What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 17, 2009

Lawrence Black is senior lecturer in the department of history, Durham University. "I am reading Sean O'Connell's Credit and Community: Working-Class Debt in the UK since 1880 (Oxford University Press, 2009); it is very pertinent, if faintly unpolitical. Its real fascination lies in exploring how working-class consumers were exploited by the terms on which credit was granted, but also skilful at working various and complex systems to their own advantage, plus the intimate as well as economic relations and interdependence between the respective parties."

Peter Gwyn is a historian and author of The King's Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey (1992). "My pre-Christmas reading includes Steve Pincus' 1688: The First Modern Revolution (Yale University Press, 2009). It shares a characteristic that is increasingly common and that increasingly annoys me, the gist of which is that before the author arrived on the scene his subject had been completely misunderstood. I reflect that 20 years ago I was saying something rather similar, although I hope not so stridently. I then wonder whether with the passing years I have become a little wiser - or is it, as I fear, that I have just become rather more grumpy?!"

Stephen Halliday is lecturer at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge. "Amid the frantic activity among publishers anxious to cash in on the financial crisis, Robert Skidelsky's Keynes: The Return of the Master (Allen Lane, 2009) stands out as calm, clear and authoritative. It contains genuinely original insights, such as the revelation that a leading credit-rating agency awarded triple-A ratings to billions of dollars of financial instruments because of a technical error. Was that error the finger that should have been in the dyke to prevent the deluge?"

Gregory Kent is lecturer in international relations and convener of the graduate programmes in human rights, Roehampton University. "I recently happened upon Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man (Picador, 2000) in an Oxfam shop in Brighton. The blurb sold it as a satire of a particular kind of radical lecherer, I mean lecturer. I found the book, first published in 1975, an intelligent and amusing critique, but more of the Sixties than merely academia."

A.W. Purdue, visiting reader at The Open University, is reading David Kynaston's Family Britain 1951-57 (Bloomsbury, 2009). "It provides a compelling portrait of a family-orientated society enjoying a burgeoning prosperity as postwar austerity ended. Quotations from diarists of the period punctuate the narrative, making one realise how developments such as the end of rationing and the rapid increase in the number of television sets concerned most people far more than the great events of politics and the Cold War. Kynaston is good at describing the reign of the town planners who transformed the built environment, usually without the assent of those who had to live in it."

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