What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 31, 2011

June Purvis, professor of women's and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Jessica Ellen Sewell's Women and the Everyday City: Public Space in San Francisco, 1890-1915 (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). "Sewell, exploring the complex relationship between gender ideology and the built environment, discusses the lives of women in early 20th-century San Francisco. The book shows how women made increasing use of a range of public spaces - such as streetcars, shops, restaurants and theatres - as workers, consumers and activists for the vote. A lively contribution to our understanding of gender relations and urban power."

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, has been reading Robin DeRosa's The Making of Salem (McFarland, 2009). "The opening chapter covers the witch trials of 1692, but the bulk of the book examines later representations and fertile inventions by historians, novelists, playwrights, film-makers and the modern tourist industry. Juxtaposed here, for example, are the outrageously tacky Karloff Witch Mansion and the prim, detached aloofness of the Peabody Essex Museum. Nearby Danvers (the original Salem Village) may well be content today to be largely omitted from the witch-hunters' map."

Flora Samuel is professor and head of the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield. She is reading Mark Boyle's The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living (Oneworld, 2010). "This account of a moneyless year that Boyle spent in a field near Bristol, living off the land and foraging for food in forests and supermarket bins, really makes you question your priorities. A must-read for academics fearing redundancy."

Harold Shukman is emeritus Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford. He is reading Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's Lenin's Jewish Question (Yale University Press, 2010). "Petrovsky-Shtern revisits the question of whether Lenin was of Jewish origin and decides that a) the question is irrelevant, and b) that while Lenin's maternal antecedents - by name Blank - were Jews, Lenin's interest in Jews was purely instrumental. Lenin saw no role for Jews in a future socialist Russia, where the lingua franca would be Russian and all workers would be organised in his party."

Charles Townshend, professor of international history, Keele University, is reading Matthew Carr's The Infernal Machine: An Alternative History of Terrorism (Hurst, 2010). "Academic criticism of the quasi-field of 'terrorism studies' has been muted. By contrast, journalist Matthew Carr delivers a fierce assault on 'terrorology' - the exaggeration of the terrorist threat by governments and supposed experts, long predating 9/11. His view of 'a world tormented by the fantasy of absolute terror and fixated by a futile search for absolute security' may be a bit one-sided, but it makes a vital point."

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