This week for our “Desert Island” column, we interview Professor Anthony King. Professor King is a sociologist with his main research interests in social theory, sport and the military. He publishes widely, with a distinct intellectual interest in the formation and interaction of different social groups.
I have had the privilege in being taught under him, and he has brought to lectures a stimulating and rigorous array of topics such as his exploration of crowd dynamics, the mechanisms behind the functioning of organisations and the maintenance of the class hierarchy in our society.
His most recent publication, The Combat Soldier, explores how combat soldiers generate and sustain group cohesion even when they are under enemy fire.
In this interview, we ask Professor King what 5 books he would bring for his desert island retreat.
So Professor King, which 5 books would you bring to a desert island, and why?
Tony: Lists of this kind are fun but they are also tricky; to select what I think are genuinely the 5 best books I have ever read is almost impossible for me. Five is too few. It also rather depends on what kind of book and what kind of context. But here are five that impressed me deeply and still do.
1. Joseph Heller – Catch-22
Based on Heller’s experiences in the US Air Force in WWII, this novel is a profoundly funny yet also moving satire on modern rationality, capitalism and its individualist ethos.
2. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
Tolstoy situates the personal tragedy of a woman in a rich historical and social context, all within a pragmatic existential philosophy. The best novel ever written? Possibly.
3. Philip Larkin – The Whitsun Weddings
It is not particularly easy always to like Larkin either personally or politically. But this highly technical collection of poems situates personal experiences within an astute depiction of late twentieth century British society. It is easy to read them as pessimistic and scornful. In fact, I think there is a strong romanticism underpinning his work.
4. TS Eliot – The Waste Land and other Poems
The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land are widely considered to introduced modernism to English poetry thereby revolutionizing it. I agree. Two extraordinary pieces which draw on numerous literary traditions to analyse contemporary society and its ills. Not bad for a bank manager.
5. William Shakespeare – Hamlet
The greatest of his plays. No more needs to be said.
For more information about Professor Anthony King, check out his staff profile here.