What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

January 31, 2013

Roger Brown is professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University. “My Christmas reading included Michael Dobbs’ Six Months in 1945: From World War to Cold War (Hutchinson, 2012). He describes how Anglo-American and Soviet positions diverged and hardened to the point where relations between them were almost as bad as with the Nazis. Dobbs also shows how Roosevelt, and to a lesser extent Truman, lost ground by ignoring the advice of experts on the ground, W. Averell Harriman and George Kennan, in handling the Russians. Gripping stuff.”

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, is reading Peter Varey’s Life on the Edge (PFV, 2012), a biography of wartime hero and chemical engineer Peter Danckwerts. “Cambridge has ever been full of strong characters, but even so, Danckwerts’ life was lived on an epic scale. His academic distinctions - FRS, FEng, FIChemE, AAAS - are complemented by the George Cross, won for defusing bombs as a young naval officer. Varey, as both a writer and a chemist, does justice to Danckwerts’ technical brilliance, to his academic leadership as Shell professor and head of the young department of chemical engineering at Cambridge, and to his courtship of the glamorous woman who became his wife.”

Matthew Feldman, reader in history at Teesside University, is reading Christopher Duggan’s Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy (Bodley Head, 2012). “An unorthodox, colourful survey of Mussolini’s regime through archival recourse to diaries by Fascists of all stripes. Emphasised throughout is Italian deification of the Duce, that linchpin of the ideology, liturgy and apologetics for Fascism’s ever-increasing fallibility. The power of ‘political faith’ investigated here is darkly fascinating, with chapters on faith and intimacy worth the money alone.”

Sara Read, part-time lecturer in the department of English and drama at Loughborough University, is reading Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton’s Grammar for Grown-ups: A Straightforward Guide to Good English (Square Peg, 2012). “This enjoyable, accessible manual has the bonus of chapters on US and other Englishes and on literary terminology. It isn’t definitive - the authors follow the increasingly common practice of using the verb ‘quote’ in place of the noun ‘quotation’ - but it’s a valuable reference. Section tests make it useful as a teaching aid, too.”

R.C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, has been reading Andrew Hopper’s Turncoats and Renegadoes: Changing Sides during the English Civil Wars (Oxford University Press, 2012). “A painstaking exploration of social, cultural, political, chronological and regional patterns and attitudes in and to a phenomenon conditioned by the changing tides of war, opportunism and the pressing weight of external pressures. Far more common than has often been assumed, Civil War side- changing formed a prelude to the larger-scale adjustments dictated by the Restoration of 1660.”

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