Oxford tutors share their suggestions for your holiday (and term time) reading
John Knox with Mary, Queen of Scots, as imagined by Samuel Sidley (1829-96)
Rev. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church
Professor Joanna Innes, lecturer in Modern History, and fellow of Somerville
Orlando Figes, Crimea: the Last Crusade
A very wide ranging and gripping account of the context for the mid nineteenth-century war fought over this now again contested region, emphasising especially the religious setting.
Theodor Fontane, On Tangled Paths
Very readable new Penguin translation of a late nineteenth-century German novel about a spirited woman dealing equably with the consequences of love across class lines
Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Rector of Exeter College
Fiona MacCarthy's William Morris: A Life for Our Time (paperback edition, Faber and Faber, 2010)
Superbly researched, the book is also vividly written, bringing to life this creative genius (an alumnus of Exeter College) of design, art and social theory. MacCarthy weaves together art and everyday life, fashioning a compelling narrative with many implications for the early 21st century.
Pelican Shakespeare edition of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
This great comedy of the 1590s, with its complex inter-relationship between reality and illusion, bears re-reading particularly in 2016, the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. This edition (Penguin, 2016) by Russ McDonald has approachable introductions to the theatre of Shakespeare's day as well as to the play itself, and its notes on the text are helpful without being obtrusive.
Dr Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology
Juliet Barnes' The Ghosts of Happy Valley (2013, Aurum Press)
A fascinating account of a curious moment in the history of the British Empire when, between the wars, a bunch of British and European aristocrats, American heiresses and assorted ne'er-do-wells created both a legendary lifestyle in Kenya's idyllic Wanjohi Valley (the infamous 'happy valley set') and a serious agricultural business. Told via a series of visits almost a century later to locate the remains of once beautiful homes set in pristine estates -- a few still intact, most dilapidated and occupied by homesteaders, others just rubble mounds hidden under grass.
Antony Beevor's Berlin: The Downfall 1945 (2002, Penguin)
This blow by blow account of the fall of Berlin to Russian forces in the dying days of WW2 is a stark reminder of just how awful war invariably is for the individuals caught up in it, both civilian and military. I was especially struck by how much the Russian forces were riven by internal factional jealousies, poor management, and appalling lack of control over their own troops' behaviour. A stark reminder for today, perhaps.
Professor Gordon Clark, Director of the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment
Philip Glass's Words without Music is a remarkable memoir beginning with his childhood in Baltimore through to the present day. We learn that he was a child protege but not someone deeply trained in musical performance. We also learn that his music has always been conceived to be at the cutting edge of the New York avant guard. It's a wonderful read with many surprises.
Another book I have been reading is Edward Said's essays on music. The late great Said was an intellect of the first order. He also loved classical music. His essays combine deep knowledge with insight and a sure feel of the art of performance. Anyone looking for a way 'in' to their favourite composer and/or their favourite conductor can depend upon Said to take them on a journey of discovery.
Dr Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare
After an anniversary year, my summer reading is refreshingly Shakespeare-free. Philip Ross Bullock’s elegant, non-prurient Pyotr Tchaikovsky (Reaktion Books) is a critical account of the composer’s life that manages to be revelatory about his music despite - or perhaps because of - its well-judged scepticism about the idea of biography itself. I’ve loved Bryan Talbot’s graphic novels since Alice in Sunderland (2007) - his new book with Mary M. Talbot, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape) combines his trademark dark steampunk illustrations with the story of radical nineteenth-century French feminist Louise Michel on the Paris barricades.
Professor Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography
Robert Frank, Success and Luck
Robert is now in his 70s and so this is a book looking back one life and what it is that get’s people to where they get to. Robert is the most readable of the best known economists of the United States. He may also be amongst the warmest of human beings among them and so this book is both harm warming and informative - written for the wider reader rather than the sad academic!
George Monbiot, How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature
Oxford resident George’s collection of newspaper and other articles - but in a logical order that makes sense as a whole. If you ever thought that George ranted without a greater context read this. Put in order there is a structure to what he is saying. Not as upbeat as Robert Frank, but far more prescriptive. George also gives hope - just not so much! Maybe read this book first and Frank’s section for a better feel good factor
Dr Richard Lofthouse, former teaching fellow at Corpus Christi and editor of Oxford Today
John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
As good or better than The Grapes of Wrath, this is an epic narrative full of the sort of wisdom that your soul craves on holiday. Simply a wonderful book peopled with wonderful characters.
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
The sort of epic narrative that takes you away on a holiday within your holiday - to late nineteenth century Texas, and finally Montana, alongside some ex-Rangers and a thousand steers in search of rich ranch country.
Dr Damian Robinson, Director of the Oxford Centre of Maritime Archaeology
I am a fan of police procedurals. Although I have a great deal of time for northern noir for a holiday I'd go with the scent of the warm south. For one thing the polar angst sits alongside ulcers and bad digestion while the Mediterranean cousins take to the mean streets partly to walk off this mouth watering and lengthy lunches. Camillero's Motalban is a favourite but I'd recommend V's Inspector B series. The setting is 1960's Florence, which helps. B's back story is in the Italian Resistance, and alongside the believable forensic work there is a subtle elucidation of the compromises and legacy of post fascist Italy. I read all four of the translated texts in a greedy hurry and I am hungrily waiting for the fifth - a good pecorino piquantly with a juicy pear to end the meal.
Inventing the Individual, The Origins of Western Liberalism, by Larry Siedentop
The central argument of Siedentop's lucid and compelling book is - as he acknowledges - seemingly counter intuitive. It is that the great western liberal and humanist tradition with the central focus on equality is less to do with the Greek city state and the Roman republic than with Christian theology. While recognising the significance of Greek philosophy and Roman jurisprudence Siedentop's is persuasive that is the accountability of the individual soul to God which is the wellspring of that tradition. His point is that the structure of the Graeco-Roman family, and it's sacred connotations, translated the paterfamilias into the imperium of the state and made the concept of equality impossible even to the imagination. He traces the impact of Paul's Damacene moment on past Augustine's battle with as the defining moments in a new moral universe. His reading may be a bit Protestant for some but as an atheist I am less concerned with this than with our contemporary struggle with our own moral responsibility and the necessary aspiration for a liberal universalism.
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