Summer reads 2014

Scholars and senior sector figures on two books they plan to devour on holiday: a new must-read and a classic worthy of revisiting

July 17, 2014

Edward Acton

Vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, winner of Outstanding Leadership and Management Team, Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2014

Top of my new-book list is Jeremy Rifkin’s The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (Palgrave Macmillan). It looks like confirmation that the long retreat of grand narrative is ending, and sounds an optimistic companion to Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press), Thomas Piketty’s weighty overview of capitalism and inequality. It’s also time I reread What Is History?, E. H. Carr’s classic polemic of half a century ago. The historical myths he took apart were different from those weighing us down now, but I want to revisit his weapons.

Alasdair Allan

Minister for learning, science and Scotland’s languages, Scotland

With the referendum campaign well under way, a recently published book I have read and spent a great deal of time talking about is Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, the Scottish government’s 649-page guide. I would encourage anyone with an interest in this referendum and the future of Scotland to take a look. I am continuing to learn and speak Norwegian. At the moment, I’m reading Det vil helst gå godt, the autobiography of Max Manus, a wartime hero who was one of the leaders of the resistance movement against the Nazis’ occupation of Norway.

Bahram Bekhradnia

President, Higher Education Policy Institute

For pleasure, I shall read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a book I began some time ago and then mislaid, but I read enough to know that it is extraordinary and riveting. For work, although I expect to derive a lot of pleasure from it, I’ll choose Sir David Watson’s latest, The Question of Conscience: Higher Education and Personal Responsibility (Institute of Education Press). His contribution to higher education thought is unmatched, combining a gift for creative and novel ideas with the ability to communicate with clarity and insight. I am looking forward to reading a book I should have read already.

Les Ebdon

Director, Office for Fair Access

I shall be taking two very different books with me this summer. The first is Mary Beard’s Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Profile). I love her approach to history. She is a historical detective piecing together ordinary lives in Pompeii; this appeals to me, as I am an analytical chemist, the investigative branch of chemistry. The second is I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Orion) by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. This inspirational girl’s fight for an education reminds me that while we still have educational inequity in England, some young women have to risk their lives to access the treasure that is education.

Sally Hunt

General secretary, University and College Union

In the report Engaging Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training: The Case for a Youth Resolution (UCU), Robin Simmons, Ron Thompson, Gila Tabrizi and Angela Nartey argue that we need to return to the view that poverty and unemployment are social injustices that require a united response. Their solution requires joined-up thinking from the government, local authorities, employers and colleges to deliver quality work, proper terms and conditions and in-built training. It’s clever, it’s respectful and it uses current structures in a far better way. Simon Armitage’s The Last Days of Troy reminds me that Helen has no way of winning whoever wins: Odysseus is a smart-arse, Agamemnon a churlish bore, Paris a twit, Hector my hero and Achilles…well, I still think he was in a relationship with Patroclus, Briseis notwithstanding. Well worth reading. Out loud if you can.

Huw Lewis

Minister for education and skills, Wales

This summer I plan to take a look at Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21c: Preparing Young People for the Future with Lessons from the Past (Independent Thinking Press) in an attempt to take a step back from the day-to-day pressures of government and ponder a longer, more fundamental view of the educational landscape. Timely, I think, given the root-and-branch curriculum review we are undertaking in Wales. In addition, I may revisit To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – after all, we take a wider view of what constitutes good literature here than may be the case in England just now.

Toni Pearce

President, National Union of Students

Next on my list – once I’ve caught up with David Price’s Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future (Crux) and Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (Penguin) – is Rachel Holmes’ Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury). I’m looking forward to discovering more about an early feminist pioneer who perhaps for too long has been overshadowed by her father. I was recently, anonymously and inexplicably, sent a copy of Janet Street-Porter’s autobiographical Baggage: My Childhood, so perhaps I should read that, but I may instead revisit Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.

