What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

September 15, 2011

Edward Chaney, professor of fine and decorative arts, Southampton Solent University, is reading Nicholas Tromans' Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum (Tate Publishing, 2011). "Tromans deals both with the artist, whose fascinating oeuvre is here beautifully reproduced, and those institutions, Bethlem Hospital and Broadmoor, in which he was incarcerated after murdering his father (on the instructions of Osiris). The evidence Tromans presents discredits Michel Foucault's a-philanthropical Folie et Deraison, but he seems to prefer him to Freud or even James Frazer."

Tim Hall, lecturer in geography and social sciences, University of Gloucestershire, is reading Patrick Wright's A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London (Oxford University Press, 2009). "A book I first read nearly 20 years ago, it helped to shape interest in the tensions between heritage, nostalgia, development and the transformation of working-class urban life under Thatcher. It speaks of issues very much of its time, but this quirky, insightful and personal account is still relevant as the East End withstands the twin forces of social tension and Olympic development."

Willy Maley, professor of Renaissance studies, University of Glasgow, is reading Gordon Campbell and Thomas N. Corns' John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought (Oxford University Press, 2008). "According to Jean-François Lyotard, 'there's a great future for co-writers', a prophecy borne out here. Campbell and Corns bring England's great republican poet and polemicist vividly to life. Their claim that what Milton 'achieved in the face of crippling adversity, blindness, bereavement, political eclipse, remains wondrous' is one to which their monumental joint effort testifies."

Roger Morgan, former professor of political science, European University Institute, Florence, is reading Max Egremont's Forgotten Land: Journey Among the Ghosts of East Prussia (Picador, 2011). "A stimulating evocation of the German city of Königsberg (now Russian Kaliningrad), exploring the implications of the fact that, just as inter-war East Prussia was separated from the German Reich by the Polish Corridor, so today Kaliningrad is cut off from the Russian Federation by lands belonging to Poland and Lithuania. It is thin on the earlier conquest of the area by the Teutonic Knights, but gives dramatic depictions of more recent experiences, particularly those of Prussian aristocrats and others who fled westward in 1945."

Hillegonda Rietveld, reader in media and cultural studies, London South Bank University, is reading David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Sceptre, 2010). "Set at the interface between Edo Japan and 17th-century Dutch trade and science (Rangaku) in Nagasaki, it offers a story of cross-cultural intrigue and of moral perseverance in the face of corruption. First conceived in Japan, the novel has benefited from further historical research in the Netherlands. The result is an engaging mixture of voices and genres ranging from historical to detective fiction and romance to magic realism."

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