What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 19, 2012

James Delbourgo, associate professor of history at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is rereading Jack Goody's The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge University Press, 1977). "Why the recent revival of interest in lists, from Umberto Eco's Louvre extravaganza to the Smithsonian's exhibition of artists' lists? This classic primer describes three types: inventories, to-do lists and encyclopedias, stresses their administrative origins in Mesopotamia and argues that, for all their seeming naturalness, lists' decontextualising and order-making function is a highly specific and learned form of cognition."

Matthew Feldman, senior lecturer in 20th-century history, University of Northampton, is reading Igor Golomstock's Totalitarian Art in the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy, and the People's Republic of China (Overlook, 2011). "A great book, if a missed opportunity. The principal expansion in this second edition of a 1990 book is a postscript on Iraq (not North Korea). Still, the comparative approach between far Left (Stalinism, Maoism) and far Right (Fascism, Nazism) is welcome and important. Post-Cold War scholarship is not considered, but Golomstock's concept of 'total realism' is worth the price of admission."

Philip Kemp, who teaches film journalism at the University of Leicester, is reading Paul Rixon's TV Critics and Popular Culture: A History of British Television Criticism (I.B. Tauris, 2011). "This claims to be the first book to examine the evolution of television criticism in the UK, which is apparently true. Rixon traces the practice from its early days, when it was usually handed over to theatre or radio critics, to the rise of the 'name columnists' and the burgeoning of internet amateurism. A thoroughly researched study, although it reaches no very startling conclusions."

Jane O'Grady, lecturer in philosophy at the London School of Philosophy and City University London, is reading Alva Noë's Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). "Noë refreshingly undermines a lot of the assumptions that are now fashionable, showing that neuroscience is suffering from a sort of neo-Cartesianism - it is just that the internal 'thinking thing' is now the brain rather than the mind - and this not only fails to explain, but actually distorts, the nature of conscious experience."

R.C. Richardson, professor emeritus of history, University of Winchester, is reading R.H. Tawney's Land and Labour in China (G. Allen & Unwin, 1932). "Seventy years ago, Shanghai was effectively a Western colony, different from the rest of a country crippled by floods, famine, overpopulation, poor communications, ineffectual government, lawlessness, localism, indebtedness and economic backwardness. Prussian-style unification by the Kuomintang of the home provinces, agricultural cooperatives and reform of education seemed to the well-meaning Tawney, in this lucid and penetrating study, the best China could hope for, although the threat of Japanese expansion loomed large."

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