What are you reading? – December 2020

Our regular look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 7, 2020
Woman reading a book
Source: iStock

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Geoffrey M. Hodgson’s Is Socialism Feasible? Towards an Alternative Future (Edward Elgar, 2019). “The word ‘socialism’ means different things to different people. Hodgson, one of the world’s leading institutional economists, argues that it is concerned ultimately with public ownership and therefore is synonymous with communism. Social democracy, by contrast, is a high-welfare, mixed economy within a capitalist framework, ie, a system that accepts a significant role for markets. The author asserts that socialism is ultimately incompatible with democracy, because the size and strength of state that it requires ultimately suffocates all opposition and indeed eventually regards opposition as illegitimate. Or, to put it colloquially, socialism always leads to the gulag (or its modern equivalents). Hodgson is no free-market fanatic – in fact, he is a proponent of what he terms ‘liberal solidarity’, which can be equated with the Nordic model (of social democracy) with worker co-operatives thrown in. This book deserves to be widely read, particularly on the (romantic) left.”

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice, University of Birmingham, is reading Susan Choi’s American Woman (Harper Perennial, 2013). “Choi’s book takes you on a journey with three fugitives who have kidnapped the granddaughter of a wealthy newspaper magnate in San Francisco. I’m not usually one for action-packed novels, but the beautiful and elegant style of this one had me gripped. The author draws on the themes of race, identity and class and explores how, no matter what the situation, our identities continue to differentiate and divide us. A compelling, provocative and insightful read, one that will leave you thinking about loyalty, trust, loss and fairness – and whether justice really exists.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading S. N. Behrman’s Duveen: The Story of the Most Spectacular Art Dealer of All Time (Daunt, 2014). “This book bears an eye-catching subtitle that in truth is almost an understatement! Joseph Duveen (1869-1939) raised his profession to dazzling new heights, lived an opulent lifestyle, landed himself a peerage, cannily manipulated world art prices, and groomed and educated wealthy American businessmen such as Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon, John D. Rockefeller, Henry E. Huntington and his wife Arabella until he thought them worthy of acquiring his priceless art treasures. More than that, Duveen made himself indispensable to them in other ways – providing architects for their grand houses, for example – and shrewdly guided them towards tax-free philanthropy. It is an extraordinary tale, racily told.”

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