What are you reading? – 20 September 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 20, 2018
Reading books
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Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive, University of Sunderland, is reading Philip Augar’s The Bank that Lived a Little: Barclays in the Age of the Very Free Market (Allen Lane, 2018). “Philip Augar is currently busy leading the independent review of post-18 education. In his ‘day job’, he is a respected writer and commentator on banking and finance. He has recently turned his attention, with devastating effect, to Barclays. A microcosm of the fundamental changes that have taken place since the ‘Big Bang’ in 1987, Barclays went from being a conservative, family-led institution to being among the largest of the global players. Yet Augar’s is a nuanced account. He eschews a simplistic ‘heroes and villains’ approach to help us understand the economic forces at work, and the complicated motivations of the protagonists involved. Banking may not be an obvious page-turner as a topic, but this is a book written with pace and verve.”

Dr [name withheld], former vice-chancellor, Poppleton University – as communicated by Mrs Dilworth – is reading John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University (Digireads, 2014). “When I became a vice‑chancellor, friends suggested that I read this extended essay, first published in 1852. I read it hoping to find guidance on how to deal with that most uncooperative section of any university, the academic staff. Instead I got an extended reflection on the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and ‘The University’. Sadly, there is little of practical usefulness to be found anywhere in the book. It also seems to me that Newman was sympathetic to the idea of ‘academic freedom’, a concept now widely regarded as outdated, if not fundamentally flawed. I finished his book believing that the cardinal could have learned a lot from the business-friendly, customer-orientated ethos of a modern university.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading King Cotton: A Tribute to Douglas A. Farnie (edited by J. F. Wilson; Crucible Books, 2009). “With 16 well-researched chapters by friends, colleagues and former students, this is an extended memorial to Manchester economic historian Douglas Farnie (1926-2008). The contents deal chiefly with different aspects of the Lancashire cotton industry – product diversification; marketing and international competition; the labour force – and with textile factory communities and the different kinds of building, including commercial and domestic, connected with the cotton industry in different periods. By way of contrast, there is a chapter on Spanish cottons and two on Japanese cotton spinning and weaving. With few exceptions, all contributions are grounded in the 19th and 20th centuries, Farnie’s own area of expertise. Historiographically, he is securely placed within the context of the Manchester History School and its distinguished past. The absence of an index, however, is regrettable.”

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