Mark Pegg

Outgoing chief executive, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education

My new reading choice is Engaging Leaders: The Challenge of Inspiring Collective Commitment in Universities (Routledge) by Paul Gentle with Dawn Forman. Gentle harnesses fresh thinking with practical guidance on leading a collaborative professional community through engagement, creating a new culture for a rapidly changing world. I liked the book so much I wrote the foreword. My old favourite to reread is Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones’ Why Should Anyone Be Led by YOU? What It Takes to Be an Authentic Leader, a standout book that still influences me as a leadership developer because it poses a great question for aspiring leaders, with valuable insights on authentic leadership to help them answer it.

Annmarie Adams

Director, School of Architecture, McGill University

I most want to read Barbara Penner’s Bathroom (Reaktion), a global and historical tour of toilets. Designed for discretion yet connected to an enormous public infrastructure, these tiny rooms reveal big ideas about gender, fashion, consumption, health, cleanliness, self-identity and, of course, plumbing. Penner’s views on the loo likely resonate with those of Gwendolyn Wright, whose Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1873-1913 was a game-changing work in architectural history that positioned women as stakeholders in domestic design and inspired us to see houses from the perspectives of a range of users beyond architects.

Summer reads feature (17 July 2014)

Ayesha Ahmad

Tutor in medical ethics, UCL Medical School, University College London

I’d gladly recommend The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press). Its author, Gary Haugen, founder of the organisation International Justice Mission, bluntly reminds us of the “terror of poverty”. He takes us on a journey through de facto lawlessness and the embodiment of violence in society – a world we wish would disappear. I Was Born There, I Was Born Here by Mourid Barghouti is full of deep expression of what it means to belong to a place. Between the words, the reader will find a land created by Barghouti – a land that never forgets where we are born.

Jeremy Black

Professor of history, University of Exeter

Louisiana: Crossroads of the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press), edited by Cécile Vidal, is the new book I am looking forward to reading, as it offers a more interesting account of Atlantic history than the somewhat hackneyed “British Atlantic”. Multiple changes in control are matched by the complexities of racial and social relations. For rereading, John P. LeDonne’s The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831, a fascinating fusion of geopolitics and military history, indicates the value of taking the strategic approach outside the Anglo-American context. For fun, I will be revisiting Tobias Smollett’s exhilarating and multi-focused novel Humphry Clinker.

Linnie Blake

Director of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and principal lecturer in film, Manchester Metropolitan University

For this Gothic specialist, currently working on the ways in which the global dominance of neoliberal economics has affected popular cultural representations of society and the self, summer is the time for a long, dark read. First on my list is Mark Z. Danielewski’s typographically and narratologically challenging voyage into darkness, House of Leaves, which, to my shame, I’ve never had time to tackle. Second is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, an equally terrifying exploration of the threats posed to global democracy by escalating inequalities in wealth and income distribution. Like me, neither sits well on a beach.

Deborah Bowman

Professor of bioethics, clinical ethics and medical law, St George’s, University of London

When interactions between individuals and systems in healthcare are under scrutiny, I’ll be returning to Containing Anxiety in Institutions: Selected Essays, Volume 1 by Isabel Menzies Lyth. Her prescient, often uncomfortable observations on the complex interplay between emotion, behaviour and systemic culture resonated when I first became interested in moral distress in NHS staff more than 20 years ago. The wisdom in this volume remains as pertinent as ever. Literary scholar and psychoanalyst Josh Cohen’s The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark (Granta) promises a rich interrogation of private and public identities at a time when covert intrusion, state secrecy and oversharing compete for headlines.

Noel-Ann Bradshaw

Principal lecturer in mathematics, University of Greenwich

This summer my beach bag will contain Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Portfolio) by Harvard University law academics Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. My hope is that understanding how to receive feedback well myself will increase the effectiveness of the help and support I give to my students. The phenomenon of big data, and teaching maths students about presenting data visually, has excited me about the history of charts and tables. As a result, I am looking forward to rereading Edward R. Tufte’s classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

Linda Colley

Shelby M. C. Davis 1958 professor of history, Princeton University

I will be rereading my book of the year, Jürgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton University Press): a major operation since this is, in every sense, a very big book. But what some view as a weakness – its lack of an obvious unifying theme – makes for immense richness. I’ll also be rereading Edmund Morgan’s Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. Despite the title, it tackles an issue that is ubiquitous. Since no government rules only by force, how is consent mobilised? And what does this mean?

