Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars "In our time" in print, 29 Aug 2013
This review is from: Malthus: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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Which came first, the chicken or the egg? "In our time", the series presented by Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4, or the "Very Short Introductions" from OUP?

The media are of course different - with "In our time", three knowledgeable people join Bragg in the studio, and he draws from them an introductory critical review of the subject under discussion. Little is assumed, most ideas are explained in pretty simple terms. This fits the fact that of the listeners, some will be listening just because it's an enjoyable listen, some may listen because they happen to have come across the idea and would like to learn more, and some because they happen across the programme and are sufficiently engaged not to press the button that changes the station.

With OUP's books, the assumption can be different. People are unlikely to pick these up at random - the writer assumes that his readership will already have some clue as to what the subject is about. But here's one of the weaknesses, in my opinion. Whereas IOT will not assume anything about the context, this book is a little bit uneasy when it comes to explaining context. How far back do you need to go? You can assume that people will have some idea about the Enlightenment, I guess, and humanism. But Condorcet? Paine? Utopianism? The social contexts in different countries? In the case of this book, a fair level of familiarity with different aspects of the context are assumed - which means that this is significantly more academic than an episode of IOT.

The other quibble I have is price. This is a small, slim volume - though well referenced, indexed and with suggestions for further reading. OUP describe the series as "Ideal for train journeys, holidays." But for £7.99, it's possible to get a much more substantial book that will keep you absorbed and (bluntly) entertained for much longer. If it were half the price, I'd feel happier about recommending it - and I suspect it would have the capability of having more than twice the impact.

However, this is a good and reliable introduction to Malthus, his work and his historical significance, and I'd recommend it.
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