What are you reading? – October 2020

Our regular look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers 

October 12, 2020
Stack of books
Source: iStock

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading Jenny Rose’s Between Bombay and Boston: Cultural and Commercial Encounters of Yankees and Parsis, 1771-1865 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). “Based on an assiduous trawling of diaries, letters, business records, ships’ logbooks and travellers’ tales, this is a fascinating account of the complex links that developed between New England and India and brought to Salem, Boston and Bombay immense prosperity through a varied trade in spices, cotton, opium and ice. Dynasties of Parsi brokers (six generations in one case) feature prominently here. The British East India Company, the destabilising effects of the opium wars and the American Civil War and transcendentalists such as Thoreau (fixated with Zoroastrianism) enter the story. So does the impact of changing technologies associated with clippers, steamships and railways. This is an exemplary study that never fails to hold the reader’s attention.”

Kalwant Bhopal, professorial research fellow and professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, is reading Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery (Pan, 2012). “This marvellous book tells the story of a small group of individuals who against all the odds ignited the first human-rights movement. Hochschild uses historical evidence to take us on a journey from the coffee houses in 18th-century London to the sugar plantations of the West Indies to demonstrate how a number of strong men fought for the rights of slaves in order to ensure that slavery could be abolished. Elegant, articulate and thought-provoking, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in race, inequality and social justice.”

John Anchor, professor of international strategy at the University of Huddersfield, is reading Norman Eisen’s The Last Palace: Europe’s Extraordinary Century through Five Lives and One House in Prague (Crown Books, 2018). “This is a fascinating account of the ups and downs of central Europe during the last hundred years, as seen through the stories of five different occupants of a Prague mansion. The palace was built by Otto Petschek, a Jewish businessman, as a statement of his faith in liberal democracy. After his flight from the Nazis, the property was occupied by Rudolf Toussaint, the German army commander of Prague during the Second World War. It was then bought by the United States on the recommendation of Laurence Steinhardt, its first post-war ambassador. Another ambassador, the former child actress Shirley Temple Black, provided encouragement to Czech dissidents, which helped lead to the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The author was himself US ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2016.”

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