Lara Cook

Teaching fellow in Russian history, Durham University

Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir A Spy in the Archives: A Memoir of Cold War Russia (I. B. Tauris) promises to be a thrilling read from one of the most influential historians of Soviet Russia, recounting her time in Brezhnev’s USSR as a young doctoral student who was among the first Western scholars to access the Moscow archives. A must-read for anyone interested in how it felt to be on the front line of the Cold War. A controversial book by a controversial figure, Isaiah Berlin’s Russian Thinkers is a collection of essays on the Russian intelligentsia from Pushkin to Bakunin that for some remains a classic, while others find it outdated and unscholarly. Nonetheless, this is a diverting work, with Berlin notoriously dividing his thinkers into hedgehogs (one big idea) and foxes (lots of different ideas).

Miriam E. David

Professor emerita of education, Institute of Education, University of London

Clare Ungerson, a renowned feminist academic, has turned her superb research skills to extremely good effect in Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939 (History Press). As a daughter of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, I was fascinated by this story of others’ families. Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight Against It is a classic text used since the earliest days of women’s studies courses in the 1970s. With the rise of a new wave of feminism, I plan to reconsider sociopolitical change in the context of neoliberalism and digitisation. What is really new?

Danny Dorling

Halford Mackinder professor of geography, University of Oxford

I plan to read Selina Todd’s The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010 (John Murray). Some of the reviews I’ve read make me think it touched a nerve, especially among the kinds of Sunday Times and Spectator reviewers who prefer their history sanitised. The book I aim to reread is Maud Pember Reeves’ Round About a Pound a Week, published 101 years ago. I recently read a draft of Mary O’Hara’s Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK (Policy Press), which reminded me of what Reeves had found four generations earlier. I’m obviously going to need something else to cheer me up this summer! We need more utopian writing.

Summer reads feature (17 July 2014)

Vicky Duckworth

Senior lecturer and schools’ university lead, Edge Hill University

Symbolic and physical violence in education has a strong theme in my research, so, keen to explore ways to challenge its enactment and impact on learners’ journey, I plan to read Vanita Sundaram’s Preventing Youth Violence: Rethinking the Role of Gender and Schools (Palgrave Macmillan). I’ll return to my bookcase for Carolyn Steedman’s autobiographical class analysis Landscape for a Good Woman. The emotional tapestries that pin us to history and shape and colour our lives will be unpicked; pages turning, I’ll return to the knots and threads of my own history seeking to weave a landscape under a Northern sky.

Sally Feldman

Senior fellow in the creative industries, University of Westminster

Planning to read: Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (Serpent’s Tail). If after Andy Murray’s ignominious exit from Court No 1 you’ve sworn off tennis, revive your joie de vivre with Wilson’s invigorating coverage of what she calls the “Love Game”. I’m especially looking forward to her reliably spirited sexual politics: portraits of muscle-bound pin-ups, some grand female slams and where a cunning forehand can lead. Planning to reread: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, newly translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (Vintage). “Men and women must, among other things and above and beyond their natural differentiations, affirm their brotherhood unequivocally.” Just one of the treasured observations that have inspired me to return to this lavish retranslation of our great feminist heroine.

Karyn L. Freedman

Associate professor of philosophy, University of Guelph, Canada

Rarely has a book about philosophy received so much critical acclaim, from both academics and mainstream media, as Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (Pantheon). An important book on the value of philosophy, this is sure to be a fascinating read. When I finish that, I will revisit Miranda Fricker’s influential Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. In this compelling and gracefully argued book, Fricker weaves together ethics, politics and epistemology to create a new conceptual framework for thinking through key issues in the epistemological landscape. It is a remarkable achievement.

