photo of 12 different book covers

Smart Summer Books

15 December 2020
14 mind-expanding books for the summer months
We asked the Heads of Schools in Humanities to nominate some of the must-read academic books of 2020. Grab a cup of tea and get into them.
Photo of book cover for Bedlam at Botany Bay

1. Bedlam at Botany Bay

What happened when people went ‘mad’ in the fledgling colony of New South Wales? In Bedlam at Botany Bay: A history of ‘madness’ in early colonial NSW by Dr James Dunk, you’ll find out through the correspondence of governors and colonial secretaries, the descriptions of judges and doctors, the words of firebrand politicians, and the heartbreaking letters of siblings, parents and friends.

We also hear from the ‘mad’ themselves. Bedlam at Botany Bay looks at people who found themselves not only at the edge of the world, but at the edge of sanity.

Bedlam at Botany Bay won the NSW Premier’s Australian History Prize this year. Dr Dunk is in the Department of History.

photo of book jacket for Wild Policy

2. Wild Policy

Associate Professor Tess Lea’s latest book Wild Policy: Indigeneity and the unruly logics of intervention describes what happens to Indigenous policy when it targets the supposedly 'wild people' of regional and remote Australia.

Associate Professor Lea, from Gender and Cultural Studies, suggests that it is policies that are wild, not the people being targeted. Drawing on efforts across housing and infrastructure, resistant media-making, health, governance and land tenure battles in regional and remote Australia, Wild Policy looks at how the logics of intervention are formulated and what this reveals in answer to the question: why is it all so hard?

photo of a book cover for Being Evil

3. Being Evil

How do we understand what ‘evil’ means? In Being Evil: A philosophical perspective, Associate Professor Luke Russell discusses why some philosophers think that evil is a myth or a fantasy, while others think that evil is real, and is a concept that plays an important role in contemporary secular morality. Along the way he asks whether evil is always horrific and incomprehensible, or if it can be banal. 

Associate Professor Russell, from the Department of Philosophy, offers famous examples of evildoers including serial killers, terrorists, and war criminals, as well as examples from fiction, and gives a systematic overview of the various kinds of extreme wrongdoing, and considers the core questions when thinking about evilness. He also engages with ongoing discussions over psychopathy and empathy, analysing the psychology behind evildoing.

photo of book cover for The Art of Pure Cinema

4. The Art of Pure Cinema

What, precisely, did Alfred Hitchcock mean when he referred to his film Rear Window as “pure cinema”? Associate Professor Bruce Isaacs, senior lecturer in Film Studies, presents the first book-length study of pure cinema as a philosophy and artistic practice.

Tracing the evolution of a philosophy of pure cinema across Hitchcock's most experimental films - Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, and Frenzy - Isaacs rereads these movies in a new and vital context. The Art of Pure Cinema: Hitchcock and His Imitators is a must-have for film buffs and fans of the English film director, known as the master of suspense. The films of so-called Hitchcockian imitators like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Brian De Palma are also examined in light of a provocative claim: that the art of pure cinema is only fully realized after Hitchcock.

photo of book cover for Cuban Hustle

5. The Cuban Hustle

Professor Sujatha Fernandes’ book The Cuban Hustle: Culture, Politics, Everyday Life explores the ways artists, activists, and ordinary Cubans have hustled to survive and express themselves in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Whether circulating information on flash drives as a substitute for the internet or building homemade antennas to listen to Miami’s hip hop radio stations, Cubans improvise alternative strategies and workarounds to contend with ongoing isolation. 

From reflections on feminism, new Cuban cinema, and public art to urban slums, the Afro-Cuban movement, and rumba and hip hop, Professor Fernandes, Department of Political Economy, reveals Cuba to be a world of vibrant cultures grounded in an ethos of invention and everyday hustle.

photo of book cover for When There was No Aid

6. When There Was No Aid

In When There Was No Aid by Associate Professor Sarah Phillips is a lively and accessible account of Somaliland's path to peace.

Using evidence from Somaliland's experience of peace-building, When There Was No Aid challenges two of the most engrained presumptions about violence and poverty in the Global South. First, that intervention by actors in the Global North is self-evidently useful in ending them, and second that the quality of a country's governance institutions (whether formal or informal) necessarily determines the level of peace and civil order that the country experiences. Associate Professor Phillips is in the Department of Government and International Relations.

photo of book cover for Shakespeare's Body Parts

7. Shakespeare’s Body Parts

Dr Huw Griffiths, Chair of the Department of English, unpacks some of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays in Shakespeare's Body Parts: Figuring Sovereignty in the History Plays.

