What are you reading? – 8 October 2015

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 8, 2015
Books open on table

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor, University of Reading, is reading Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015). “Putnam describes the widening gap that has opened up between different sections of American society. A changing economy and weakening ‘concentric circles of influence’, including families, schools and communities, has reduced social mobility for the poor. In parallel, college-educated families are cementing their success. Deploying a combination of personal stories and hard data, Putnam presents a compelling argument with no easy answers.”

Ivor Gaber, professor of journalism, University of Sussex, is reading Philip Ziegler’s Edward Heath: The Authorised Biography (HarperCollins, 2011). “An authorised biography this may be, but that doesn’t mean that the author is afraid to express his own views about the subject and his contemporaries. Ziegler clearly finds Heath a difficult man to like, but equally a man with many qualities to admire. His verdict is difficult to quarrel with – although his very negative view of Harold Wilson, Heath’s predecessor and successor as prime minister, is perhaps less justified.”

Stephen Halliday, senior member, Pembroke College, Cambridge, is reading Robin Gwynn’s The Huguenots in Later Stuart Britain, Volume I (Sussex Academic Press, 2015). “This is the first volume of what will undoubtedly be the definitive account of that dedicated, quarrelsome and intensely patriotic group of refugees from the persecutions of Louis XIV. Chenevix, Dupont, Escoffier…the names roll off the tongue. France’s loss was Britain’s gain. A comprehensive and fascinating account.”

E. Stina Lyon, professor emeritus of educational developments in sociology, London South Bank University, has been reading Antonia Fraser’s My History: A Memoir of Growing Up (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015) and David Lodge’s Quite a Good Time to Be Born: A Memoir: 1935-1975 (Harvill Secker, 2015). “The critical reception afforded Fraser’s and Lodge’s recent autobiographies was not brilliant, but as I received both as gifts, I thankfully felt obliged to indulge. Despite coming from different ends of the social spectrum, they shared in the levelling effects of war and austerity, humane Catholic family values, public libraries and the liberating impact of university tuition on inquisitive minds. Do I think it matters that more thorough contextual analysis of aristocratic Oxford or suburban south London are absent? No. Well-honed skills of observation and sentence construction provide insightful compensation. Their oh-so-disarmingly English, self-deprecating honesty and wry humour would make Samuel Pepys chuckle in recognition as he travelled up and down the Thames in search of daily bread and the meaning of life.”

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