What are you reading? – 1 October 2015

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 1, 2015
Books stood up, from above

James Stevens Curl, author of Georgian Architecture in the British Isles 1714-1830, is reading Jeremy Musson’s The Country House Ideal: Recent Work by ADAM Architecture (Merrell, 2015). “This magnificent book’s stunning illustrations reveal some of the exquisite architecture of this civilised practice in all its well-made beauty. Fine buildings, sensitively sited, based on historical precedent, and realised with well-tried techniques and informed use of materials, properly handled by craftsmen, are refreshing when so much badly designed and incompetently constructed fabric has created a frightening dystopia almost everywhere.”

Mary Evans, centennial professor in the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, is reading Michael Jacobs’ Everything is Happening: Journey into a Painting (Granta, 2015). “The travel writer Michael Jacobs died last year, but left an uncompleted account of his fascination with Velázquez’s Las Meninas. That account, completed by Ed Vulliamy, has now been published. At the centre of this remarkable book is one of the world’s great paintings; through his years of study of the work, Jacobs makes an impassioned case for extending the conventional boundaries of aesthetic judgements and how to see. A brilliant and engaging book that does every justice to its subject.”

Sir John Holman, emeritus professor of chemistry, University of York, is reading Graham Greene’s Dr Fischer of Geneva (Bodley Head, 1980). “I read a lot of Greene when I was younger, but I missed this surprising allegory. Dr Fischer’s dinner parties are notorious, but the final one is a shock for the greedy guests, who need a grounding in probability theory to survive. This may not be Greene’s best book, but it’s short, intriguing and full of insights to the worst in human nature.”

Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Kevin M. Schultz’s Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the Sixties (W. W. Norton, 2015). “Norman Mailer on the Left and William F. Buckley on the Right were towering figures in the 1960s, a key decade in post-war American politics. Both were scornful of the liberalism that they believed had become dominant. Each aspired to be mayor of New York City, and each wrote fiction and political polemic. Their unlikely friendship endured well beyond the 1960s.”

Sharon Wheeler, visiting lecturer in journalism, Birmingham City University, is reading Paul E. Hardisty’s The Abrupt Physics of Dying (Orenda, 2015). “A hero with a sherpa’s worth of personal baggage, backed up by a feisty female journalist: it sounds like standard thriller fare. But this is anything but: it’s as bleak and stunning as its Yemen setting – and also topical and fiercely intelligent. And it’s not often you can say the latter of a thriller!”

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