What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 28, 2010

John Benson is emeritus professor of history, University of Wolverhampton. "No sooner had I retired than somebody left on my desk a copy of Paul Cann and Malcolm Dean's edited collection, Unequal Ageing: The Untold Story of Exclusion in Old Age (Policy Press, 2009). Although the underprivileged elderly have not been overlooked as much as the book's subtitle suggests, this pacy and accessible volume confirms, not surprisingly, that, 'the greater the disadvantages accumulated throughout life the worse the quality of life later in early old age'. Obvious it may be, but easily forgotten."

Alan Gilmore, resident superintendent of the University of Canterbury's Mt John Observatory, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, is reading Bill Bryson's At Home (Doubleday, 2010). "Bryson's ability to sort vast amounts of information into light and cheery prose was marvellously displayed in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything. Here, he uses his house, a 19th-century Norfolk rectory, to cue the factoids. The book is a delightful story of how folk lived in past times; their society, architecture, materials, science and much else."

Sarah Ison, assistant information adviser at the Aldrich Library, University of Brighton, is reading John Rae's The Old Boys' Network: A Headmaster's Diaries 1970-1986 (Short Books, 2009). "This is an interesting glimpse of life inside Westminster School from the headmaster's perspective, and quite unputdownable over the three days or so in which I read it. Having always had a bit of a fascination with boarding and private schools in fiction since I was a teenager, I found it interesting to read this account of the challenges Rae faced."

Marnia Lazreg, professor of sociology, Graduate Center and Hunter College, City University of New York, is reading Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin, 2003). "It reveals the inexorable logic of state terrorism born out of revolutionary passion, and sheds light on the sanctification of contemporary acts of terror. Besides this gruesome tale, I have enjoyed the fantastic, if unsettling, mix of fictitious and real characters and events in Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones (Everyman's Library, 1993), especially The Garden of Forking Paths; Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; and The Library of Babel."

Michael Meacher, MP for Oldham West and Royton and author of Destination of the Species: The Riddle of Human Existence, recently read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (Bantam Press, 2006). "A brilliant and convincing expositor of science, a perverse and silly commentator on religion. 'The existence of God is undeniably a scientific question'; it clearly isn't. 'Science has superseded religion'; it can't - they're different paradigms of human experience. 'Biological determinism explains everything' - clearly not morality, culture, aesthetics, spirituality. 'Positing zillions of fantasy universes is less improbable than God' - what?"

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