Bradley L. Garrett

Researcher in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

Contrary to popular belief, what many geographers love most is what’s not on maps. Alastair Bonnett’s new book, Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies (Houghton Mifflin), is an edifying and whimsical tour through dozens of the world’s forgotten, bizarre and exceptional places, from never-extant islands to fake cities. It’s a love potion for geography. I first read Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, when I was an undergraduate in anthropology. I was struck by the spellbinding stories of how people build intimate relationships and sets of meaning with the world around them.

Tony Gatrell

Dean, Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University

As I will be teaching the geography of health in 2015, I am keen both to revisit classic texts and to introduce students to newer sources. Among the former, an obvious choice is Peter Haggett’s The Geographical Structure of Epidemics. Written by the 20th century’s leading geographer, this is pedagogy at its best, taking complex ideas and rendering them into words and beautiful graphics that are typical of the man. Anna Hansell and her fellow epidemiologists and co-authors of The Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales (Oxford University Press) share Haggett’s geographical imagination, and their work is replete with examples to stimulate debate.

Conor Gearty

Professor of human rights law, London School of Economics

Like everybody else, I’ll be reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century; I have already started. How does our world of seemingly endlessly improving human rights square with the return to the gilded age that he reportedly describes? The answer seems to lie in the kind of false democratic societies that I have recently written about, albeit regarding the threat of terrorism rather than socio-economic deprivation. Does the parallel hold? And then there is always Richard Rorty. Many of his shorter books sit by my computer, tempting me for a fresh hit: always lively, always clear – a kind of intellectual intoxicant.

Robert Gellately

Professor of history, Florida State University

Growing up in East Berlin, Maxim Leo knew that the SS persecuted some of his Jewish relatives, and that his grandfather fled, became part of the French Resistance and returned a hero to the German Democratic Republic. Curious to learn more, Maxim rummages in closets – always a risky business – and weaves his genealogy into the captivating Red Love: The Story of an East German Family (Pushkin Press). Readers seeking a balanced German perspective on the air war can nibble all summer on Dietmar Süss’ convincing and deeply researched Death from the Skies: How the British and Germans Survived Bombing in World War II (Oxford University Press).

David Gewanter

Professor of English, Georgetown University

We’ve escaped the nine-month opera of departmental discourse. Whom shall we invite to our summer’s bee-loud glade? How about two government officials? The US Poets Laureate Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky offer wonderfully quick commentaries on individual poems. Hass’ 2008 work Now and Then: The Poet’s Choice Columns, 1997-2000 includes the erotic Whitman poems that President Clinton gave his girlfriend. Pinsky leads us through a surprising trail of 75 poems ranging from Queen Elizabeth I and Michelangelo to Thom Gunn and W. B. Yeats in his new anthology, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters (W. W. Norton).

Sarah Hackett

Senior lecturer in modern European history, Bath Spa University

This is an exciting time for migration studies. This summer I am most looking forward to reading Kai Hafez’s Islam in ‘Liberal’ Europe: Freedom, Equality, and Intolerance (Rowman & Littlefield). Its ambitious and theoretically grounded framework promises to offer a timely and novel reflection on the position of Islam in Europe. Yet it is essential that we don’t ignore more traditional scholarship. Hence, I plan to revisit Colin Holmes’ John Bull’s Island: Immigration & British Society, 1871-1971, which remains the key reference point for anyone seeking to engage with the all too often forgotten historical backdrop to Britain’s ethnically diverse society.

Summer reads feature (17 July 2014)

Tessa Hadley

Professor of creative writing, Bath Spa University

I’ve just finished Until Further Notice, I Am Alive (Granta), art historian Tom Lubbock’s astonishing memoir of his final months after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I loved his careful, questing, intelligent prose as soon as I began, so now I’m embarking on Great Works: 50 Paintings Explored, a collection of his pieces on paintings for The Independent. And I’m eager to finish a fascinating book by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, which combines anthropology and archaeology to tell the story of The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire. I love to think that novelists have something in common with anthropologists: watching what humans do, attending to what they think they’re doing.

