What are you reading? – May 2021

Our regular look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 26, 2021
Books on a bench, what are you reading, book reviews
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Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature at Nottingham Trent University, is reading Max Porter’s The Death of Francis Bacon (Faber, 2021). “Eight short meditations of the artist as he lies dying in a hospital bed in Madrid, attended by a ghostly Sister and possessed by the memories, illusions, fantasies, nightmares and brutal evocations of his drinking, alleyway sexual encounters, French House camp, attacks from the establishment and, crucially, his painterly craft. It has the polyphony of Porter’s Lanny and the grimly violent humour of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: ‘poor muse-stuck bubble-dweller, budge over, six foot square, herringbone, tight and ready, room for the two of us, the two of them’. It is, in parts, dramatic monologue, aesthetic theorising, impressionistic stream of consciousness and rage. The title gives the ending a bleak fatalism, but there is also an oddly uplifting sense of apotheosis: ‘Last sight isn’t human after all, is pure throb colour on the heart inside.’ Eerily magnificent.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Hong Liu’s The Chinese Strategic Mind (Edward Elgar, 2015). “The recent, and partly Covid-inspired, change in the global geopolitical context makes this an opportune time to investigate the strategic thinking and modus operandi of Chinese businesses. One of the errors that Western business people make is to see Chinese business strategies and behaviour through a Western lens. Chinese executives may well be aware of Western strategic theories, particularly if they have been educated in Western business schools. However, that does not mean that organisations will make use of them. Chinese strategic thinking and culture has its own history. Hong Liu illustrates this through the case of Huawei, the electronics and telecommunications company, which has been much in the news recently. He shows clearly how Chinese traditions such as Confucianism, as well as Mao Zedong’s strategic thinking, have underpinned the company’s strategies.”

Geoffrey Alderman, principal of Nelson College, London, is reading Ephraim Shoham-Steiner’s Jews and Crime in Medieval Europe (Wayne State University Press, 2021). “In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England. A pretext was the charge that Jews were engaged in widespread coin-clipping, which was true. Apologists have argued that this had been forced upon Jewish communities as a result of their deliberate impoverishment by the state. This was also (probably) true. But what was equally the case was that there was a history of Jewish criminality in England, and throughout Europe, and that Jews – just like non-Jews – had for centuries been engaged in robbery, prostitution, wife-beating, grievous bodily harm and murder. In his brilliantly researched and elegantly crafted study, Israeli professor Shoham-Steiner documents this catalogue, teasing out the reality behind carefully phrased rabbinical investigations. In his introduction, Shoham-Steiner reveals that he was counselled by some colleagues ‘not to pursue the subject’. He was right to ignore this advice.”

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