What are you reading? – 18 April 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 18, 2019
Open books

Stephen Halliday, senior member of Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas (edited by Anna Snaith, Oxford World’s Classics, 2nd edition, 2015). “For those who, like me, struggle with Virginia Woolf’s novels, this is a user-friendly introduction to the workings of her mind and the style of her writing. It sets out her view of the frustrations suffered by a highly intelligent late-Victorian woman who was denied a good education because of the patriarchal attitudes that underlay that society. The biographical introduction offers an excellent summary and the references to contemporary events and to people in Woolf’s life are in themselves interesting social history. However, the decision to place the Notes and References and the Explanatory Notes in separate sections at the end obliges the reader endlessly to be turning pages. Publishers are famously reluctant to use footnotes for fear of frightening off readers, but this book cries out for them.” 

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice, University of Birmingham, is reading Derren Brown’s Happy: How More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine (Corgi, 2016). “This book is about being happy and what we should and shouldn’t be doing to achieve happiness. Brown makes it very clear from the onset that he has not written a self-help book. Superbly entertaining with wit and charm, he explores the flaws in our thinking and how self-help suggestions of positive thinking, self-belief and setting goals can actually be disastrous for our well-being and lead to greater anxiety. Instead, drawing on the Stoics and Epicureans and the discipline of psychology, he explores how we can change conceptions of happiness and allow ourselves to flourish and to live more happily. Brown’s prose is honest, witty and beautiful – and challenges us to question what truly is important in our lives.”

 A.W. Purdue, visiting reader at the Open University, is reading James Buchan’s John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the Eighteenth Century (MacLehose Press, 2018). “The ‘Scotsman on the make’ was a familiar 18th-century figure. Yet few reached the heights achieved by John Law. He set out on the ‘high road to England’ but, having killed a man in a disorganised duel, had to flee to the Continent. His path to success was via Holland and Genoa – where he founded his fortune by organising banks and lotteries – to Paris. Charismatic and persuasive, he found a supporter in the French Regent, busy trying to sort out the mess in which Louis XIV had left France’s finances. The result was a General Bank, which became the Royal Bank, and a France awash with paper money. Law’s undoing was the Louisiana scheme, which, like Britain’s South Sea Company, crashed spectacularly. But what a man! He took great risks, but many of his ideas are now financial orthodoxy. Buchan does him justice.”

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