What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 1, 2011

James Stevens Curl, visiting professor of architecture, University of Ulster, is reading William Adam's Vitruvius Scoticus: Plans, Elevations, and Sections of Public Buildings, Noblemen's and Gentlemen's Houses in Scotland (Dover Publications, 2011). "An unabridged facsimile of the splendid volume assembled by Adam (1689-1748) published in Edinburgh in 1812, with informative notes and an elegant introduction by the architect James Simpson. The architecture illustrated therein shows what Scotland could once achieve, and compares favourably with the empty fatuities of the Holyrood Parliament building. A delicious volume to savour and enjoy."

Matthew Feldman, senior lecturer in 20th-century history, University of Northampton, is reading British Social Realism in the Arts since 1940, edited by David Tucker (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). "A Mass(ive) Observation examining the 'desolate truth-telling' of capitalism's casualties by the UK's often-overlooked lefty tradition. Not to be confused with the USSR's prosaic fellow-traveller of the same name, social realism's subtle contours enjoy wide remit here. From Coronation Street to Chris Killip and Philip Larkin to Ken Loach, this expansive collection breathes new life into the resilient cultures of democratic socialism in Britain during decades of rapid socio-political change; or, for Alan Sillitoe, 'an amok that produced all sorts of agreeable visions'."

Dennis Hayes, professor of education, University of Derby, is reading Terence Kealey's Sex, Science and Profits: How People Evolved to Make Money (William Heinemann, 2008). "The title tells you all you need to know about this eccentric romp, except there is little sex in it. Kealey does not deal with Marx's criticism of profit-seeking, namely that it ultimately holds back the productive processes, but the book is fun. It is full of little gems: he writes that to 'handle the church', medieval scientists used the euphemism 're-search' to pretend that they were 'only uncovering the old learning'."

Grace Lees-Maffei, reader in design history, University of Hertfordshire, is bemused by Robert Grudin's Design and Truth (Yale University Press, 2010). "This 'extended essay' connects ostensibly disparate reminiscences, and accounts of 'literary design' (Jefferson's writings) and 'poor design' (the Ford Edsel, the Twin Towers) to suggest that good design, subjectively determined, frames 'appropriate responses to the truths that nature tells us'."

Keith Sutherland, PhD student in political theory, University of Exeter, is reading Peter Stone's The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making (Oxford University Press, 2011). "A Guardian appeal for a jury of '1,000 angry citizens' brought this to the top of my pile. Ancient democracy ('rule and be ruled in turn') relied on random selection, yet the only ongoing example is the trial jury. Stone commends its 'sanitizing' effect in citizen juries, allocating school spaces and distributive justice in general."

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