What are you reading? – 30 January 2020

A look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 30, 2020
Pile of books
Source: iStock

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, is reading George Packer’s Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (Jonathan Cape, 2019). “Richard Holbrooke was a larger-than-life diplomat who was there or thereabouts in every American foreign policy issue from Vietnam to Afghanistan This is a sympathetic and unconventional biography of a deeply flawed, and in many ways unattractive, man. He never achieved his ultimate ambition to be secretary of state because he made too many enemies along the way, including presidents – Barack Obama couldn’t bear him. Yet it was Holbrooke’s force of personality and indefatigable nature that helped to broker peace in the Balkans, alongside achievements in other global hotspots. Driven by an unquenchable belief that the United States could be a force for good, he represented what now looks like the apotheosis of American activism on the world stage.”


Maria Delgado, professor and director of research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Paul Rae’s Real Theatre: Essays in Experience (Cambridge University Press, 2019). “Theatre’s relationship to the real is thorny and complex. Paul Rae tackles this issue head-on in his engaging new monograph, along with the implications for the ways in which performance is read and analysed. He explores the idea of the theatrical event as an experience, the ways in which the novel and the familiar intersect and the extent to which the components of the creative process are able to obscure their own conditions of performance. This is a book about the things so often marginalised in a consideration of performance: the technical; the backstage; the elements that lie beyond what Rae terms ‘the two hours’ traffic of a stage’. The result is an invigorating look at what theatre is rather than what it stands for.”


Sir John Holman, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of York, is reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (Oxford World Classics, 2008). “I read this in a single sitting, one post-Christmas day beside a log fire, engrossed and transported to the frozen wastes. I wonder what a modern writer would have made of the creation of the monster. Some DNA and a big Petri dish might have done the trick and saved all those visits to the charnel house. But it was thoughts on the formation of character that awoke the educator in me and left me reflecting on the impact of care in the early years. Frankenstein’s monster may have become an icon of horror, but Shelley’s book, originally published in 1818, raises profound issues concerning parents’, and society’s, responsibilities in the development of human personality.”

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