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Book Review: Academic Diary – Les Back

Like the author, Academic Diary is generous, insightful and full of hope. I feel this book offers in the antidote to the cynicism that the neoliberal academy can sometimes engender. Having read some of the entries before in web form on www.academic-diary.co.uk, I had an idea of what to expect but the new additions and the renewing of some of the narratives makes for an engaging read. So much so that I ended up devouring it in one sitting.

A collection of short essays curated in the form of a diary that documents the ebb and flow of the academic year, Academic Diary offers a blend of anecdotes, insights, and advice for academics of all stages in their careers. As a doctoral student, however, I feel that this is a book that should be read by all early career academics as not only does it offer an insight into the realities of academic life but to also highlights some of the ways to engendering a different form of academic being, one that is generous and counteracts some of the pressures of the often crushing pressures of the neoliberal academy.

Like many of you who choose to now read it, I’m sure some of the stories will resonate. For me it was the power of the library Angel as Les terms it, that happening upon a hidden gem on the shelves of a library that cannot be replaced in digital forms. These insights offer a chance to share his wealth of experience and offer a unique and insightful analysis that made me nod in agreement, not in the pavlovian way in which the author describes the conference attendee, but in a way that one does when finally realising that some of what you felt were personal quirks are actually shared experiences.

In the early part of the book, Les talks of reading Stuart Hall and how ‘reading his words on the page I could almost hear his unique voice, his sense of humour’ (p.41). This really encapsulates what this book does for me. I felt that through his characteristically accessible language, Les’ voice jumped right off the page, I found myself pausing, reading in a measured way so characteristic of his voice.

The most heartening element of the book is the fact that it lays bare some of the struggles that even the most experienced academic feels, those hidden insecurities, the fear of the blank page and the juggling act between surviving in the neoliberal academy and doing what is felt to be right and just. I would suggest that this is a must read for anyone who needs to find a renewed hope within the world of academia and for those considering embarking on a career in the academy.

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