What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

February 11, 2010

Bahram Bekhradnia is director, Higher Education Policy Institute. "I read the Koran to understand how such different beliefs can claim the same authority, which proved a hopeless aspiration. Undoubtedly a book for believers, but not for recreation - repetitive, long and a curious mixture of practical instructions (eg, detailed inheritance rules, conditions for providing blood money, and whom a man may marry - not his daughter or mother) and the visionary and mystic. And permeating it all, bloodcurdling reminders of the fate of unbelievers - 1,000 ways of roasting in hell."

Nathan Emmerich is a doctoral candidate, funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies through the Changing Ageing Partnership, in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's University Belfast. He is reading Graham Farmelo's The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius (Faber & Faber, 2009): "Initially put off by suggestions of retrospective diagnosis of autism, I soon warmed to this biography. The 'diagnosis' is restricted to a final-chapter discussion of Dirac's eccentricity and genius. An accomplished, well-researched biography of a physicist whose life was led on the edges of most of the great events in 20th-century quantum physics, but whose thoughts were central."

Kayleigh Garthwaite, a human geography postgraduate researcher at Durham University, is reading Marienthal: The Sociography of an Unemployed Community (Transaction, 2002) by Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel. "It documents how extreme levels of unemployment can impact upon a whole community. Following the closure of a textiles factory, detailed records of each family in the town of Marienthal in Austria in the 1930s were compiled, with the researchers living in or participating in the community. It examines how unemployment plays out in the biographies and identities of a particular place and the people in it."

Martin McQuillan, dean of arts and social sciences, Kingston University, is reading Breakfast with Socrates: The Philosophy of Everyday Life (Profile Books, 2009) by Robert Smith. "I am often asked to recommend a good introduction to philosophy - now I've discovered one. There are plenty of books but mostly they're either the 'wrong kind' of philosophy or they are terribly written. Smith's work is witty, inventive and intelligent - Carl Schmitt on arguing with your partner, Jacques Derrida on booking a holiday - and brilliantly shows how grounded High Theory really is."

William Poole is John Galsworthy fellow and tutor in English, New College, Oxford. He is reading Jean-Louis Quantin's The Church of England and Christian Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2009). "A work of great style and even greater scholarship, in which Quantin demolishes the Anglo-Catholic myth of a 'distinctive' Anglican identity based upon monolithic respect for early patristic teaching and apparently consolidated in the 17th century. Anglican apologists should read and take note."

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