What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 28, 2015
Books on bookshelf

Leah Astbury, PhD student in the department of history and philosophy of science, University of Cambridge, is reading Jennifer Evans’ Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England (Boydell & Brewer, 2014). “Evans asks how individuals understood procreation in the 17th and 18th centuries, long before IVF and other reproductive technologies. Demanding that historians integrate the literature on sex and pleasure with that on medical perceptions of fertility, she convincingly shows how aphrodisiacs were used by both men and women with the twofold intention of increasing both libido and the likelihood of conception.”

Stephen Halliday, panel tutor in history, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, is reading Richard Davenport-Hines’ The Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes (HarperCollins, 2015). “Economist, polemicist, art connoisseur, statesman, philanthropist: in the face of considerable odds, this book manages to cast fresh light on the many-sided achievements of an extraordinary man who was perhaps the most truly gifted of all the ‘Bloomsberries’. One strange omission: I couldn’t find any reference to the fact that his degree was actually in mathematics – and a Wrangler (or first class) at that. But there’s plenty to compensate.”

Jane O’Grady, visiting lecturer in the philosophy of psychology, City University London, is reading Jan Plamper’s The History of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015). “This book throws a lifeline to anyone trying to navigate the present high tide of multidisciplinary material on the emotions. It lucidly analyses perspectives on emotion in philosophy, neuroscience, anthropology and sociology since the 19th century, weighing the competing claims of social constructionism versus universalism, and managing to be both scholarly and enjoyable.”

Jane Robertson, formerly lecturer in English at the University of Hong Kong, is reading David Learmont’s The Foster Factory (Andrews, 2015). “This is an unusual, amusing, sometimes heart-rending memoir by Learmont, who, with his wife Marsha, decides to become a foster carer late in life. He offers a compendium of family breakdowns and other social problems, narrated in a style that ranges from Catch‑22 to Bertie Wooster. The pair are now enjoying ‘a second retirement’ in Andorra, and after reading this book, you feel they deserve it.”

Uwe Schütte, reader in German, Aston University, is reading Esther Kinsky’s Am Fluß (Matthes & Seitz, 2014). “Rejecting the conventions of a novel, this most remarkable book charts Kinsky’s elegiac rambles along the river Lea in London’s East End. Her haunting, meditative prose reflects the urban decay of a post-industrial landscape and empathises with people’s life on the social margins. Unrelentingly precise, while also truly poetic, this is without a doubt the best book on London in recent German literature.”

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