What are you reading? – 3 May 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 3, 2018
Books on a bench
Source: iStock

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher,  is reading Robert J. Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance (3rd edition, Princeton University Press, 2016). “Shiller’s book originally came out in 2000, in what seems like a different age. If the clouds of the financial crisis were looming, it was still a time of sanity and optimism in comparison with the new politics of Trump, Xi and the various world dictators. But Shiller’s book is deservedly considered a classic, and I’m rereading a later edition with an eye on understanding the psychology, not merely the economics, of the great British Brexit. For example, he points out that, while it is easy to find post-facto reasons to explain things (such as radical share movements), it is misleading to assume that the reason we favour, the one we think ‘makes sense’, actually was decisive. The reality, as his careful analysis attempts to demonstrate, is that the world is complicated and human rationality is largely a shared, social conceit.”


Jean Wainwright, professor of contemporary art and photography, University for the Creative Arts, is reading Anthony E. Grudin’s Warhol’s Working Class: Pop Art and Egalitarianism (University of Chicago Press, 2017). “I was looking forward to reading this. Since I know Warhol’s working-class background well, I was intrigued to see if Grudin shed new light on his work. The book makes a central claim about class, emphasising that Warhol was the first artist to concentrate on subject matter such as peach halves and Campbell’s soup, underpinned by his understanding of both marketing and the lure of consumer products for working-class America in the 1960s. Grudin’s arguments about class mobility, the complexities of Warhol’s first pop paintings and his use of comics and TV recontextualise some familiar images and lesser-known films. I enjoyed rediscovering quotes from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and his Diaries , which made me want to rush back and read them again. With its emphasis on neoliberalism and some of Warhol’s own issues with class, the book gives additional weight to his huge reputation.”


Simon J. James, professor of Victorian literature, Durham University, is reading Roger Lewis’ The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Arrow, 1995). “I know nothing about the writing of this book, but what seems to me extraordinary is the tension between the biographer and his subject. It reads as if Lewis took on the brief of chronicling Sellers’ life, only to become increasingly dismayed at the star’s small-mindedness, selfishness and wretched squandering of his extraordinary and magnificent talent. ‘Sellers’, Lewis confesses at one point, ‘induces melancholy in me’: to read the biography thus is to read the biographer, an exercise of almost Nabokovian self-reflexiveness. Meticulously researched, immaculately detailed, perceptive and thorough, yet at the same time anguished and thoroughly appalled, this is a literary portrait of a most unhappy life that was replete with all kinds of shoddy behaviour. I have never read anything quite like it.”

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