What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 17, 2011

Tim Birkhead, professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield, is reading Andrew Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Penguin, 2011). "Before reading this powerful biography, I considered Caravaggio's art clever but obtuse and repulsive. Graham-Dixon has changed all that, skilfully revealing the context and meaning behind this troubled artist's tenebristic and deeply intellectual paintings. In this book, unlike many artists' biographies, each of the paintings mentioned in the text is illustrated - which is a definite bonus."

Noel-Ann Bradshaw is principal lecturer in mathematics and operational research, University of Greenwich. "I am reading Clifford A. Pickover's The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension: 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics, which recently won the British Society for the History of Mathematics' Neumann Prize. It is a beautiful book containing full-page colour pictures and pithy text on pure and applied mathematics, statistics and computing topics from c.150 million years BC to the present day. There is something of interest for everyone in a book to treasure and be inspired by."

James Stevens Curl, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, is reading Dublin 1911 (Prism, 2011), edited by Catriona Crowe. "A century ago, 1911 saw the census and a royal visit to Ireland. This charming, plentifully illustrated book, published by the Royal Irish Academy in association with the National Archives, reveals the events of that year, exploring multifarious aspects of Dublin life through pictures, newspaper articles, census reports and ephemera, a vanished world of ghastly squalor and great beauty, before things changed for ever."

Geoff Pullum, professor of general linguistics, University of Edinburgh, is reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes (Allen Lane, 2011). "Pinker found himself astonished by the shape of the graph tracking murder rates internationally. They were changing so fast that it called for a logarithmic scale. But the graph is not going up, it's going down! We're facing an epidemic of peace, civility and senseless acts of kindness. Pinker seeks explanations - and finds them. The most exciting non-fiction I've seen since Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel."

Sharon Ruston is chair in 19th-century literature and culture, University of Salford. "I'm reading Moni Mohsin's Tender Hooks (Chatto & Windus, 2011) after seeing the author at the Manchester Literature Festival. It's a brilliantly funny satire on current-day Lahore's upper classes. The heroine is a bored and rich socialite who gains a social conscience. Her dialect creates malapropisms that reveal hidden truths while they make you laugh."

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