26 May 2005, Comments (0)

Book, book, book

Author: Helen

Interesting Crooked Timber post (Henry Farrell) on academic bestsellers.

Which academic books are fit for human consumption? Or, to put it less polemically, which books written for academic purposes deserve, should find (or in some cases have found) a more general readership among intelligent people who are either (a) non-academics, or (b) arenÌt academic specialists in the discipline that the book is written for. Nominations invited.

Background: I did an Hons degree (mostly history) back in 1979, then switched to the wonderful world of IT, so I feel my humanities education is very antideluvian. But lots of the books quoted here are books I loved at university, so now I don’t feel as though my world view is so redundant.

You can’t half tell I’m an annoying lefty crypto-socialist bleeding heart. Here are my points of connection with the Crooked Timber list:

E.P.Thompson, Making of the English Working Class (Henry’s first nomination).

Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (from ‘Robin’). This was a real “OMG WTF” moment. I always thought this book, which I loved dearly through my undergraduate days, would have been too obscure to rate a mention.
Thomas Kuhh, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (Predictable sneering from science majors. Kindly get…er, over it!)

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (‘Uncle Kvetch’, ‘Des Von Bladen’). Still circulating obviously, as I read a reference to it on a blog just a few months ago.

None of these titles include words like Metaphor, Postmodernity, Subculture or shopping, so you can tell I’m a bit past it.

I would nominate E.P.Thompson and Erving Goffman, too. I still have them. And to cheat a bit– well a lot really — to nominate something that’s straight up popular writing, and on audio as well– The Mark Steel lectures and the Mark Steel Revolution. If you’re trying to wean a spotty adolescent off the Jedi and onto the French Revolution, this guy might do better than Eric Hobsbawm just for starters.

And- I’m buying Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws. Who could resist a title like that?

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