What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 19, 2011

Steve Fuller, professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, has been reading Philip Ball's Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People (The Bodley Head, 2011). "Ball's modest aim is to show that 'unnatural' need not mean 'anti-natural' but simply another course for nature to take, albeit one with greater human intervention. Had he focused more on robotics than on in vitro fertilisation, he might have been forced to be a bit more confrontational and interesting. Nevertheless, this is the best prehistory of 'transhumanism' that is currently available."

Stephen Halliday, lecturer at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Samuel Pepys' The Joys of Excess (Penguin, 2011). "This recent addition to Penguin's intriguing series of reprints of writings on food reminds us that the great diarist was also a man of great appetites, whether tasting Rhenish wines in the former Hanseatic warehouse (now the site of Cannon Street station) or travelling to Gravesend in search of really fresh fish. A charming memoir."

Robin Feuer Miller, Edytha Macy Gross professor of humanities and professor of Russian and comparative literature, Brandeis University, is reading Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya's My Life (University of Ottawa Press, 2010), edited by Andrew Donskov. "Neither Dostoevsky nor Tolstoy would be such giants without their wives. Sonya Tolstoy's voice leaps from these 1,018 pages: motherhood, the intimacies and furies of a long marriage, the agony of public life, the cooling of her husband's affections. Her closing words, "the absence of any biased forethought (means that) everything here is true and sincere", remind us of the living force of a diary unfolding over a lifetime, as opposed to an autobiography."

David Orford, associate dean, Newport Business School, is reading Stephen Green's Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World (Penguin, 2009). "For a man previously at the heart of the banking sector, and now a close confidant of David Cameron, the author provides no information on what really happens behind closed doors. What he does do is to provide an interesting moral view on the world economy, often set in a religious context, but without taking the moral high ground. It is well written, and provides an interesting insight into relationships between countries, economies and policy framers."

Nigel Rodenhurst, a doctoral candidate and tutor in 20th-century British and American literature, Aberystwyth University, is reading Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Penguin, 1994). "She uncovers the anti-Semitism that allows Holocaust denial to thrive in America and the appalling ignorance among the general population that leads to television talk shows discussing whether the Holocaust is 'myth' or 'truth'. Lipstadt gives no credence to the deniers' claims, although this does not make them less disturbing."

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