An open book in a field of grass


This month, the collapse in British public standards, a Buddhist thinker, Whig biography, brilliant Oxford women and Hanif Kureishi

Published: 1 May 2024


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The women_are_up_to_something

The Women are Up to Something by Ben How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics by Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb (Oxford University Press, 2021, PB 2024)

A truly important book, originally published to great acclaim late in 2021 but now (and quite rightly) available as a paperback. The story of four remarkable women who shaped the intellectual history of the 20th century: Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. On the cusp of the Second World War, four women went to Oxford to begin their studies: a fiercely brilliant Catholic convert; a daughter of privilege longing to escape her stifling upbringing; an ardent Communist and aspiring novelist with a list of would-be lovers as long as her arm; and a quiet, messy lover of newts and mice who would become a great public intellectual of our time. They became lifelong friends. At the time, only a handful of women had ever made lives in philosophy. But when Oxford's men were drafted in the war, everything changed. As Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch laboured to make a place for themselves in a male-dominated world, as they made friendships and families, and as they drifted toward and away from each other, they never stopped insisting that some lives are better than others. They argued that courage and discernment and justice―and love―are the heart of a good life. This book presents the first sustained engagement with these women's contributions: with the critique and the alternative they framed. Drawing on a cluster of recently opened archives and extensive correspondence and interviews with those who knew them best, Benjamin Lipscomb traces the lives and ideas of four friends who gave us a better way to think about ethics, and ourselves.


Book jacket for 'George and Emily Eden'

George and Emily Eden: Pride, Privilege, Empire and the Whigs, (Lutterworth, 25 April, 2024)

Brigid Allen’s (Somerville, 1963) double biography, initially expensive but less so when the paperback comes out in July at £25, should appeal to readers with interests in both nineteenth-century history and literature. It describes the Edens' background of insecurely achieved privilege, and evokes in its early chapters the English social and political scene that Byron satirized in the last four cantos of Don Juan. In 1811 George proposed marriage to Annabella Milbanke, who turned him down but remained his friend until her brief, unhappy marriage to Byron. In 1814, as a 30-year-old Whig MP, he succeeded to his father's title as second Baron Auckland and took his seat in the House of Lords. Neither George nor his witty, opinionated younger sister Emily married, the pair maintaining a devoted sibling companionship which was unusual in the dynastically conscious governing class of their time. The nub of the book, which draws on Emily's published and unpublished letters, describes George's six years as Governor-General of India, including the ill-advised First Afghan War and the Kabul disaster of January 1842.


Book jacket for Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi. Writing the Self: a Biography, by Ruvani Ranasinha (Manchester University Press, 2023)

Professor Ranasinha (Christ Church, 1997) has written the first biography of the British Asian novelist, screen writer and playwright Hanif Kureishi, one of Britain’s most popular, provocative and versatile writers.  Drawing on journals, letters and manuscripts from Kureishi's unexplored archive, it offers a vivid portrait of a major talent who has inspired a new generation of writers. Born to an Indian-born migrant father and white British mother into a Britain on the cusp of change in 1954, this is the story of how Kureishi, a mixed-raced child of empire came to write such extraordinarily successful works such as My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) that redefined new ways of being British. This biography illuminates a larger story, not only of Kureishi’s life and work, but of the recasting of Britain in the aftermath of decolonisation.


Book Jacket for Downward Spiral

Downward Spiral by John Bowers (Manchester University Press, April, 2024)

A remarkable first draft of recent political history in the UK, the author’s specific quarry to analyse the extent to which public standards of integrity and objectivity among politicians has fallen. The answer is: much more than you may have realised, one reason being that so many narratives of bad behaviour are only surfacing now as the immediate danger for individuals pursuing their careers begins to recede. There is a shocking list of strange/corrupt appointments in an appendix that has arisen partly from the research conducted for the book. Right at the centre is Boris Johnson but he’s also symptomatic of a broader polarisation of politics resulting in a loss of public trust. The author, a distinguished lawyer, is the Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, and will be the subject of a forthcoming interview.


Book jacket, Buddhism between Religion and Philosophy

Buddhism Between Religion and Philosophy: Nāgārjuna and the Ethics of Emptiness, by Rafal K. Stepien, (Oxford University Press, 7 May 2024)

Dr Stepien, who held the inaugural Berggruen Research Fellowship in Indian Philosophy at Oxford, elucidates Nāgārjuna's thought in its Buddhist context, integrating his views on belief and intention, language and mind, action and attachment, selfhood and suffering, violence and peace, emptiness and Buddhahood. Nāgārjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) was an Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist philosopher monk of the Madhyamaka school. He is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. Stepien’s interpretation of the great thinker embeds a critique of the Christian and Western assumptions still dominating the study of religion and philosophy today. He introduces and clarifies ideas of pivotal importance to the history of Buddhist thought in India, Tibet, China, and Japan. The book should find a wider audience.


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