What are you reading? – 4 July 2019

Our weekly glance over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 4, 2019
Pile of books falling over
Source: iStock

A. W. Purdue, visiting reader at the Open University, is reading Christina Thompson’s Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific (William Collins, 2019). “The Polynesian triangle – with extreme points at New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island – covers a huge area, but, probably from about the 12th century, its peoples rapidly spread right across it. How, given the nature of their sailing vessels and navigational instruments, did they do so? Thompson describes the various theories. Was their expansion from west to east, as linguistic evidence might suggest, or from east to west, because prevailing winds make it the more likely direction? One historian has argued that the Polynesians drifted rather than voyaged and so were castaways and not settlers. More ‘hare-brained’, as Thompson puts it, is the notion that they didn’t travel at all, but were survivors of a drowned continent that left its inhabitants dispersed on atolls and sandbanks. Recent experimental journeys by Polynesian master mariners, the author concludes, have demonstrated a capacity to make long voyages to new settlements.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Slavery in Yorkshire: Richard Oastler and the Campaign against Child Labour in the Industrial Revolution (edited by John A. Hargreaves and E. A. Hilary Haigh, University of Huddersfield Press, 2012). “The focus of this collection is the campaign by Richard Oastler (1789-1861) in the mill towns of what is now West Yorkshire. His Evangelical Anglican affiliation – the same as that of the better-known William Wilberforce – was pre-dated by a strong influence from the Methodist movement in North Yorkshire from where his family came. It was a moral imperative, not a political one, that led him to campaign for a 10-hour working day: his paternalistic Toryism arose from his religious convictions. As such noblesse oblige has gone out of fashion as a political philosophy, it is interesting to read about the time when it was at its most influential.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History (Vintage, 2003). “In this wide-ranging and informative book is probably everything that needs to be known on the subject. Part historical, part geographical, part cultural, part political, part economic and social, part culinary, Kurlansky’s survey extends back to prehistoric times. Chemistry and advances in engineering are drawn into the discussion of solar and vacuum evaporation, boiling and rock salt mining. The salty origins of common words such as ‘salary’, ‘salad’ and ‘salami’ are rehearsed. Resistance to hated salt taxes in pre-revolutionary France and imperial India is examined. Rather strikingly, the American War of Independence is depicted as a salt war. All very fascinating but often ill-digested and indigestible. English readers will be surprised by Kurlansky’s locating of Liverpool in the Midlands and by his belief that Cheshire cheese is hard.”

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