What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 3, 2010

William Poole is John Galsworthy Fellow and tutor in English, New College, Oxford, He is reading G.J. Toomer's "landmark" John Selden: A Life in Scholarship (Oxford University Press, 2009). "The most learned of English scholars, Selden has been an object of awe and wonder for more than three and a half centuries, but has proved simply too learned, too inaccessible or too obscure for even experts to form any sense of his total achievement. Thanks to this remarkable and possibly unrepeatable commentary, now we can."

Ken Smith, senior lecturer in criminology, Bucks New University, is reading Kai T. Erikson's Wayward Puritans (Wiley, 1966). "A minor sociological classic, Erikson's book is widely supposed to test Emile Durkheim's thesis that all stable societies require crime to function properly. In fact it does not do this, but is still required reading for anyone studying the sociology of religion or Max Weber's thesis on the Protestant ethic."

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, has just finished Adam Foulds' The Quickening Maze (Jonathan Cape, 2009). "Foulds' fictional biography of John Clare is set in a world of rural dispossession. Poised between Hardy's pastoral melancholy and Larkin's exquisite knowingness, it is a novel about the claustrophobia of Victorian conventionality and the visionary freedoms of 'insanity'. Plaintive and delicate, Foulds' prose style teeters on the edge of lyricism."

Tim Unwin, Ashley Watkins professor of French, University of Bristol, has been reading Anthony Sattin's A Winter on the Nile: Florence Nightingale, Gustave Flaubert and the Temptations of Egypt (Hutchinson, 2010). "In the final months of 1849, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert both travel to Egypt. In the course of parallel but separate journeys, each wrestles with their demons at a crucial moment in their destiny. Subverting the model of 'famous meetings that never took place', Sattin offers a probing assessment of two very different figures whose preoccupations are unexpectedly similar."

Ulrike Zitzlsperger is senior lecturer in German studies, University of Exeter. She is reading Guy Walters' Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole the Olympic Dream (John Murray, 2006). "Walters traces the history of the 1936 games and their use as propaganda, but also the no-less-fascinating international implications. His book reminds the reader in a compelling way that Olympic Games are potentially always more than just a sporting event. In the light of his study, Philip Kerr's crime novel If the Dead Rise Not (Quercus, 2009), which deals with the lead-up to the event, is an entertaining variation on the same theme."

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