What are you reading? – 28 May 2020

A look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 25, 2020
Stack of books
Source: iStock

Annmarie Adams, professor of architecture at McGill University, is reading Paul Hendrickson’s Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright (Bodley Head, 2019). “As the designer of landmarks such as New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater, Wright is one of the most famous architects of all time. Hendrickson’s account is a synecdoche, offering part rather than all of a traditional life story. His objective is to humanise Wright, a notorious adulterer, egotist and liar. The book is also a somewhat arbitrary guide to the 10 or so previous biographies of this self-proclaimed genius. Speculation on Wright’s initial arrival in Chicago, his parents’ marriage, his romance with a man and his awareness of his own ‘bunkum’ distinguish it from others. Spoiler alert: Plagued by Fire has an unexpected, casual and sometimes irksome tone, with the biographer (often in parentheses) speaking directly to readers about his own life.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Penguin, 2007). “The writer of Ecclesiastes considers that much of life is meaningless. In spite of this wisdom of Solomon, many of us want to ‘succeed’. However, some are more ‘successful’ than others, at least according to the yardsticks laid down by the world. Is this because of strategy and tactics (skills) or some other factor? According to Taleb, many events are the result of randomness. Among many possible intellectual perspectives on probability and risk, this book adopts a qualitative and literary approach, based on the author’s personal experience of life in general and of financial market trading and traders in particular. It is perhaps fitting that it ends with the death of one of his central characters – proof that the only thing that is certain in life is death (and taxes).”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Sue Anderson-Faithful’s Mary Sumner: Mission, Education and Motherhood: Thinking a Life with Bourdieu (Lutterworth Press, 2018). “This is a well-researched account of the life and work of Mary Sumner (1828-1921), iconic founder of the Mothers’ Union, one of the first and largest women’s organisations. It carefully places her in her gendered, generational, hierarchical, ecclesiastical, local, national and imperial contexts, while always underlining her fervent moral mission. The book’s structure, however, encourages some repetition and the much-vaunted theoretical input at times seems merely bolted on rather than genuinely integral. The author is also at times anachronistically judgemental. Whenever Sumner’s attitudes and opinions are – understandably – at variance with today’s, she is accused of ‘misrecognition’.”


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