Tim Birkhead, professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield, is reading Michael Brook's Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science (Profile, 2011). "This readable, anarchistic account reveals how science really works and explains why the bureaucratic bludgeoning of researchers with annual performance reviews, the research excellence framework and so on achieves exactly the opposite of what the assessors presume. This book is a wake-up call to those who impose such stultifying 'management' strategies on academics that simultaneously berates researchers for so limply accepting them. Excellent stuff!"
Sandra Leaton Gray, lecturer in education, University of East Anglia, is reading David Lammy's Out of the Ashes: Britain After the Riots (Random House, 2011). "Having witnessed some of the peripheral rioting in Liverpool as a frightened teenager in the 1980s, I was shocked but not entirely surprised at the developments last summer (having also predicted them). I am interested in Lammy's views on the polarisation of society and the alienation of large groups of young people in the inner cities. I am beginning to realise how little we have learned over the past three decades."
Jane O'Grady, lecturer in philosophy at City University London and the London School of Philosophy, is reading Iris Murdoch, Philosopher: A Collection of Essays (Oxford University Press, 2012), edited by Justin Broackes. "These essays are a reminder that Murdoch, inevitably categorised as a novelist, was also a fine philosopher. Broackes' introduction draws out the central themes in her writings on moral philosophy and existentialism; Martha Nussbaum finds a theory of love and egoism in The Black Prince; and essays by Bridget Clarke, Maria Antonaccio and others analyse her notion of 'moral perception' and mixture of anti-theory and Plato-tinged metaphysics."
Nicola Owen, deputy registrar at the University of Warwick, is reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated (Penguin, 2003). "Pretentious? Maybe, but the story is laugh-out-loud funny, full of slapstick and wordplay, and it wrenches at your conscience. I've been gripped by the contrasts: love and death; courage and cowardice; hope and despair; mythology and truth; generations and cultures. Once everything is finally illuminated, the novel will resonate long after reading."
R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Susan Jenkins' Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744) (Ashgate, 2007). "Here is an absorbing though somewhat repetitive moral tale of a man who grew immensely rich on the back of profiteering from army contracts in the early 18th century, who spent lavishly on buildings and estate development, speculated ill-advisedly on the stock market and achieved renown as a connoisseur of music, art and literature, but whose career went into eclipse and who died in debt in 1744."