John Harris

Reader in international sport and event management, Glasgow Caledonian University

This summer I plan to read David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (Profile). Harvey’s work has been useful to me in better understanding important geographical issues that shape a number of different fields of study. I also plan to revisit Raymond Williams’ Border Country. Much has been written about Williams’ important academic writing, but some fail to acknowledge his work as a novelist. In these semi-autobiographical accounts, he provides important insights into the places that shaped his understanding of culture and informed his work as a scholar.

Michelle Harvey

Senior lecturer in forensic science, Deakin University, Australia

In my winter break this year (I’m Down Under), I will read Mario Livio’s Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed our Understanding of Life and the Universe (Atria). I teach students that great discoveries come from errors and tangents. This book explores how getting it wrong led to getting it right for some eminent scientists. I’ll be revisiting James Watson’s The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. As a PhD candidate, I was gripped and inspired by this book, with its modest account of one of science’s greatest discoveries.

Dick Hobbs

Professor of sociology, University of Essex

As relief from the criminal and academic underworlds, I intend to lose myself in tales of genocide and nascent capitalism. John Ford’s elegiac violent, racist masterpiece is the subject of Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (Bloomsbury), which tracks the story from an 1836 incident in Texas to post-Second World War Hollywood. My second book is an old favourite, Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, which explores, via a buffalo hunt, the visceral realities of frontier life and the impact on nature of a rapidly changing world.

Joanna Hodge

Professor of philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University

Top of the “to be read” pile is Jean-Luc Nancy’s La Communauté désavouée (Éditions Galilée). Here he revisits the critiques of sovereignty proposed by Georges Bataille, the disruption of psychoanalysis performed by Jacques Derrida, and the unworking of authorship associated with the name “Maurice Blanchot”, to put philosophy to the test of contemporaneity. The new English-language translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier of Simone de Beauvoir’s unabridged The Second Sex is welcome, if itself controversial. Rereading becomes a necessity in the light of the arrival of fourth wave feminism, with its focus on activism and public controversy.

Yvonne Jewkes

Professor of criminology, University of Leicester

Victoria Nagy’s Nineteenth Century Female Poisoners: Three English Women Who Used Arsenic to Kill (Palgrave Macmillan) is an eye-catching title that makes me hope for a salacious but informative read. This summer I also have a pile of books on prison architecture to enjoy. The prison might seem like an odd, arguably uncomfortable, choice for a coffee-table book, but there are several large-format, lavishly illustrated works that beautifully communicate in words and pictures the ways in which prisons stand as allegorical statements of evolving penal philosophy. The one I most look forward to returning to is The Architecture of Incarceration, edited by Iona Spens.

Shelley King

Head of the department of English, Queen’s University, Canada

My first summer read is Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837. It was everywhere nearly a decade ago, but I was otherwise occupied. Now, as a Canadian whose country has its own history of challenges to national unity, I want to return to Colley’s analysis of the forces at work in constructing nationhood in the context of the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. Second on my reading list is Margaret Willes’ The Gardens of the British Working Class (Yale University Press), a book that promises to combine my dual obsessions with horticulture and Victorian working-class culture.

Chris Knight

Honorary research associate in the department of anthropology, University College London, and professor of anthropology

My 2014 favourite is Jim Hurford’s The Origins of Language: A Slim Guide (Oxford University Press). Clear-headed, authoritative and marvellously succinct, it’s a far cry from the “Bow-wow”, “Ding-dong” and “Yo-heave-ho” theories of language evolution that once made it difficult not to laugh. Words are the most unreliable signals that ever evolved. Why on earth did humans begin trusting them? The short answer is cooperation – but read on. My classical choice is Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, written in 1938. I must have read it a dozen times, but it never ceases to astonish and inspire.

Tim Luckhurst

Professor of journalism, University of Kent

Dean Starkman’s The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press) laments business journalism’s failure in the 2008 crash and celebrates public interest reporting: an eloquent lesson in the value of ethical investigation and the failings of digital-news ideology. David Reynolds’ The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century (Simon & Schuster) describes the First World War’s enduring consequences, comparing and contrasting British and continental experiences and challenging sentimental myths. This is broad, big-theme history at its very best, brilliantly written by a giant of the discipline.

