A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers
Hester Vaizey is postdoctoral researcher with a Hanseatic scholarship courtesy of the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung in Hamburg. She is reading Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin (Penguin, 2010). "Described by Primo Levi as 'the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis', it tells the story of a couple living in Berlin during the Second World War. After their son is killed, they are moved to oppose the Nazi regime, leaving postcards with anti-Nazi sentiments in the hallways of flats across the city in the hope of inspiring others to resist. In setting out the high stakes of such action, it gives readers a flavour of what it might have been like to live under Hitler's dictatorship."
Jon Nixon, honorary professor in the School of Education, University of Sheffield, is reading Alberto Manguel's A Reader on Reading (Yale University Press, 2010). "Manguel is the quintessential cosmopolitan: a Canadian citizen, born in Buenos Aires, now settled in France. As a teenager he read to the blind Jorge Luis Borges. These essays and reflections range over a vast span of European and Third World literature and bring us back to his central preoccupation: the moral and political necessity of reading."
R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Price Collier's England and the English from an American Point of View (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909). "At a time when the 'special relationship' between Britain and the US is under strain, it is instructive to look back on a 100-year-old external view that is both affectionate and penetratingly observant. Although proudly American, Collier praised the masculine, liberty-loving, law-abiding, imperial English, Edward VII, the House of Lords, London and the charms of the English countryside. Conversely, he deplored the UK's poverty and its neglect of education and public libraries."
Will Slocombe, lecturer in 20th-century literature, Aberystwyth University, is reading Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man (Collins, 1959), translated by Bernard Wall, and George Case's Silence Descends: The End of the Information Age 2000-2500 (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997). "Teilhard de Chardin offers a thought-provoking blend of evolutionary theory and religious belief. The book retains relevance even today, when we see the ways in which Case updates its ideas to offer an apocalyptic 'history of the future' when our current communications systems fail us."
Sharon Ruston is chair in 19th-century literature and culture, University of Salford. "I have been reading Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (Penguin, 2009), the anecdotes of an intrepid explorer into mind-altered states of consciousness. Opium, he writes, is the real 'hero' of the tale, while leaving it to the reader to decide whether De Quincey himself is a hero or 'the criminal at the bar'."