What are you reading? – 2 January 2020

Our fortnightly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers 

January 2, 2020
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Joanna Newman, chief executive and secretary general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, is reading Sarah Phillips Casteel’s Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination (Columbia University Press, 2016). “From the 17th century onwards, there have been continuous waves of Jewish migration to the Caribbean. Casteel’s book focuses on the writings of Caribbean authors born since the war, including Derek Walcott, Michelle Cliff, David Dabydeen, Cynthia McLeod, Jamaica Kincaid and Caryl Phillips, who have been deeply influenced by Jewish-Caribbean themes. In the first half, she explores the trauma of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 (and their subsequent diaspora to the Caribbean). The second looks at Holocaust memory, in the light of the history I recently explored in Nearly the New World: The British West Indies and the Flight from Nazism, 1933-1945. Citing Paul Gilroy’s seminal work Black Atlantic, Casteel argues that fiction is ahead of academic studies in offering a comparative analysis of the connections between colonial racism, antisemitism and fascism.”


Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, is reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success (Penguin, 2009). “Gladwell explores how and why some people are high achievers and succeed so much in what they do compared with others. What makes these people exceptional, he asks. He considers how success is not necessarily based just on what you know or how good you are at something; rather, it’s more about where you come from and who you are. Success, he argues, is never achieved alone, it is about opportunities and being able to invest in those opportunities. He also refers constantly to the ‘10,000-hour rule’, reminding us that achieving greatness requires a huge investment of time. Engaging, entertaining and enlightening, this book will make you reassess your definition of success.”


R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Geoffrey Channon’s Richard Potter: Beatrice Webb’s Father and Corporate Capitalist (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019). “Biography often runs the risk of being too narrowly focused and uncritical. This one adroitly avoids both pitfalls. Potter is placed first in the contented and liberal domestic context in which he was always anchored, with his daughter Beatrice following in his wife’s footsteps as confidante and adviser. But it moves far beyond this in its assessment of Potter’s involvement in the Great Western and Canadian Grand Trunk railways and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his links with Russia in the 1850s and 1860s. Changes in the Victorian political and business worlds are clearly drawn and leading intellectuals such as Herbert Spencer and social reformers and commentators such as Charles Booth are integral figures in the story.”

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