Daily Archives: May 16, 2022

Why We Read: 70 writers on non-fiction, edited by Josephine Greywoode (Penguin, £8.99)

With seventy writers to chose from, mostly known figures from the intellectual world, there’s going to be some controversy in this book, though not as much as I expected. Many say similar things, but Steven Pinker and Richard J. Evans offer competing thoughts.
 
Piner, makes compelling points about literacy (which few would argue with) and ends “… educated people really are more enlightened. They are less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and authoritarian. They place a higher value on imagination, independence and free speech. They are more likely to vote, volunteer, express politcal view and belong to civic organisations… They are also likelier to trust their fellow citizens…”
 
Though not mentioned in Pinker’s article, he could be talking about Trump’s America. So – fellow educated people, fellow readers – we are just basically nice.
 
But are we? Richard J. Evans points out that “… the perpetrators of the mass murder of Europe’s Jews were in many cases highly educated. Indeed, the higher up you go in the hierarchy of the SS … the more likely you are to find men with advanced educational qualifications. …” In another book – though I do not have a reference to hand – I read about the legal, scientific and medical qualifications of the whole Nazi leadership. Pretty well educated, in short. Evans remarks “The ability to read in itself does not make you morally upright or responsible.” Just as I am typing these words it comes back to me that my source for the educational qualifications of the leading Nazis may have been an article about The Reader by Bernard Schlink. A great book and film, which, however, posits that the reason one particularly sadistic female war criminal acted that way was because she was illiterate.
 
As if to prove Evans’ point, Geoffrey Roberts, the author of Stalin’s Library wrote recently in the New Statesman that “the key to understanding both Stalin and his dictatorship is that he was an intellectual”.
 
Still, as one of the intellectuals least likely to find a home on the shelves at Five Leaves Bookshop closes his piece, “It would be a shame to lose reading”.
 
The collection, by the way, split equally between male and female writers, and is a lot broader than the discussion above.
 
Why We Read is available here: fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/product/why-we-read/
Ross Bradshaw