What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 5, 2012

John Benson, emeritus professor of history, University of Wolverhampton, has been rereading Brian Lewis' Coal Mining in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Longman, 1971). "This slim volume was published 40 years ago as part of a series intended to encourage a 'method of teaching ... being used increasingly in VI forms and at universities'. Despite its age and seeming modesty of ambition, it remains a valuable introduction to the rise and fall of Britain's coal industry. Indeed, Lewis pointed out to a new generation of coal-mining historians that 'George Stephenson once said that the Chancellor of England should give up his woolsack and sit instead on a sack of coals.'"

James Stevens Curl, a member of The Royal Irish Academy, is reading Terry Friedman's The Eighteenth-Century Church in Britain (Yale University Press, 2011). "This massive book, packed with pictures and an almost incredible amount of information, deals not only with churches but with synagogues and Dissenters' meeting-houses, and also covers repairs, additions and alterations. It is testimony to immense industry and scholarship. Although the index is rudimentary and some modern photographs are distorted, this book is a noble achievement."

Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism, City University London, and research professor in media and politics, University of Bedfordshire, is reading Andrew Hosken's Ken: The Ups and Downs of Ken Livingstone (Arcadia, 2008). "There aren't many politicians whose biography could be published with only their first name for a title - Livingstone is one, although sadly for him, 'Boris' is another. I am reading this excellent account in preparation for reading Livingstone's autobiography. For students of the byways of obscure left-wing groups of the past 30 years, it is a gold mine."

John Gilbey, who lectures in IT service management at Aberystwyth University, is reading Simon Quellen Field's Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking (Chicago Review Press, 2011). "An enjoyable trip around the raw materials, processes and results of the noble art of cookery. Field treats complex chemical and physical concepts in an approachable way, giving amusing and practical ways of looking more deeply into many topics - such as the extraction of DNA from pumpkins - by following step-by-step illustrated instructions. My favourite is his description of making ice cream using a flask of liquid nitrogen - which is probably best left to the author."

Paul Sutton, head of media, culture and language at the University of Roehampton, is reading Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House (Bloomsbury, 2008). "I am an avid reader of crime fiction, with its strong narratives that allow for truncated reading last thing at night. This offers a fascinating insight into the genre's evolution, functioning as both 'research' text and murder mystery in its own right."

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