’m excited about her book Academic Practice: Developing as a Professional in Higher Education (Sage), which promises to unpack the myriad stuff that academics need to do if they are to get by (or even thrive!) in today’s universities. I read Carl Rogers’ Freedom to Learn in one greedy sitting many years ago and it still resonates for me. Rogers’ writing is always engaging and his insight into the relational aspect of teaching makes a very persuasive argument for the continued importance of student-centred learning.


Manisha Sinha
Professor of Afro-American studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Nicholas Guyatt’s Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books) is a provocative new look at the early American Republic that argues that it was not racists but progressive-minded Americans who invented racial segregation, and advocated such separation not only to create a white man’s republic but also to “protect” the allegedly weaker races, Native Americans and African Americans. Supposed liberals’ “civilisationist” impulses led to segregation in the US just as it led to imperialism in Europe. W. E. B. Du Bois’ classic work Black Reconstruction is a book for all seasons. On the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction, it is well worth revisiting. Du Bois shows that the period after the Civil War, rather than being an age of black misrule, was a startling experiment in interracial democracy in which African Americans received civil rights and black men the right to vote. The tragedy is that this attempt was overthrown.

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Reader's comments (1)

I have read with great interest "Summer reads 2016", and, unless it was required that only books written in English were submitted, I find it extremely disturbing that nobody in (mostly) British Academia, some sixty people, is reading this summer a single book written in a language other than English.

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