What are you reading? – August 2020

Our regular look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 19, 2020
Row of books stacked side-by-side
Source: iStock

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (Dent, 1900). “This well-known book has become a kind of tract for our own deeply troubled times. Written in 1722 while plague raged in France, it offers an account of an even more horrendous outbreak, chiefly in a densely populated, ill assorted and loosely governed London, in 1665. The kaleidoscope of unpreparedness, carelessness, disruptions, dislocations, economic shutdown, self-distancing, self-isolation, medical helplessness, fears and knee-jerk reactions are all underlined here in the vivid writing for which Defoe was famous. Even the frenzied disjointedness of the style and structure somehow add to the intensity of the author’s ‘factual fiction’, bolstered in equal measure by second-hand reporting and by the sobering statistics of the city’s bills of mortality.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Anthony Giddens’ The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (Polity, 1998). “This possible hinge point in history, caused by the Covid-19 crisis, is a good time to be reminded of the political context of globalisation. The defeat of communism in Europe in 1989 led to intellectual ferment on the political left. Many, although not all, social democratic parties moved to the centre and adopted more market-friendly rhetoric in an attempt to distinguish themselves from both the traditional left and neoliberal fundamentalists. According to Giddens, its intellectual guru, the Third Way was concerned with ‘restructuring social democratic doctrines to respond to the twin revolutions of globalisation and the knowledge economy’. These twin revolutions have also fuelled the internationalisation of higher education over the past 25 years. As director of the London School of Economics, founded by Fabian Socialists, Giddens was well positioned to comment on both developments.

Geoffrey Alderman, professor at the University of Buckingham, is reading David Robinson’s Frederick Porter Wensley (privately published by Reflective Hedgehog, 2 volumes, 2018). “Fred Wensley (1865-1939) was a Somerset gardener who joined the Metropolitan Police, rising through the ranks to become chief constable of its Criminal Investigation Department. In 1919, he took the initiative in establishing what became known as the Flying Squad – a mobile unit dedicated to the hunting down of robbers and gangs and which (uniquely at the time) operated across the Met’s borough-based divisional boundaries. Wensley’s long career embraced some of the most notorious cases that landed on the desk of Scotland Yard – from the Ripper murders through the Sidney Street siege to the colourful misdeeds of Kate Meyrick, London’s leading night-club operator who in 1929 was convicted of bribing a Metropolitan Police sergeant. In this meticulously researched biography, David Robinson skilfully weaves together two stories: the public and private lives of a quiet policeman who achieved celebrity status.”

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