What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 8, 2011

Tim Birkhead, professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield, is reading Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury, 2010). "A 'sordid history', as one reviewer described it. This extraordinary account reveals how industries - such as the tobacco industry - employ a small number of corrupt, high-ranking scientists - often American ultra-right-wing physicists - to generate doubt about the genuine scientific results that show that tobacco smoke, pesticides, acid rain and greenhouse gases are bad for us. An unsettling wake-up call."

Noel Castree, professor of geography, University of Manchester, is reading Timothy Morton's The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010). "By suggesting imaginative ways to resolve other crises, could humanities scholars stave off the crisis engulfing their own subjects? Morton proposes a future in which the venerable ideas of 'nature' and 'environment' are so much detritus, useless for addressing a looming ecological catastrophe. His book exemplifies the 'serious' humanities scholarship he makes a plea for. My head's still spinning."

Stephen Halliday, lecturer at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of London (Cambridge University Press, 2011), edited by Lawrence Manley. "The authors take us effortlessly, in a broadly chronological sequence, from Chaucer's Southwark to Zadie Smith's Willesden in a fascinating journey through the works of many famous authors and some who are forgotten or unknown. The scholarship is of a high order and, with few exceptions (eg, the horrible word "imperialise"), it is written in a friendly style that should engage any reader with an interest in London's rich literary history."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is reading Martin Stannard's Muriel Spark: The Biography (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009). "The greatest Scottish writer since Scott and Stevenson, though too narrowly known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Spark found a biographer worthy of her wit and sophistication in Stannard. He guides us expertly through her labyrinthine works and world, seldom seeking to simplify an author whose poetic precision often obscured to the unsuspecting reader the rich complexity of her thought."

Paul White is professor of European urban geography and pro vice-chancellor, University of Sheffield. "I'm reading an impulse buy made in Italy. Enrico Franceschini's Londra Babilonia (Laterza, 2011) is a fascinating exposition of contemporary life in the UK capital by the distinguished London correspondent of the newspaper La Repubblica. He emphasises the multicultural life of the city, and picks up on the details and oddities that Londoners take for granted. It's a wonderful reminder of how the 'outsider' can ask penetrating questions about familiar situations."

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