What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 15, 2011

Vernon Bogdanor, research professor, King's College London, has been reading Michael Bentley's The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield: History, Science and God (Cambridge University Press, 2011). "Butterfield was a great figure during his lifetime: Regius professor of history, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge and master of Peterhouse. He laid the intellectual foundations for the Peterhouse 'High Politics' school of historical writing, whose best-known figure was Maurice Cowling. Yet Butterfield is now remembered mainly for his 1931 polemic The Whig Interpretation of History, the staple of all too many scholarship essays. Bentley provides a sympathetic although not uncritical account of Butterfield's life, a gallant attempt to resurrect a historian most of whose books will never be opened again."

Roger Brown, co-director of the Centre of Higher Education Research Development, Liverpool Hope University, has been reading Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (Penguin, 2011). "While accepting that capitalism is the least bad economic system to have been created, Chang also shows how much of what we accept in the name of market capitalism is based on ideology rather than economics. Very timely, given not only the current market crisis but also the coalition government's market-based reforms of higher education."

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is reading The Essential William James (Prometheus 2011), edited by John R. Shook. "Americans don't have many great philosophers to speak of, unless you count very dull people like Daniel Dennett or George Santayana, which would seem to risk devaluing the currency, but James...well, he does seem to refresh the parts other philosophers cannot reach. When you drink lemonade, you taste neither lemons nor sugar, but something different - the soul as a combining medium, as it says here."

Mary Evans, centennial professor at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, has been reading Helma Lutz's The New Maids: Transnational Women and the Care Economy (Zed Books, 2011). "Lutz's new book gives the lie to the idea that domestic servants have disappeared from the West. No longer a part of the cosy - if fictitious - world of Downton Abbey, the new maids sustain modern Western households, often with no formal contracts and low pay. This is not a progress narrative."

John Shand, associate lecturer in philosophy at The Open University, is reading Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape, 2011). "A marvellously written book about the way in which a life may not be what it seems and may only be seen as what it is when it nears its end. The written style is effortless, but is also a case of art disguising art. Along the way, there is sharp wit as well as tragedy. It's so good that I eked out the book."

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