What are you reading? – 31 January 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 31, 2019
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Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Deborah Blum’s The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Penguin Press, 2018). “In the 19th century, industrial societies had to address the problems of food safety as mass production and industrial processing replaced home-grown fruit and vegetables and produce from the local farmer. Blum’s book shows how the US faced up to this later and more reluctantly than most. The horrors of the Chicago meat-processing business were vividly chronicled in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but it took more than that to overcome the delaying tactics of lobbying groups more concerned with the interests of shareholders than consumers. The relentless determination of chemist Harvey Wiley, with some hesitant support from Theodore Roosevelt, eventually eradicated the worst practices of unhygienic processing and the addition of dangerous chemicals designed to make products look nice. This book should not be read before eating.”


Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Sarah Franklin’s Shelter (Zaffre Publishing, 2017). “It is 1944. After narrowly escaping the raid on Coventry that killed her family, Connie Grainger is sent to the Forest of Dean to learn how to fell trees for the war effort. Carrying a secret that won’t stay that way for long, she nevertheless comes to trust the local community and an Italian prisoner of war, Seppe, who is keen to spend time away from his Mussolini-cheering fellow prisoners. Although not quite predictable, there is little here to jar. It is a charming war-based love story with a darker edge that sees Connie struggle with how her life is, compared with how she believes it ought to be. Setting her narrative against news reports and letters home from the front line, the overall result offers a well-researched but overlooked perspective on the war.”

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Muriel Spark’s Aiding and Abetting (Penguin, 2001). “This is a bizarre novella in which Lord Lucan visits Dr Hildegard Wolf, a psychologist practising in Paris. The only problem is that she already has a patient by that name. There follows a weird narrative – part crime novel and part reflection on the construction and nature of identity. Wolf also has a fraudulent alter ego that haunts her from the past: Pappenheim Beate, whose menstrual blood was claimed to be the product of her stigmata and whose miracle cures have made her notorious. The story moves us between Paris, London, the Highlands and Africa. Its shifts of setting and character, history, mentality and identity are dizzying, but I couldn’t help feeling that hanging all this comic chaos on a real crime was ethically dubious.”

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