What are you reading?

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

Gwynn Dujardin is assistant professor of Renaissance poetry and prose, Queen's University, Canada. She is reading Mark Sebba's Spelling and Society: The Culture and Politics of Orthography around the World (Cambridge University Press, 2007). "Covering languages as diverse as English, Dutch, Spanish and Swahili, and drawing as much from Ali G and bus-stop graffiti as conventional news media and national-language policies, Sebba's study shows how individuals and communities define themselves through spelling."

Jules Pretty is professor of environment and society, University of Essex. "I am reading two extraordinary books about cultural change in indigenous communities. Both are novels, but this is a technicality. Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors (Vintage, 1995) is a brutal, harsh and finally uplifting story of Maoris cut loose in modern urban life in New Zealand. Yuri Rytkheu's A Dream in Polar Fog (Archipelago, 2005) sees a Canadian whaler abandoned in a tiny Chukchi community in northern Russia after losing his hands. Both tell us something important about the value of connections to the wild and to distinct cultural histories."

Robert Segal is sixth-century chair in religious studies, University of Aberdeen. He is reading ("and recommending") Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 2008). "Berman argues that political theory began not in Greece but in ancient Israel, which advocated egalitarianism rather than hierarchy among the Israelites."

S.L. Sutherland, senior associate researcher at the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria, is "midway through Frank Vibert's The Rise of the Unelected: Democracy and the New Separation of Powers (Cambridge University Press, 2007). His proposition is that a large proportion of 'government' is already composed of institutions directed and staffed by appointed officials independent of democratically elected bodies. He says this is a good thing. I will complete the book to try to understand how another non-accountable branch of government would help us."

Gary Thomas is head of the School of Education, University of Birmingham. He is reading Richard Sennett's The Culture of the New Capitalism (Yale University Press, 2007). "It is good and insightful, but the trouble with hype ('brilliant, disturbing') is that the book has to live up to it, and I'm not sure it does."

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