What are you reading? – 30 July 2015

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 30, 2015
Books on bookshelf

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading A Government That Worked Better and Cost Less? Evaluating Three Decades of Reform and Change in UK Central Government (Oxford University Press, 2015) by Christopher Hood and Ruth Dixon. “Reviewing the outcome of Whitehall reform efforts over the past 30 years with any precision is difficult, as there is no universally accepted means of making judgements and the data keep changing. Rather prosaically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Hood and Dixon conclude that, actually, government has cost a bit more and worked a bit worse over the period.”

Vanessa Furse Jackson, retired professor of English, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, is reading Miss Cavell Was Shot: The Diaries of Amy Hodson, 1914‑1920 (SilverWood, 2015), edited by Monica Kendall. “These superbly edited diaries of Kendall’s relative Amy Hodson give us an extraordinary window on what it was like to live in German-occupied Belgium during the First World War. The teenage Amy is at once observant, resilient and poignant in her daily recordings of the deprivations and small joys, the horrors and the mundaneness of an adolescence lived in a time of war. I loved this book.”

June Purvis, professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Love and Romance in Britain, 1918-1970 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), edited by Alana Harris and Timothy Willem Jones. “The history of emotions has emerged in the past decade as an important research topic. This collection of essays explores understandings of affection, intimacy and sex from the First World War until the 1970s. The notion of a ‘golden age’ of romance in the 1950s and the ‘fall’ of love is explored in fascinating, nuanced ways. A worthy addition to the field.”

Gina Rippon, chair of cognitive neuroimaging, Aston University, will chair the panel “Women and the trouble with science” at September’s British Science Festival. “This summer, I’m going back to Donald Hebb’s The Organization of Behaviour: A Neuropsychological Theory (Psychology Press, 2002). Much of what is driving the search for ‘the connectome’ can be found in this book, now nearly 70 years old. For me, cognitive neuroscience was founded here. Hebb was among the first to identify cell assemblies, connectionism, neural plasticity, and his prescience is awe-inspiring. And his optimistic take on lifelong neural learning gives hope for us all!”

Nigel Rodenhurst, part-time lecturer in English, Aberystwyth University, is reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: A Novel (Vintage, 2000). “The ambition and proportions of this epic novel provide the crux of any criticism or praise. Dickensian in scope, it illuminates so much so vividly, but also seems too frantic and desperate to tie everything together. Almost every character bursts from the confines of identity in a clichéd or implausible way. It is entertaining but also repetitive and contrived.”

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