What are you reading? – January 2022

A look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 3, 2022
Pile of books
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Philip Martin, emeritus professor of literature at Sheffield Hallam University, is reading R. C. Richardson’s Varieties of History and Their Porous Frontiers (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021). “The abiding interest is historiography, and there are fascinating revaluations of very different historians whose work is clearly and judiciously summarised. The ‘varieties of history’ range widely, from the overlooked historian of Winchester’s religious buildings, John Milner (1752-1826), through the seminal Lancashire histories of G. H. Tupling (1883-1962) to the more familiar work of W. G. Hoskins and Joan Thirsk, and beyond. Richardson’s precis of Thirsk’s profound influence – her interruption of ‘men’s history’, her disillusion with economic history, and her championing of local history and people’s history – is that of a kindred spirit. Every chapter intrigues the reader with its surprising but penetrating approach. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the final chapter, a ‘cultural mapping’ achieved through a reading of the Festival of Britain (1951) regional guidebooks, a new lens through which to consider post-war optimism. This collection instructs and delights in equal measures.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Andrew Demshuk’s Bowling for Communism: Urban Ingenuity at the End of East Germany (Cornell University Press, 2020). “There is a significant literature on family life in the German Democratic Republic. However, much less is known about civic life. Demshuk addresses that gap in a study of architecture and urban regeneration in Lepizig, the GDR’s second largest city, and the future cradle of the anti-communist revolution. He shows how municipal leaders and city planners conspired to try to save the historic centre of the city from demolition and its replacement by Plattenbauten (prefabricated blocks of flats). He also highlights the planning and construction of a Western-style bowling alley – unbeknown to state officials in Berlin. Local citizens, who were well versed in black market construction practices, put this to public use in an outpouring of civic pride. In January 1990 – two months after the revolution – the first People’s Building Conference was held in Leipzig. Due to an influx of Western investors (capitalists), there was never a second conference.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading D. W. Hayton’s Conservative Revolutionary: The Lives of Lewis Namier (Manchester University Press, 2019). “Both the title and subtitle of this long, probing, masterly study underline the plurality and contradictions present in of one of the greatest historians of the 20th century. His major books on 18th-century politics came early in his career. Thereafter, although he published several volumes of essays and was centrally involved in a multi-volume collective biography of the House of Commons, his life was littered with unfinished projects. He never got the Oxford appointment that he coveted – a professorship at Manchester was for him a poor consolation prize – and was left deeply embittered. And though he was kind, loyal and generous to some, to others he could be abrasive, overbearing and belligerent.”

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