Summer reads feature (17 July 2014)

Tony Mann

Director of the Maths Centre, University of Greenwich

My summer reading will include James Clerk Maxwell: Perspectives on his Life and Work (Oxford University Press), edited by Raymond Flood, Mark McCartney and Andrew Whitaker. The same editorial team produced a wonderful book on another great Scottish Victorian mathematician, Lord Kelvin, and this new collection of essays looks equally enticing. In 2002, the historian of mathematics Jacqueline Stedall published her first book, A Discourse Concerning Algebra: English Algebra to 1685. This book excited me then: I’ve learned a lot since (not least from Stedall’s subsequent works) and, rereading it now, I expect to gain deeper understanding and richer insights.

Robert J. Mayhew

Professor of historical geography, University of Bristol

As befits my profession, this summer I plan to read two great conjunctions of historical and geographical thinking. For the state of the art, I’ll be reading David N. Livingstone’s Gifford Lectures, published as Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution (Johns Hopkins University Press), to find out how Darwin’s ideas were received in geographically variegated ways across the globe. And to remind myself of the origins of the scholarly craft I profess, I’ll be taking advantage of a lively new translation by Duane Roller of that summa of ancient knowledge, The Geography of Strabo (Cambridge University Press).

Evgeny Morozov

PhD candidate in the history of science, Harvard University, and author of To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist

I’ve just finished Will Davies’ brilliant The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage), which explains how the rhetoric of competition has invaded almost every domain of our existence. Sigfried Giedion’s 1948 book Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History is an important work of cultural history that traces how the rise of mechanisation transformed everyday life – very relevant today as we move from mechanisation to datafication, with big data and the “internet of things”.

Martha C. Nussbaum

Professor of law and ethics, University of Chicago

I’m reviewing Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Princeton University Press), and I heartily recommend it. Deaton’s account of why some parts of the world have to some extent escaped dire poverty and other parts have not is a sophisticated blend of economics, empirical fact and history, based on impressive research but written in lucid, accessible prose. His arguments about why foreign aid is usually counterproductive are controversial but forceful. Meanwhile, I’m studying a neglected philosophical classic that I’m teaching in September: Henry Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics, the most intricate and systematic portrayal of classical utilitarianism.

Jane O’Grady

Visiting lecturer in philosophy of psychology at City University London and co-founder, London School of Philosophy

I’m about to read Acts of Consciousness: A Social Psychology Standpoint (Cambridge University Press), in which Guy Saunders examines three famous thought experiments in the philosophy of mind (Derek Parfit’s teletransported self, Thomas Nagel’s “what is it like to be a bat?” and Frank Jackson’s “Mary’s room”) in an attempt to analyse the nature of imagination under conditions of solitary confinement. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is a brave, ruthless, often repellent look at the human condition. I want to reread the bits that deal with bad faith, the “impossible project” of erotic love, the anguish of freedom and slime.

David Palfreyman

Director, Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies

For us privileged baby boomers – reared by the post-war political consensus welfare state, benefiting from (inter alia) free healthcare via the NHS and social mobility engendered by state grammar schools leading on to expanding higher education – it is salutary to read The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (Penguin) by John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge. They envisage a process leading to a narrower, smaller role for a state that is now bloated and inefficient, wasteful and unsustainable. In digesting the message of this powerful thesis, ask where it leaves the provision of higher education as a public good. Suitably depressed, tackle Thorstein Veblen’s 1918 book The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men – such “business men”, along with “the academic executive” they appoint, are “anathema” to the spirit and purpose of the university.

