Book by swimming pool and fruit


This month Shakespeare, cyber threat, the idea of the Hollywood blockbuster, books as gifts and the musician Rebecca Burstein-Arber

Published: 3 July 2023

Author: Richard Lofthouse


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Book cover of Firebird

Firebird: The Musical Life and Times of Rebecca Burstein-Arber as told to Nora Jean and Michael H. Levin (Penn Convoy Press, May 2023).

Oxford alumnus Michael Levin (Wadham, 1964) and his wife Nora Jean share a remarkable history of Jean’s formidable aunt Rebecca (1894-1993), who at the time of telling her story four decades ago aged 87, shared memories of Tsarist pogroms, command performances in Imperial Germany, a perilous cross-border passage during WW1, concerts in freezing halls for Red Army soldiers during the Russian Revolution, and other events that shaped the 20th Century and still resonate today.

Rebecca was a child prodigy whose bassoonist father played under Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.  Her parents knew talent was a ticket out of the Tsars’ restrictive Jewish Pale of Settlement.  They sent all four of their young children ‘beyond the Pale’ to the world’s greatest conservatories, to hone their skills.

Charismatic Rebecca left Europe’s concert halls in 1924 to perform and teach in tiny primitive Mandate Palestine. In 1965 Ha’aretz described her as a ‘living legend to her students, present and past, who today are musicians and teachers all over the [world].’ In 1985 she was awarded the Keys to the City of Tel Aviv for her seminal role bringing classical music to ‘the land of Israel.’

Jean’s career has spanned teaching, writing, consulting, entrepreneurial, and non-profit roles. She and Mike met at the University of Pennsylvania and married in Oxford. He is an environmental lawyer, solar energy developer and writer. In 2021 they published A Border Town in Poland: A 20th Century Memoir, also published by Penn Convoy Press.


Book cover to Blockbusted

Blockbusted: The Evolution of Hollywood's Calculated Blockbuster Films by Alexander Ross (Lexington Books, May 2023)

In this book, Alexander Ross (New College, 2021), currently a research student within Oxford’s Faculty of History, highlights how creative entrepreneurs saved the Hollywood studios in the 1970s by establishing the calculated blockbuster, consisting of key replicable markers of success, as Hollywood's preeminent business model. Ross demonstrates how visionary individuals such as Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, and Zemeckis helped create the modern, calculated blockbuster business model (BBM). However, with the rise of streaming giants such as Netflix and the studios struggling to compete, many consumers decide what to watch from the comfort of their homes, making the difference between ‘cinema’ and ‘television’ anachronistic and opening up a galaxy for enterprising film makers focused on their art, as opposed to box office revenue streams. Revisiting the history of those pioneering 1970s blockbusters, Ross offers distinct analysis about the possible future of the calculated blockbuster, or whether the streamers will continue to generate their own content and, eventually, take control. Scholars of film studies, screenwriting, and popular culture will find this book of particular interest.



Book cover to Cyber Threat Intelligence

Cyber Threat Intelligence by Martin Lee (Wiley, July 2023)

The author (New College, 2008) has an interesting backstory having worked in Oxford ahead of matriculating. He says, ‘I came to Oxford as a researcher in human viral genetics in early 1996 and promptly discovered the early internet. Giving up all intentions of following an academic career, I taught myself programming and changed career direction [ed note: all good Oxonians seem to change career direction. It’s a sign of creativity]. Following the dot-com crash I found myself writing spam filters (just as spam was becoming a problem), and as part of our work we started finding nation-state cyber attacks that were getting blocked by our filters. As I tried to learn more about the issues we were uncovering, I discovered that there were no text books to teach members of the public the techniques of threat intelligence. The whole concept of civilians working in the private sector conducting threat intelligence was relatively new. After many years working in this area, I've compiled the text book that I wished I had had when starting out’.

It concerns how to think about who is going to launch a cyber attack against you, and how they might go about it. It provides a survey of ideas, views and concepts, rather than offering a hands-on practical guide. It is intended for anyone who wishes to learn more about the domain, particularly if they wish to develop a career in intelligence, and as a reference for those already working in the area.

The text covers the threat environment, malicious attacks, collecting, generating, and applying intelligence and attribution, as well as legal and ethical considerations. It includes analysis of large scale attacks such as WannaCry, NotPetya, Solar Winds, VPNFilter, and the Target breach, looking at the real intelligence that was available before and after the attack.


Book cover to Shakespeare's Syndicate by Ben Higgins

Shakespeare’s Syndicate: The First Folio, its Publishers, and the Early Modern Book Trade by Ben Higgins (Oxford University Press, 2022)

Congratulations to Dr Ben Higgins, LMH’s Career Development Fellow in English, who has been shortlisted for the Shakespeare's Globe Book Award 2023 for his recently-published book: Shakespeare’s Syndicate: The First Folio, its Publishers, and the Early Modern Book Trade. The award, worth £3,000, aims to promote the work of new and emerging scholars in the field of Shakespeare studies.

In 1623 a team of book trade figures published what has become the most famous volume in English literary history: William Shakespeare’s First Folio. Who were these publishers and how might their stories relate to those found in book they created?

Of the decision to shortlist Shakespeare’s Syndicate for the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award 2023, the judging panel said: ‘Ben Higgins’s Shakespeare’s Syndicate is a hugely impressive study of the bookish world around the First Folio. Conceived as an extensive close reading of the book’s title page, it takes the reader on a thrilling tour of the book trade that published, printed, marketed, and sold this most influential of volumes. Devoting a chapter each to Edward Blount, John Smethwick, William Aspley, and William and Isaac Jaggard, Higgins makes the case for these figures as ‘merchants of belief’, vital to the formation of the book’s value, and the ‘creation of [its] literariness’.’  



Front cover of Gifts and Books

Gifts and Books, Ed. Nicholas Perkins (Bodleian Library, June 2023)

A brief mention here because we have covered this at greater length in a dedicated story. But the book is beautiful and it’s fresh out this month to accompany a free exhibition in the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Broad Street.

The exhibition and the book delve deeply into the intricate qualities of books as gifts, drawing on fantastic manuscript riches from the Bodleian Library that will actually teach you stuff that can’t be Googled.

One example is the beautiful book written out by Elizabeth I when she was ten years old, and given to her stepmother Katherine Parr on New Year’s Day 1544. It mingles respect, affection and shared religious devotion, but is also part of a canny survival strategy in the dangerous court of her father Henry VIII. 

The exhibition runs from 16 June – 29 October 2023.


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