What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 27, 2011

Edward Chaney, professor of fine and decorative arts, Southampton Solent University, is reading Philip Temple's Survey of London: The Charterhouse (Yale University Press, 2010). "A superbly illustrated monograph on the Charterhouse, the London headquarters of the Carthusians from the 1370s. Henry VIII suppressed the order in the 1530s, having hanged, drawn and quartered the prior along with several of his monks for refusing the Oath of Supremacy. The subsequent history of the building as aristocratic palace, almshouse and school could hardly be bettered."

Helen Fulton, professor of medieval literature, University of York, is reading Mark Williams' Fiery Shapes: Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales, 700-1700 (Oxford University Press, 2010). "I'm interested in medieval prophecy, so this is a gift; a very readable book on an arcane topic. Williams offers a brilliant survey of early Irish and Welsh prophetic writing, as well as debunking modern myths about the 'Celts' as mystical druids and visionaries."

A.W. Purdue, visiting professor in history, Northumbria University, is reading Peter Dorey's British Conservatism: The Politics and Philosophy of Inequality (I.B. Tauris, 2010). "No political party argues for absolute equality, and political debate is, therefore, about its degree and whether, or how, it should be limited. The Conservative Party has been forthright in its defence of inequality, but has been divided between neoliberals who see no justification for limits to economic inequality and those who believe that unfettered rapid changes in relative wealth make societies unstable. Dorey discusses the party's theoretical and pragmatic approaches to an issue that is rarely openly debated."

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, recently finished re-reading John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman (Jonathan Cape, 1969). "The novel, about the grinding tyranny of Victorian mores, sexual hypocrisies and class division, is glumly Hardyesque. But its realism is playfully undercut by an insistently intrusive narrator, startling moments of anachrony, explicit intertextual conversations with the Victorian prophets Arnold, Marx and Darwin, and the deployment of three alternative endings - a trailblazer of postmodern self-consciousness."

Grace Lees-Maffei is reader in design history, School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire. "I am currently reading Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects (Allen Lane, 2010); this loosely chronological, thematic series of artefacts produced over the past 2 million years sets the much more recent concerns of design historians, such as myself, into an impressively broad context, both temporally and geographically."

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