What are you reading? – 30 May 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 30, 2019
Reading, studying, student
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Richard Joyner, emeritus professor of chemistry at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Emily Maitlis’ Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News (Michael Joseph, 2019). “I am a huge fan of lead BBC2 Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, so I opened this, her first book, with the greatest interest. It’s a quick, absorbing read, but having finished it, my overriding impression is of rather breathless thoughtfulness. Her subjects include Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Russell Brand, Theresa May, how she got into journalism, Emma Thompson, the Grenfell Tower fire – and how she was accidentally accused of running a CIA black site. She is interesting about each and her formidable intelligence and self-deprecating awareness shine brightly. Yet I can now recall little of it, apart from Clinton buying a copy of the Kama Sutra in an Indian hotel gift shop as, unobserved, Maitlis watched, draped in a pashmina. You couldn’t make it up.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail, 2016). “Cora Seaborne, a rather merry widow, leaves late Victorian London for the Essex estuarial coast, her young son Francis and companion Martha in tow, in search of a potential new species that has been terrorising the superstitious parish of Aldwinter. There she tussles – intellectually and emotionally – with man rather than beast, debating science and religion with the local vicar, while back in London the plight of the East End sets class against class, tradition against progress. It is a strange, rambling story that loses track of its putative heroine for chapters at a time, although the cast of characters and the tapestry of their storylines are on the whole skilfully handled. This restlessness drives the whole narrative: in a book about desire, no one quite gets what they want.”

A.W. Purdue, visiting reader at the Open University, is reading Gary Weiss’ Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul (St Martin’s Press, 2012). “In the US, Ayn Rand has a following of enthusiastic acolytes who embrace her philosophy of an unfettered free market and minimal government. Weiss claims that her view that the pursuit of self-interest is a positive good, and that altruism and empathy hold back human progress, has become ever more influential since her death in 1981, led to the Tea Party and Libertarian movements and, with the support of people such as Alan Greenspan, to decreased regulation of markets and an attenuation of social services. Perhaps, however, he overstates the influence of Rand, whose views are only one strand in the complex weave of the contemporary American Right, while the tension between the need for government and distrust of it has been present since the American Constitution was written.”

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