Risk and Controversy – The Life of Mary Wortley Montagu

The story of a woman who has her children inoculated against the smallpox at a time when most people, including the medical establishment, were highly sceptical towards such foreign practices certainly makes for timely reading during a pandemic. Sometimes it is worth taking a small risk to avoid a larger one.  Mary Wortley Montagu learnt… Continue reading Risk and Controversy – The Life of Mary Wortley Montagu

Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun takes on the big questions

During the pandemic I have started reading more fiction again, and any new book arriving through the post has been greeted with some excitement. Yet, I had pre-ordered Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel with a mix of both eager anticipation and an ever-so-slight fear of disappointment. I had liked Ishiguro long before anybody thought of giving… Continue reading Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun takes on the big questions

On Misogyny, ancient and modern

Mary Beard’s Women and Power is one of those books that will make you shout: “Yes, she’s so right!” – “Very well put!” – “So glad someone is saying this!” For those of you who haven’t read it yet, the book consists of two essays on ‘The public voice of women’ and ‘Women in power’… Continue reading On Misogyny, ancient and modern

The eloquent ideologists of Germany’s New Right

Thugs in combat boots they’re certainly not. The people Volker Weiss writes about are more of the nerdy variety, he told me over the phone a while back. They know their Greek and Latin, but that doesn’t necessarily make them harmless. It’s their words and their ideas we should be wary of. Weiss is a… Continue reading The eloquent ideologists of Germany’s New Right

The British view of a nation that never was

Dürer’s rhino, Luther’s Bible, Bismarck dressed as a blacksmith, a VW Beetle and a replica of the gate to Buchenwald concentration camp – the exhibits of the ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’ show seem both somewhat random and predictable. What I was missing most of all was a grand narrative guiding me through the… Continue reading The British view of a nation that never was

Improving the Nation

In his new book, The Invention of Improvement, Paul Slack sets out to do two things: first, to trace the ‘notion of improvement’ in seventeenth-century ‘public discourse’ (vii) in England; and secondly to show how ‘the quest for improvement distinguished England from other countries.’ (1) Slack has not set himself an easy task as he… Continue reading Improving the Nation

Incredible universities

When I left my last academic job, a good friend and colleague gave me Ian McGuire’s campus novel Incredible Bodies, in case I would have any regrets. Like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, it’s a satirical novel about academic life and the dysfunctional characters that populate our universities and take… Continue reading Incredible universities

The English Revolution and its Patriotic Exiles

Despite the plethora of literature that has been published on the English Revolution and Restoration over the years, the topic of exile during this most exciting period of British history remains an understudied area. There is still much unseen primary source material to be uncovered in European and North American archives and plenty of gaps… Continue reading The English Revolution and its Patriotic Exiles

Divided Heaven – 25 years later

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall I have finally finished reading Divided Heaven by the East German writer Christa Wolf. It is a love story ended by the separation of the two Germanies, completed by the construction of the Wall, which aimed to prevent the defection of Eastern Germans to the West.… Continue reading Divided Heaven – 25 years later