For Shakespeare aficionados, this book provides a sustained, critical reading of the multiple body parts that litter the dialogue and action of Shakespeare’s history plays, including Henry V, Richard III, Richard II, King John and Henry IV. With a starting point in literary critical analyses of these dislocated bodies, the book tracks Shakespeare’s relentless pursuit of a specific political question: how does human flesh, blood and bone relate to sovereignty? Dr Griffiths advances our understanding of how human bodies are captured by — and escape — the grip of political systems.

photo of the book cover for Awesome Indonesia

8. Awesome Art Indonesia

For younger readers, Dr Yvonne Low, from the Department of Art History, has published Awesome Art Indonesia, a beautiful art book for kids aged 9-12.

Take a trip through the archipelago of Indonesia learning about 10 captivating works of art. This journey is a deep-dive into art history, from paintings inspired by the ancient epics to innovative performances that get you thinking. Awesome Art Indonesia: 10 works from the archipelago everyone should know is part of the Awesome Art series produced by the National Gallery Singapore.

photo of book cover for Housing Policy

9. Housing Policy in Australia

Housing Policy in Australia: A Case for System Reform is the first comprehensive, incisive and lucid overview of housing policy in Australia in 25 years.

The book, co-authored by Associate Professor Judith Yates, investigates the many dimensions of housing affordability and government actions that affect affordability outcomes. It analyses the causes and implications of declining home ownership, rising rates of rental stress and the neglect of social housing, as well as the housing situation of Indigenous Australians. The book also identifies current and future housing challenges for Australian governments.

Housing Policy in Australia sets out priorities for the transformational national strategy needed for a fairer and more productive housing system.

photo of book cover for City

10. City Form, Economics and Culture

City Form, Economics and Culture: For the Architecture of Public Spaces is a book about how cities occupy space. Written by Associate Professor Pablo Guillen Alvarez, the book is not about architectural masterpieces. It is about the tools for reinventing city life.

The book follows two case studies: the evolution of urban form in the United States and how it stands in sharp contrast with the evolution of urban form in Japan. It shows how American cities are constrained by rules far removed from the neoliberal economic idea of free and competitive markets and contrast that with Japanese planning that promotes competition and creates granular, walkable cities dotted with small shops that foster variety in goods and services.

photo of book cover for Two-World Literature

11.  Two-World Literature

In Japanese Studies, Associate Professor Rebecca Suter’s new book looks at cultural stereotypes in the early novels of the bestselling author Kazuo Ishiguro.

Born in Japan, raised in the United Kingdom, and translated into a broad range of languages, Ishiguro has throughout his career consciously used his multiple cultural positioning to produce texts that look at broad human concerns. 

In Two-World Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro's Early Novels Associate Professor Suter explains how Ishiguro has been able to create a “two-world literature” that addresses universal human concerns and avoids the pitfalls of the single, Western-centric perspective of “one-world vision.”

photo of book cover for Pedagogy

12.  Pedagogy, Empathy and Praxis

For a completely different look at new ideas in teaching, Dr Alison Grove O’Grady’s new book Pedagogy, Empathy and Praxis: Using Theatrical Traditions to Teach examines the concept of empathy as an essential aspect of the teacher training curriculum, and asks how it can be taught. 

While there has been a steady flow of teacher education reform books in recent years, there are comparatively few that have considered change from understandings and advances developed in human rights-based practices and theatrical traditions. This pioneering book will appeal to students and scholars of education and empathy, as well as those interested in incorporating empathy into their teaching practice.

Photo of book cover for Inclusive Education

13. Inclusive Education

Associate Professor Ilektra Spandagou’s new textbook is in an accessible and insightful look at inclusive education for teachers. The book addresses theory, policy, practice and research issues in special education and inclusive education from an Australian perspective, focusing on current developments in Australian educational settings and classrooms.  Inclusive Education in Schools and Early Childhood Settings is aimed at post-grad teachers, preservice teachers and professional teachers with an interest in inclusive education.

photo of book cover for Ernst Bloch

14. Ernst Bloch’s Speculative Materialism

Need to brush up on your German Marx philosophers? Dr Cat Moir, in Germanic Studies, has a fresh interpretation of Ernst Bloch’s philosophy and politics.

Bloch has been painted as a naïve realist, a romantic nature philosopher, a totalitarian thinker, and an irrationalist whose obscure literary style stands in for a lack of systematic rigour. Dr Moir challenges this in her book Ernst Bloch's Speculative Materialism: Ontology, Epistemology, Politics.

Through a close, historically contextualised reading of Bloch's major work of ontology (the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming or existing), Das Materialismusproblem, seine Geschichte und Substanz (The Materialism Problem, its History and Substance), Dr Moir presents Bloch as one of the twentieth century's most significant critical thinkers.

Elissa Blake

Media Adviser (Humanities and Science)

Related articles