9. CONVOCO! Reads

The summer reading recommendations from our CONVOCO! thinkers – be inspired!

Revolutionary Spring. Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849 (2023) by Christopher Clark 
For university professors, the start of the summer (and the departure of students) begins that precious period when research can resume and when those longer books, put to one side during the teaching year, can finally be read. The vast new study of Europe’s revolutions of 1848: Revolutionary Spring, by my friend and Cambridge colleague, Christopher Clark is first on my list this year. Huge in range, spectacular in erudition (there is hardly a corner of the European continent, or its languages, with which Clark is unfamiliar), this 900-page book is also a delight to read, written with clarity and a freshness of insight and imagery that carry the reader effortlessly to the end, despite the work’s epic scale.
More Flags (1942) by Evelyn Waugh
For guilty pleasure, I have also been re-reading one of Evelyn Waugh’s lesser-known novels: Put out More Flags, first published in 1942. Satires of the British elite’s responses to the opportunities and absurdities of war do not come sharper or funnier, nor (unusually for satire) more affectionate.
God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning (2022) by Meghan O’Gieblyn 
This is a great book for 2023, an exploration of our contemporary, digital existence and a poignant picture of the human condition under the ever-increasing influence of AI and digital life. I loved this book as it also takes us back, tracing the roots of our current digital landscape back to the Enlightenment, and illuminating the paradoxes that underpin our relationship with technology.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022) by Gabrielle Zevin

A vividly written coming-of-age tale steeped in nostalgia for anyone (like myself) who spent their youth playing video games. It beautifully unfolds the journey of two game developers, woven together with humor and charm. It’s a fantastic summer read.
Hayao Miyazaki (2022) by Jessica Niebel
As a mega fan of the filmmaker and artist, I really loved this art catalogue. It’s a substantial work for admirers of the animator and Studio Ghibli. It serves as a fascinating exploration of history and art, as well as valuable reference material for students studying film and animation.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage (2007) by Nicholas Wapshott
It is hard to say whether it was more interesting to learn about Ronald Reagan’s world of thought and style of politics, or about Margaret Thatcher’s, or about their dealings with each other. In any case, its an exciting read about eight years of neo-liberal economic policy in the US and UK
The Wings of the Dove (1902) by Henry James
The use of art as a tool of seduction is a commonplace: who hasn’t imagined striking up a conversation with the beautiful stranger at the other end of the gallery? James gives the fantasy a brutal twist.
Art as Experience (1934) by John Dewey
…for people who want a detailed read about how we encounter art, and why some art encounters are more satisfying than others.
Mysteries of the Rectangle. Essays on Painting (2005) by Siri Hustvedt
Contemporary essays on experiencing artworks, mostly great works from the past. The quality of writing is exceptionally clear and accessible while dealing with complex reactions. Hints of the neuroscience of perception as well – but for lay people.
Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A wonderful, poetic, and political book about the experiences of Ifemelu, a Nigerian student, scholar, and blogger, and her friend Obinze. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to study in the USA and lives there for several years before returning to Nigeria. The book describes her experiences unpretentiously but all the more powerfully, for example that the colour of her skin had no meaning in Nigeria, but very much did in the USA, what it is like to live in the USA without a work permit, and what being a woman means in practical terms under these circumstances. Her boyfriend Obinze also flees Nigeria and lives illegally in Great Britain for a while before returning to Nigeria and embarking on a successful career. There, the two meet again – and realise that their love, which bonded them as schoolchildren, still exists. The book concludes with the challenges of living an emancipated love in modern Nigerian society.
The World of Yesterday (1942) by Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig’s memoirs have a burning relevance. He begins by describing “yesterday’s world,” revisiting the memories of his childhood and adolescence in the Austrian Empire and the many constraints those entailed. Soon after, however, wars become the subject of Zweig’s writing. His depiction of his experiences in the First World War, the intensification of enmities and the end of friendships and relationships due to increasing nationalism, the impossibility of international understanding, and the devastating consequences of the war not only, but also, for life, joy, and culture, have alarming parallels to the current situation. The book is a clear call for peace and understanding.

Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (2018) by Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour’s book is a foundational work on the social science debate about the Anthropocene, the geological era in which humans can no longer define themselves separately from nature, but in which human action must include the fact that humanity is part of nature and that nature in turn impacts humanity – as illustrated by climate change. Latour combines this diagnosis with a brilliant and, in places, highly pointed overview. His diagnoses are daring and certainly not always entirely sound – but the overall picture he draws is very revealing with regard to the question of how the key political and social problems of the present are interconnected. Above all, the volume is essential for understanding the Anthropocene.

Lessons (2022) by Ian McEwan
Those who think McEwan’s stories are (too) perfectly constructed are right. He has a firm grip on his characters, like a great author of the 19th century. Nevertheless: it’s an intricate life story that, if you want to discover it, also conceals a small chronicle of the epochs since 1945.
The Most Secret Memory of Men (2022) by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
An incredibly gripping, highly complex novel about an African in Paris in search of a compatriot author who wrote only one work – but one of unsurpassable quality – and whose traces seem to vanish across different continents. Concentration and quiet are advised for readers as it is best to read the text it in one sitting.
Why Empires Fall. Rome, America and the Future of the West (2023) by John Rapley, Peter Heather
When I prepare a new Convoco theme, I always go on strolls through bookshops. By doing so, I came across this relatively short book. It is written by a historian and an economist and has just been published. A look into the past always offers insights.
Power and Progress. Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity (2023) by Daron Acemoğlu and Simon Johnson
An important book that combines politics, technology, and economics. Technological progress is perhaps the most important factor in making human lives better. However, it is not an automatic process. And especially not an instantaneous one.

If you have not read the latest C! Edition “Equality in an Unequal World” yet, then there can be only one summer read for you.

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