What are you reading? – 20/27 December 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 20, 2018
Woman reading a book
Source: iStock

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive, University of Sunderland, is reading Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (John Murray, 2018). “It took Ronen Bergman seven difficult years to write the story of the Israeli government’s assassination programme. The result is Rise and Kill First. While accurate figures are impossible to come by, Bergman estimates that about 2,000 individuals have been assassinated since the State of Israel was created. Despite being impeded in his efforts, he has painstakingly pieced together both the rationale and the practice of such killings. The Israeli military and intelligence services have been leaders in this kind of away-from-the-battlefield warfare. Yet, as well as the moral issues thrown up – which are nuanced – Bergman forcibly argues that the continuing failure to find a political settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis only highlights the limitations of military action.”


June Purvis, professor emerita of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Anne Summers’ Christian and Jewish Women in Britain, 1880-1940: Living with Difference (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). “Anne Summers discovered in the archive a letter written in 1898 by the social reformer Josephine Butler, a devout Anglican, stating that she had written to Madame Dreyfus, a Jewish woman whose husband was accused of treason, on behalf of English women and herself. This led to an intriguing research question: how common was the interaction of women from differing religious backgrounds in a common cause? A number of joint philanthropic ventures are discussed, not just for Madame Dreyfus as a ‘Sister in Distress’ but also in regard to the demand for women’s suffrage and refuge for Jews before, and during, the Second World War. A scholarly, timely book that raises important issues for today about interfaith movements and multiculturalism.”


Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Rose Tremain’s Restoration (Vintage, 2009). “First published in 1989, this historical novel is not merely a charming romp through the lacy, powdered-wigged days of courtly overindulgence and libertine excess but a thoughtful reflection on questions of morality, religious faith, sexual exploitation and royal sycophancy. Sir Robert Merivel is the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Pepysian in his eye for detail and his candid, frequently embarrassing, self-consciousness, and Rochesteresque in his alcoholic and erotic consumption and his occasional misanthropy. Ordered to marry one of the king’s mistresses in exchange for a country seat, Merivel oversteps the mark with her and falls into disgrace. A residency in a lunatic asylum run by Quakers sees him exposed, for the first time, to a communal concern quenching his self-importance. His final restoration is a well-earned reward for an unexpected act of courageous altruism. It’s beautifully done – light on its feet but pondering some pressing human concerns.”

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