What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

August 12, 2010

Richard Bosworth, professor of history at the universities of Reading and of Western Australia, is reading Joe Maiolo's Cry Havoc: The Arms Race and the Second World War 1931-41 (John Murray, 2010). "As I am an old (critical) fan of A.J.P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War, it is great to read a replacement volume, written by Maiolo in the same trenchant manner, with the same refusal to endorse cliched interpretations and with more determination to ensure accuracy than its predecessor. Whenever the British are in one of their recurrent modes of self-congratulation about their unsullied virtue in the Second World War, a scanning of Maiolo may valuably suggest doubt and humility."

Roger Brown is professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University. "I've been reading Mark Halperin's Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House (Penguin, 2010). It is an account of the various campaigns that led to Barack Obama's election, with most space devoted to the Obama-Clinton fight. It demonstrates an old saw about American politics: just as you think that the craziest thing you could imagine has happened, along comes something even crazier. Required reading on the world's one superpower."

David Cromwell is researcher at the National Oceanography Centre and co-editor of Media Lens. He is reading Mark Curtis' Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent's Tail, 2010): "Drawing on declassified government files, Curtis reveals the covert history of British collusion with radical Islamic forces in the state's bid to control oil resources and overthrow governments in the Middle East. Sheds new light on the hidden, long-term foreign policy objectives that masquerade as the promotion of peace, stability and democracy."

Robert Kulpa, doctoral candidate in psychosocial studies at Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Witold Gombrowicz's Trans-Atlantyk (1953; Yale University Press, 1994). "Gombrowicz, one of the best-known Polish emigre writers, here offers probably his most bold and uncompromising attack on the provincialism of the nationalist mind, as he unpicks the pitiful complexes of Polish-hood. He adopts a pastiche of baroque language to deal with both national and homosexual desire masked by homophobic amor patria, the stormy years of the Second World War, and his own struggles with 'identity'. Exquisite."

Jon Nixon is honorary professor in the department of education, University of Sheffield. He is reading Francis Beckett's What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do for Us? (Biteback, 2010). "Blending personal memoir, social and cultural history and political analysis, Beckett traces the formation of the generation born between 1945 and 1955. He shows how, and to some extent why, on taking up power this generation threw away the hard-won social goods of which they themselves had been the chief beneficiaries. 'Radicalism', he reminds us, 'is not a fashion accessory'."

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