What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

December 22, 2011

Vernon Bogdanor, research professor at the Institute of Contemporary History, King's College London, has been reading David Marquand's The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe (Princeton University Press, 2011). "A committed pro-European's brilliant, timely analysis of what is wrong with the European Union. Marquand is disturbed that there is a legitimacy deficit in the EU that, if not corrected, will prevent it meeting the challenge of the eurozone crisis and the broader challenge of the rise of the East. Europe has suffered because its leaders, from Jean Monnet onwards, have been technocrats frightened by democratic politics. In consequence, European unity has been an elite project. Marquand, perhaps over-optimistically, points the way forward to a democratic and federalist future."

Martin Cohen, editor of The Philosopher, is reading Elliott Sober's Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards? Philosophical Essays on Darwin's Theory (Prometheus, 2011). "Do you have to be a born-again Christian to have doubts about the theory of natural selection? Or could it perhaps be a 'zombie theory' that refuses to lie down? It certainly seems it ought to be a fine topic for debate. Only it isn't. Anyway, I picked this up the other day to see if Elliott Sober could shed a little light in the dark corners. Some hope!"

Barbara Graziosi, professor of Classics and director, for the arts and humanities, of the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, is reading Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate (Collins Harvill, 1985). "I was inspired to read this after catching a snippet of it on BBC Radio 4. The original has hundreds and hundreds of characters, each drawn in unforgettable detail. Grossman's novel reminds me of the Iliad above all: it centres on the siege of Stalingrad rather than the fall of Troy, but the terror and tragedy are similar, as is the clear-sighted, detailed commitment to humanity."

Stephen Halliday, lecturer at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Norman Davies' Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Allen Lane, 2011). "Who would have guessed that the city of Toulouse takes its name from the 'Kingdom of Tolosa', ruled as a client state of the declining Roman Empire by Visigoth successors of Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410? And who has heard of Litva, or Alt Clud, or knows the tragic story of the last Duke of Coburg, grandson of Queen Victoria? Every chapter contains surprises. Read, enjoy and marvel at these strange insights into Europe's forgotten states."

June Purvis, professor of women's and gender history, University of Portsmouth, is reading Constance Maud's No Surrender (Persephone Books, 2011). "This novel, first published in November 1911 at the height of the women's suffrage movement in Britain, is a passionate call for women to join in the struggle. Vividly drawing a picture of key events, one contemporary reviewer, Emily Wilding Davison, claimed that No Surrender 'breathes the very spirit of our Women's Movement'. Indeed it does. Inspiring, consciousness-raising stuff."

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