What are you reading? – 26 April 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 26, 2018
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Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Damon Hill’s Watching the Wheels: My Autobiography (Macmillan, 2016). “Reading this was a penance. I never rated Damon Hill, thought him a driver of modest ability who had lucked in because of his name, was lauded by an uncritical British press and did not deserve his world championship. As this reflective autobiography demonstrates, I was quite wrong. He is a man of high intelligence and sensitivity, whose talents were considerable and who deserved his hard-won success – not the greatest of drivers, but a very fine and thoughtful one. His accounts of living in the shadow of a famous father, the family trauma of his father’s death and his own struggles with dislocation and depression have a searing honesty. He writes as befits an author who gained a first in English literature from the Open University after his retirement. Sporting autobiographies usually conceal more than they reveal: this is a welcome and brave exception.”


Gulcin Ozkan, professor of economics, University of York, is reading Yascha Mounk’s The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It (Harvard University Press, 2018). “This book is a recent addition to the increasing volume of work on the rise of populism and the threats to democracy and is likely to be among the most influential. Mounk convincingly traces the retreat of liberal democracy to three factors: stagnating living standards, the rise of multi-ethnicity and the force of social media. In beautifully written prose, and based on his earlier research, he argues that these factors are forcing societies towards two undesirable outcomes: illiberal democracies of populist strongmen and undemocratic liberalism of technocratic elites. In spite of the scale of current challenges to democracy, Mounk suggests that domesticating nationalism, reforming the economy and renewing civic faith should go a long way towards saving liberal democracy, although ‘nobody can promise us a happy end’.”


Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Thomas Mullen’s Lightning Men (Abacus, 2018). “This is the second novel by Mullen chronicling the lives of the first black police officers in Atlanta, Georgia. Set in 1950, the story covers the changing nature of the city’s neighbourhoods as the black population moved into previously all-white areas. The pernicious influence of the Ku Klux Klan and the Columbians, the neo-Nazi organisation that grew up in post-war America, is felt throughout. Mullen is a compelling writer because he effortlessly combines an excellent detective story with strong and insightful social history. Characters are drawn sympathetically, and the all-too-recognisable tension between public duty and private opinion comes to the fore. As a result, the reader learns a lot while enjoying a gripping read. Pleasingly, a third book in the series should follow.”

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