What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 21, 2012

Daniel Binney, postgraduate administrator in the department of history, Classics and archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Simon Price and Peter Thonemann's The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine (Allen Lane, 2010). "Charting early European settlements and civilisations into their (often surviving) graves or into classical splendour, this absorbing and detailed journey covers the physical and conceptual emergence of classical Europe from the power of Near Eastern neighbours, through its literally storied lifetime, until its torpid moribund enervation under Christianity."

Petra de Vries, gender historian at the University of Amsterdam, is reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (St Martin's Press, 2011). "A seemingly ordinary family is undermined by past and present emotional forces. Superb dialogue allows us to get to know Walter and Patty intimately, along with their struggle with their adolescent kids and their cool, charming friend from college, Richard (a time bomb in the relationship?). But why is this fascinating novel called Freedom if it is all about how people limit each other?"

Mary Evans, visiting fellow at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, is reading Christopher Fowler's Paperboy (Doubleday, 2009). "Before anyone gets too nostalgic about the glory days of the Coronation, New Elizabethans and all that, they should read Fowler's autobiographical account of the 1950s. Politicians keen on turning the clock back should spare a thought for what the world was like then for a lot of women and children."

Robert Mayhew, professor of historical geography, University of Bristol, is reading Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Harper Perennial, 2009). "A remarkable introduction to the recondite world of 20th-century 'classical' music. Ross writes beautifully, leavening each chapter with human interest as he traces classical music from Strauss to Cage, alert to historical context and its interweaving with the diverse sound worlds of the past century. Ross leaves even a diehard 18th century-ist like me gasping to hear Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Quite an achievement!"

Barry Hymer, professor of psychology in education, University of Cumbria, is reading John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Routledge, 2012). "Intended as a more readable, classroom-focused adjunct to Hattie's 2009 book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement, I doubt this book will be seen much on the Tube or the beach this summer. A pity, as it's a rich store of valuable and evidence-based insights, combining trenchant pronouncements with bon mots. But 'teaching's Holy Grail'? Hell, no - as John Dewey taught us, evidence doesn't provide us with rules for action, just hypotheses for intelligent problem-solving."

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