Diane Perrons

Professor of gender studies and director of the Gender Institute, London School of Economics

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is remarkable for moving inequality from the margins to mainstream debate through detailed analysis of longitudinal statistics. He shows how patrimonial capitalists (elite managers) appropriate a growing share of social wealth and proposes ex post redistribution through a global wealth tax. Naila Kabeer’s The Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Women and Labour Market Decisions in London and Dhaka draws on the testimonies of working women to show how enhanced labour standards, sensitive to gender, race, religion and location, would raise living standards ex ante. Together, they enrich our understanding of inequality and what to do about it.

Philip Roscoe

Reader in management, University of St Andrews

Michael Lewis writes about finance better than anyone. I’ve been a devotee since Liar’s Poker, so I am very much looking forward to reading Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code (Allen Lane), his caustic tale of computerised, high-speed trading. Some say he has gone badly wrong in the telling, but we’ll see. And I’m contemplating a return to Bruno Latour’s magnificent The Pasteurization of France (or its wonderful French title, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes) as he asks: just how much can one man do? As a bonus, Irreductions, the slim volume in which Latour sets out his philosophical principles, is tucked into the back of the book.

Sir Peter Scott

Professor of higher education studies, Institute of Education, University of London

I should recommend Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century – but, to be honest, I am still only halfway through. So instead I’ll pick E. P. Thompson and English Radicalism (Manchester University Press), edited by Roger Fieldhouse and Richard Taylor. In the current swamp of neoliberal ideology and bankrupt “coalition” politics, it’s good to be reminded of other, more hopeful, possibilities. My other – enduring – book is Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. It is close to being the best history book ever written, and can never be read too many times.

Summer reads feature (17 July 2014)

Lynne Segal

Anniversary professor of psychology and gender studies, Birkbeck, University of London

Radical thinkers always try to look at the world anew, jettisoning the blind spots of yesterday. There are two things to say about this: our ideas are often not so new, and making lasting change is not so easy. This summer I will read Matt Cook’s Queer Domesticities: Homosexuality and Home Life in Twentieth-Century London (Palgrave Macmillan), which promises to illustrate these points. Heterosexual marriage has been the only sanctioned form of enduring sexual intimacy until recent years, but Cook’s survey reveals gay men creating alternative domestic spaces, although attempts to eliminate familial structures in the queer squats of the 1970s were short-lived. Lingering on the possibilities and pitfalls of love, I will revisit, as Freud did till the end of his life, that definitive text, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, keeping an eye on the shifting footnotes. Here from 1905 onwards, we see psychoanalysis unfolding to become, at its best, more sophisticated in its embrace of ambivalence around all the contemporary certainties (whether of Freud’s day or ours) regarding gender and erotic distinctions, freeing them from reproductive imperatives, while suggesting the inescapable conjoining of pleasure, frustration and pain.

Prue Shaw

Emeritus reader in Italian studies, University College London

The book I would love to revisit is Ernst Robert Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. I read it as a third-year undergraduate: it opened up a whole new world to me, redefining as it did the scope of medieval literary studies. The new book I’m keen to get to grips with is the catalogue for the marvellous exhibition currently running in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence: Pontormo e Rosso Fiorentino: Divergenti vie della ‘Maniera’ (Mandragora). Pontormo is a favourite painter of mine; Rosso I find merely neurotic. I hope this beautiful volume will help me to understand why.

Tiffany Taylor

Postdoctoral researcher in evolutionary biology, University of Reading

I love reading about the history of science – when bizarre experiments met flouncy language. For my current summer read, I’m delving into Mary Terrall’s Catching Nature in the Act: Réaumur and the Practice of Natural History in the Eighteenth Century (University of Chicago Press). This book recalls the achievements of 18th-century natural historians, but particularly of one René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, a great naturalist and a pioneer of experimental techniques. For my classic read, I will return to an old favourite, Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape. An essential read for any “human animal”, it inspired me at a critical age (I even remember quoting it in my Ucas personal statement).

