What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 29, 2010

Edward Chaney, professor of fine and decorative arts, Southampton Solent University, is reading Kerry Downes' translation of Borromini's Book: The 'Full Relation of the Building' of the Roman Oratory (Oblong, 2009). "The Oratorian priest Virgilio Spada compiled this treatise from the notes of the brilliant architect Borromini. Since the 1950s, Downes has published major monographs on Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh, Wren and Rubens, but instead of easing off as he approaches his 80th birthday, he has produced a 536-page monograph to rival any of them. This fascinating volume sheds new light on this quintessentially Baroque phenomenon and much else besides."

Laurence Coupe, senior lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University, is reading Steven Heine's Bargainin' for Salvation: Bob Dylan, A Zen Master? (Continuum, 2009). "Heine's central idea is that for most of his career, Dylan has oscillated between two radically different world views: one based on duality, the other on non-duality. The latter is reminiscent of Zen - hence the subtitle - but Heine doesn't want to leave things there. He demonstrates that in his more recent work, Dylan has found a 'middle way' that brings him closer to Zen than ever. This book could have been reductive, but I'm pleased to report that it is genuinely enlightening."

Jeremy Jennings is professor of political theory, Queen Mary, University of London. "I'm reading Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty (Routledge, 2009). For anyone who believes that ideas influence politics, this is one of the most important books of the past half-century. It provides both a lucid defence of the values of freedom as well as a comprehensive critique of how they have been undermined by the rise of the welfare state. Whether or not you agree with the argument, it is an immensely impressive and challenging book."

John Harris is associate professor in sport administration, Kent State University, and co-editor of Sport and Social Identities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). He is reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success (Penguin, 2009). "This text offers insights into why people are successful and moves beyond the idea that it is a simple function of individual merit. Gladwell highlights the significance of time and place by focusing on the role of 'extraordinary opportunities' and offers some interesting food for thought."

Eric Morier-Genoud, lecturer in African and imperial history, Queen's University Belfast, is reading Patrick Harries' Butterflies and Barbarians: Swiss Missionaries and Systems of Knowledge in South-East Africa (James Currey, 2007). "A massively original and detailed opus that renews our understanding of missionaries and their contribution to science in Africa and in Europe itself. Original and beautifully produced."

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