What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 5, 2011

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, has been reading Edmund Critchley's Dinosaur Doctor: The Life and Work of Gideon Mantell (Amberley, 2010). "This is a scholarly look at the palaeontologist who discovered the Iguanodon. By 'scholarly' I mean that it is full of every fact the author can think to include, from the kind of leather that Mantell's dad manufactured to how early geologists calculated the weight of the Megalosaurus. Put another way, it's pretty boring. Fortunately, it's also about Lewes, my home town. I know the villages where Mantell found fossils - and the Piltdown Man pub, named after the hoax fossil that was a backwards tribute to Mantell."

David Gewanter, professor of English at Georgetown University, is reading Clive James' Cultural Amnesia (Picador, 2008). "At another royal wedding, James depicted Barbara Cartland's eyes as 'the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff'. No American writer is so mean, musical or memorable; a thermometer set at boil. Here, he arranges his victory pelts alphabetically. Kafka to Keats; Einstein to Ellington. Or Hazlitt, Hegel, Heine, Hitler - which, combined, might form a new James: slashing journalist, synthesiser, warbling poet, leather boot."

Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, lecturer in politics and international relations, Aston University, is reading Ed Vulliamy's Amexica: War along the Borderline (Bodley Head, 2010). "Vulliamy investigates the drug trade, violence and disappearances along the Mexico-US border. He traces the escalation of drug-related violence into a major security problem, while illustrating its effects on borderland communities. Readers of Roberto Bolano's novel 2666 will see parallels with real-life Amexica."

Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing, Birmingham Business School, is reading Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing (Little, Brown, 2010). "The study of consumer behaviour is all about choices: good, bad and unexpected. Iyengar, a psychologist, marries personal experiences with experiments in the arena of choice. Much will be known to those on top of trends in behavioural economics, but Iyengar, who is blind, offers an engagingly personal touch. Her account of choosing between 'Ballet Slippers' and 'Adore-a-Ball' (colours of nail polish) highlights problems faced by the visually impaired while questioning whether we can always trust our senses."

Jon Turney, senior visiting Fellow in the department of science and technology studies, University College London, is reading Theodor Rosebury's Life on Man (Viking, 1969). "An early look at what we now call the human microbiome. Rosebury was a critic of our modern obsession with hygiene, arguing that the microbes we carry are mostly best left alone. The science comes with long excursions into the anthropology of excrement, and the history of obscenity, in a liberating 1960s fashion."

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