David Toop

Chair of audio culture and improvisation, University of the Arts London

Tom Rice’s Hearing and the Hospital: Sound, Listening, Knowledge and Experience (Sean Kingston) won’t be top of anybody’s holiday list this summer, but it looks fascinating. Perhaps this is because it touches on a secret area of shame and frustration that affects us all: divulging personal embarrassments and fears to medical practitioners and then sometimes realising that they are not being heard. I’ve been dipping into Derek Bailey’s Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music, first published in 1980, as I write my own book on the subject. Bailey was a musician, not a writer, but his book is so clear and concise that it makes me want to read it all over again.

Hester Vaizey

Lecturer in modern German history and fellow of Clare College, Cambridge

Given that this summer will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, it seems an apt moment to finally get round to reading Christopher Clark’s barnstormingly popular book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. He is a hugely entertaining public speaker, so I’m sure his latest work will be a great read. I will also be revisiting Eric Hobsbawm’s epic The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991. Reading this seminal work again should reinvigorate my thinking about the period more broadly, leaving me primed to dive into another year of teaching about it.

Sharon Wheeler

Senior lecturer in journalism, University of Portsmouth

Every journalism lecturer must be kicking themselves (or asking a colleague to do it, in case they miss) that they didn’t come up with this book first. Tony Harcup’s Oxford Dictionary of Journalism (Oxford University Press) should be a true time-suck – prepare to get lost browsing. I first read C. L. R. James’ Beyond a Boundary when I was applying to university. Admissions tutors seemed more interested in my views (unrepeatable) on Jane Austen. As a sports reporter, I would intone gravely: “What do they know of cricket that only cricket know?” And now that I’m lecturing, it’s a win if one student a year reads it.

Richard J. Williams

Professor of contemporary visual cultures, University of Edinburgh

I’ve just got Edward W. Soja’s My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization (University of California Press). Soja has been working on LA for decades, and his work helped to turn the place into an object of serious academic attention. He writes really well, too. There are plenty of crunchy data, but intertwined with personal and cultural reflections. I thought I’d revisit Mary Douglas’ 1966 book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. I’m doing some pretend urban anthropology this summer, so hoping she might offer a method. I do have a hunch that we’re much less tolerant of Purity. But whether we’re fonder of Danger, I don’t know.

Lucy Wooding

Senior lecturer in early modern history, King’s College London

I will be reading Leif Dixon’s Practical Predestinarians in England, c.1590-1640 (Ashgate), which promises to explain why the otherwise unlovely doctrine of predestination in those years was not only important but popular and even comforting. It aims to show “why obscure religious ideas really matter”, a realisation that becomes ever more elusive in the modern world, even as it becomes ever more imperative. I’ll also be rereading works by Thomas Harding, the great Elizabethan Catholic apologist. He published five books between 1564 and 1568, concluding with the unforgiving volume A Detection of Sundrie Foule Errours. He also thought religion mattered.

Duncan Wu

Professor of English, Georgetown University

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of listening to James A. W. Heffernan discuss his new work, Hospitality and Treachery in Western Literature (Yale University Press), an important book of criticism for anyone who cares about the Western canon. Ranging from Homer to Edward Albee, Heffernan examines the pitfalls of receiving and giving hospitality (think, for instance, of King Duncan’s overnight stay chez Macbeth). I will reread Peter Levi’s The Noise Made by Poems, still one of the most succinct and informative books about what poetry is and how it works.

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Reader's comments (1)

Unless someone has changed history the Director of Maths at Greenwich seems to think that that great Irishman Lord Kelvin was born in Scotland!! Hugh Mckenna, PVBC Research University of Ulster. Director of the Maths Centre, University of Greenwich My summer reading will include James Clerk Maxwell: Perspectives on his Life and Work (Oxford University Press), edited by Raymond Flood, Mark McCartney and Andrew Whitaker. The same editorial team produced a wonderful book on another great Scottish Victorian mathematician, Lord Kelvin, and this new collection of essays looks equally enticing. In 2002, the historian of mathematics Jacqueline Stedall published her first book, A Discourse Concerning Algebra: English Algebra to 1685. This book excited me then: I’ve learned a lot since (not least from Stedall’s subsequent works) and, rereading it now, I expect to gain deeper understanding and richer insights.

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