What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

July 14, 2011

Tim Birkhead, professor of behaviour and evolution, University of Sheffield, is reading Simon Winchester's The Man Who Loved China (Harper, 2008). "This compelling story of Joseph Needham (1900-95) is how popular science should be written, read and taught. Needham started out as a developmental biologist, became interested in China's role in science and launched a project that took over his life. I was aware of Needham's A History of Embryology, but I didn't know about his monumental contribution to the history of Chinese science, most of it unknown to the Western world. My book of the decade - fabulous!"

Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, is reading W.J. Mander's British Idealism: A History (Oxford University Press, 2011). "This is the most comprehensive and illuminating account of British idealism available. British idealists were philosophical revolutionaries offering new visions of ethics, metaphysics and religion. A remarkable work of world-class scholarship that should focus greater attention on this neglected tradition."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is reading Sembène Ousmane's Xala (Lawrence Hill, 1976). "Never has the pomp of neocolonialism been so mercilessly pricked as in this slim volume. Best known for Black Docker (1956) and God's Bits of Wood (1960), Ousmane excels himself in this portrait of a Senegalese businessman, El Hadji, who comes down with a bad case of 'xala', or impotence, on his wedding night. As a 'wounded male' struggling to recover his mojo, he discovers larger forces at work, and the price to be paid for abuse of power."

Nigel Rodenhurst is a doctoral candidate and tutor in 20th-century British and American literature at Aberystwyth University. He is re-reading Linda Hutcheon's The Politics of Postmodernism (Routledge, 1989). "This takes me back to my undergraduate days and being bombarded with tedious and effete theory. This book was and is the best of a bad lot for me, tying a plethora of novels together through the concept of 'historiographic metafiction' with entertaining and well-argued chapters."

A.W. Purdue, visiting professor of modern history, University of Northumbria, is reading Peter Caddick-Adams' Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives (Preface, 2011). "The British have two favourite World War II generals. Unsurprisingly, one of them, Montgomery, is British, but the other is his opponent Rommel, who is widely perceived as a wily and gallant enemy. Caddick-Adams finds many parallels in their careers, but the duel in the sands of North Africa epitomised the different approaches to warfare of Montgomery, a cautious planner and organiser of his resources, and Rommel, the 'Desert Fox', an aggressive and dashing taker of risks."

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