This post forms part of a series where members of the Defence Studies Department share their thoughts on the books they are reading this summer.
I’m starting a new project on sex and international affairs. It promises to be an exciting summer. I’m taking an evolutionary perspective, so will be rereading some old favourites – Richard Wrangham’s Demonic Males, about the dastardly doings of male chimpanzees; and Napoleon Chagnon’s Noble Savages, charting his 30 year career as an anthropologist living with the warlike Yanomamo tribesmen of the Amazon. Also on my reading pile are two new popular books about human genetics – Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History and Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. There’s also an optimistically large stack of novels.
There are three books in particular that I am hoping to get through this summer. The first two are books that I have promised to review for academic journals. David Hobbs, The British Carrier Strike Fleet After 1945 (Seaforth, 2015) offers a survey of this important and timely subject, written by one of the acknowledged experts and surveying the whole of the post-war period; this will be particularly valuable as it is so relevant for my own current book project. The other book I am reviewing is Andrew Boyd, The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Lynchpin of Victory, 1935-1942 (Seaforth, 2017), which aims to deepen the understanding of strategy in the Second World War, not least the binding effect of sea power in it, and the importance of theatres that often do not get the attention that they deserve.
The third book on my list is a little different. Any academic who has winced at the ill-informed recent comments of Lord Adonis regarding their long summer ‘holiday’ will be acutely aware of the many pressures on our time during this period (all the more for those of us in the Defence Studies Department, who get one month, not three) and the challenges of making the most of time available for writing throughout the rest of the hectic year (again, particularly in a department with twice the teaching load of others in King’s). My eye was caught by a positive review of Joli Jensen, Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics (University of Chicago Press, 2017). This promises to offer some practical advice about how to balance the competing pressures on academics to find time for writing, which always seems to be the activity to give way in the face of other commitments, and how to make better use of the time that can be carved out. Hopefully, this will spur an increase in my writing output when our new academic year begins at the end of August…
Whether ‘on topic’ or for fun, reading is without doubt one of the most powerful aids to my research and a welcome source of relaxation. It is thus something of an ongoing frustration to me that I seem habitually to abandon it in favour of other, seemingly more pressing tasks throughout the course of a busy year. Books I most certainly consult, but in such a fashion is to ransack them for information, rather than in the more considered, enjoyable manner which can be so beneficial in shaping one’s own thoughts.
Summer seems one of the times when I am best able to avoid the myriad other pressures which can take one away from the pages of a good book, and this year has been no exception. I have read and benefitted greatly from Christopher Bell’s outstanding Churchill and the Dardanelles and Jan Rüger’s Heligoland. Bell’s book is a fantastic exposition of how academics can write successfully for a broader audience without compromising at all on the quality of their research, and comes with a hearty recommendation from me.
I’m currently midway through Michael Howard’s classic The Franco-Prussian War which, I’m embarrassed to say, I have never had occasion to read. This book has received more plaudits than I can list here from people for more expert than myself, yet despite my high expectations I’ve been struck both by the poise with which Howard writes and the way he sets his narrative within an authoritative knowledge of military history more broadly. An enjoyable and easy read, I’m looking forward to finishing the second half.
Perhaps more than any single volume, though, what I hope to succeed in taking from my summer’s reading is a reminder to engage in this most fulfilling and enriching of pursuits for its own sake more often. It simply isn’t good enough to be too busy to read.
Image via wikimeida commons.