What are you reading? – 15 March 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 15, 2018

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project: Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae (Contraband, 2015). “Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2016, His Bloody Project is an extraordinary and unsettling book. In the literary equivalent of removing the fourth wall, the author suggests a familial link with Roddy Macrae, the story’s main protagonist. Roddy, a disturbed 17-year-old living in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1860s, endures a life of grinding poverty and is fuelled by resentment and lust. Since the novel contains a first-hand witness statement, a psychological profile, medical reports and a contemporary journalistic account, the reader might be forgiven for thinking that this is a true story. Without giving too much away, I can say that the book tackles fundamental issues in criminology and leaves us pondering the age-old question of nature versus nurture.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Fernando Aramburu’s Patria (Tusquets, 2016). “Patria, a literary sensation in Spain, is now in its 22nd edition with almost 3.5 million copies sold, a planned English translation due in 2019 and an HBO Spain series in development. The novel concerns two neighbouring families in a small Basque town. When the father of one, Txato, is pressured for protection money and then killed by ETA, his widow Bittori moves away, returning to a frosty reception when ETA declare a permanent ceasefire in 2011. The fractured friendship between her and her childhood friend Miren is used to explore the broader legacy of the Basque conflict. Aramburu explores the multilayered complexities of civil strife and reconciliation through a tale that considers what it means for the victims and perpetrators of violence to come to terms with their past. Patria is quite simply one of the most resonant political novels of the 21st century.”

Rachel Roberts, lecturer in secondary English education, University of Reading, is reading The Science of Expertise: Behavioral, Neural, and Genetic Approaches to Complex Skill (edited by David Z. Hambrick, Guillermo Campitelli, Brooke N. Macnamara, Routledge, 2017). “At 470 pages, this is a weighty tome, and rightly so: it presents both a history of expertise study and current research. Its central thesis is that the swing between expertise-as-nurture and expertise-as-nature is now outmoded and that ‘multifactorial models that take into account all relevant factors’ are needed. Divided into five parts, expertise is examined via behavioural, neural and genetic approaches, as well as through integrated models of development. Deliberate practice and working memory are covered comprehensively, with chapters drawing on research into chess and music (favoured domains of researchers in this area) as well as the visual arts and Rubik’s-cube solving. While not a ‘pop’ science publication, the book is certainly accessible to non-specialists and would be of interest across disciplines.”

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