What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 25, 2012

Daniel Binney, postgraduate administrator, department of history, Classics and archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Michael Palmer's The Atheist's Primer (Lutterworth Press, 2012). "This primer is an elegant subject guide for entry-level infidels. Perhaps it has been pitched to an age group who should already have divested themselves of imaginary friends, but it still constitutes a utile grounding in, and overview of, the thinking, constructive and destructive, of freethinkers throughout Western history."

Nathan Emmerich, honorary research fellow in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, is reading Hélène Mialet's Hawking Incorporated (University of Chicago Press, 2012). "In her fascinating anthropological study of a tribe of one, Mialet struggles to locate the real Stephen Hawking even as she adds to the mythology that shrouds her subject. Yet the coup de grâce is missing. Surely the final word should have been a coda by the most recently retired Lucasian professor of mathematics and the human and non-human networks from which he can no longer be fully distinguished?"

Mary Evans, Centennial professor at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics, is reading J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown, 2012). "This does a very good job of reviving the idea of socialist realism. It's not the rant that its critics suggest but a very recognisable (and readable) account of many of the characters of contemporary England, both within and outside the current government."

Sandra Leaton Gray, lecturer in education, University of East Anglia, is reading Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Harper Perennial, 2009). "This is such a literary treat that I only allow myself to read small amounts at a time, to make it last longer. My first degree was in music, and I was a bit of a musicologist at the time, so to read something written so beautifully and accessibly about one of my favourite subjects is a revelation. So far I am revisiting Schoenberg, and even though I studied him for finals, this book is bringing me a new perspective on his work, especially the tonal/atonal conflicts in his composition."

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading David Heathcote's A Shell Eye on England: The Shell County Guides 1934-1984 (Libri, 2011). "An evocative overview of a unique series of county guides published between 1934 and 1984, sponsored by the petroleum company of that name and initially edited by the quixotic John Betjeman. Over time, not surprisingly, there were significant changes of formula, purpose and tone, and different authors rode different hobby horses. But at their best, these volumes were works of art in their own right - poetic conjunctions of text, photographic image and design."

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