What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 17, 2012

Daniel Binney, postgraduate administrator in the department of history, Classics and archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Alexander Waugh's The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War (Bloomsbury, 2008). "A brilliantly researched book that covers the lives of a remarkable family riddled with genius and frailty, set against the almost-mirror background of a once powerful, then fragmented Austria-Hungary. Their loyalties to both family and country entrench them in conflict and tragedy, poignancy and pathos. Enthralling."

Rachel Dearlove, principal registrar, Bucks New University, is reading Xinran's China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation (Pantheon, 2008). "History is often told in the stories of its 'great men', far away from the everyday experience of its citizens. I've enjoyed the contrast provided by Xinran's collection of individual stories from the generation that lived through the country's most turbulent times. It shows the impact politics had on the smallest things of everyday life - from where you could live to who you could marry. Moving and illuminating."

Les Gofton, teaching fellow in sociology, Durham University, is reading S.J. Perelman's The Rising Gorge (Simon & Schuster, 1961). "He first whispered in my ear as a cold, wet 14-year-old haunting the aisles of South Shields Central Library, when books were more than landfill in waiting. Button cute, rapier keen, wafer-thin and pauper-poor, the inventor of John J. Antennae, the radio evangelist 'closely related to God on his mother's side', he was Mycroft to Groucho Marx's Sherlock. I consumed them all, then read them again. Not only should all his gems be in print, they should also be compulsory reading for the dolts presently attempting comic writing. Dorothy Parker said: 'As a humorist, he stands alone.' Amen, sister."

Omar Malik, associate fellow, Nottingham University Business School, is reading Tim Harford's Adapt: Why Success Always Begins With Failure (Abacus, 2011). "Deeply interesting take on system failures, many of which stem from self-satisfied, cretinous decision-taking. Compelling examples include US presidents and their advisers (terrifying), US senior military (horrifying), healthcare (bring back hanging), financial meltdown (bring back flogging) and strategic planning (eyewash). Good advice follows. Thesis (subtitle) wrong, but secures attention; therefore arguably right, but for wrong reason. Terrific book, great read."

Stephen Halliday, a tutor at the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Evelyn Waugh's The Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox (Penguin Classics, 2011). "A work of piety by one of the masters of English prose about a man who caused great distress to many of his family and friends, and great joy to his biographer, by converting to Rome. A joy to read, even for those who are unmoved by the finer points of theology."

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