What are you reading? – 14 February 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 14, 2019
What are you reading?
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Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics at the University of Warwick, is reading John Julius Norwich’s France: A History: From Gaul to De Gaulle (John Murray, 2018). “This is the last of more than 40 books by Lord Norwich, published in the year of his death. His entrée into the subject was special because his father, Duff Cooper, was ambassador to France when he was a teenager. John Julius Norwich, as he was normally known, was a ‘popular’ historian and a frequent television performer. To some degree, that means ‘lightweight’, because his history often lacks multiple sources and thematic arguments. What he offers in compensation is a breadth of knowledge, a fluency of style, a wealth of anecdote and a ready wit. I have rarely laughed so much while reading history. The book also serves as a good filler of gaps: I was particularly taken by its assessment of the ‘citizen-king’ Louis-Philippe d’Orléans (1830-48), rated as France’s finest ruler given the circumstances he faced.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Anne García-Romero’s The Fornés Frame: Contemporary Latina Playwrights and the Legacy of María Irene Fornés (University of Arizona Press, 2016). “Playwright, translator and critic Anne García-Romero studied with and then worked for the legendary Cuban-American playwright and director María Irene Fornés, who died in October 2018. Her perceptive analysis of five Latina dramatists – Caridad Svich, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Karen Zacarías, Elaine Romero and Cusi Cram – is realised through the lens of Fornés’ models of writing. This is a valuable study of some key writers whose work is all too rarely seen in the UK; it is also a wonderful reminder of Fornés’ importance as a teacher of playwriting and poet of the stage. Her artistic vision and legacy – recognised by Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Lanford Wilson and Edward Albee – shine through the pages of this inspiring book.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading A. J. P. Taylor’s A Personal History (Coronet, 1984). “Taylor (1906‑90) was surely the most famous British historian of his time; he positively churned out books, some of them blockbusters and classics. Startling events, coincidences and apparent contradictions always fascinated him more than deep-seated underlying trends. Though he did not warm to many aspects of teaching, inspired, off-the-cuff lecturing was his forte and he became a television star. This autobiography displays his usual forceful writing style and skill in holding webs of detail together. Great names such as Sir Lewis Namier and Lord Beaverbrook – both at different times friends – feature here, as do many others from his crowded academic and political circles. Taylor’s acerbic wit is never far from view, and there would obviously have been much more of it if his publisher’s legal team had not pruned the text to avoid the risk of libel actions.”

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