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At the Royal Academy

James Davidson: ‘Bronze’, 11 October 2012

... opposed both to the ‘pitiless bronze’ of ancient weapons and armour, and to the blockish stone sculptures with which they had to share ancient exhibition space, unmalleable marbles that could never imagine kicking back so high and with such abandon, unless the raised leg was supported by a fortuitous tree stump. This same exquisite poise, albeit in ...

Bernard Levin: Book Two

Clive James, 6 December 1979

Taking Sides 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 281 pp., £6.50, September 1979, 0 330 26203 3
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... not even regular exposure to the Ring cycle can assuage. Confidently predicting, in 1977, that Brian Inglis’s book Natural and Supernatural would be greeted by a chorus of rejection from terrified scientists, Levin never noticed that it was greeted by a chorus of indifference. Fantasising flat out, Levin insists that Science is blindly determined to deny ...

Play hard

Dave Haslam, 20 October 1994

The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-93 
by Nick Kent.
Penguin, 338 pp., £9.99, May 1994, 0 14 023046 7
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... serving us, for instance, Lou Reed stumbling around in New York, the New York Dolls in Paris and Brian Wilson in ‘psychicpain’, as well as Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones. Chapters on later stars like Morrissey, Guns ’N’ Roses and Happy Mondays lack this vivid authenticity. Looking back, you can see why Kent made such an impact. When he started ...

Never Mainline

Jenny Diski: Keith Richards, 16 December 2010

by Keith Richards, with James Fox.
Weidenfeld, 564 pp., £20, October 2010, 978 0 297 85439 5
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... will remind me that I’ve never really wanted to live the life of anyone else, not even a Rolling Stone. Or especially. I haven’t bought a Stones album since Sticky Fingers in 1971 and haven’t deliberately listened to anything they recorded after Exile on Main Street a year later. I find Mick Jagger’s dancing embarrassingly inept and can never remember ...

Beast of a Nation

Andrew O’Hagan: Scotland’s Self-Pity, 31 October 2002

Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland 
by Neal Ascherson.
Granta, 305 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 1 86207 524 7
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... for over an hour talking to Neal Ascherson. It was one of those freezing January evenings – cold stone, long shadows – and we adopted our BBC faces in Poets’ Corner, looking at the memorials and marble busts on the walls. I noticed Ascherson was taking his time over an inscription to the poet Thomas Campbell, and some words of Campbell’s began to echo ...

Tearing up the Race Card

Paul Foot, 30 November 1995

The New Untouchables: Immigration and the New World Worker 
by Nigel Harris.
Tauris, 256 pp., £25, October 1995, 1 85043 956 7
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The Cambridge Survey of World Migration 
edited by Robin Cohen.
Cambridge, 570 pp., £75, November 1995, 0 521 44405 5
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... a few months as chief Tory press spokesman, there will be no holds barred. No doubt Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney will be in close touch with his colleague Peter Griffiths, the MP for Portsmouth North, who first won a seat in Parliament in Smethwick, in the general election of 1964, by concentrating heavily on the race issue. It was in that election, without ...

Seeing yourself dead

Nicolas Tredell, 21 February 1991

Love in a Life 
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 62 pp., £11.99, March 1991, 0 571 16101 4
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Three Variations on the Theme of Harm: Selected Poetry and Prose 
by Douglas Oliver.
Paladin, 255 pp., £6.99, November 1990, 0 586 08962 4
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Spoils of War 
by John Eppel.
Carrefour Press, 48 pp., August 1989, 0 620 13315 5
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Music for Brass 
by Brian Waltham.
Peterloo, 64 pp., £5.95, November 1990, 1 871471 20 6
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by Rosamund Stanhope.
Peterloo, 64 pp., £5.95, November 1990, 1 871471 19 2
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... bubble. The man is a harbinger of death, showing how the bloom in its misty bubble is dead as a stone, how the beat of my heart in time with his journey is steadily slower. Other poems recall the mother in a hospital bed, fed with oxygen through a tube in the throat, or with head battered and shaved – a painful, poignant image that also figures in ...


Sylvia Lawson: In Sydney, 8 April 1993

... souls remembered how spectacularly wrong the pollsters were last year in Britain. But even when Brian Mulroney’s demise in Canada fell like a gift into Labour’s lap, and the polls swung back at the last minute, I couldn’t believe that a government which had been ten years in office, with a million people unemployed, could possibly get back (let alone ...

Blaming teachers

Jane Miller, 17 August 1989

... be waged in tones of measured common sense tuned to the innocently offended ear-drum. Of Professor Brian Cox much was hoped. His Black Paper past promised drills and canons, rote and rigour. The report’s chapter on literature teaching is dull: but the report as a whole will be a disappointment for all those who were looking forward to their ill-tempered ...

At Tate Britain

John Barrell: L.S. Lowry, 8 August 2013

... figures that seemed to me the very worst thing about him, a view reinforced ten years later by Brian and Michael in their song about Lowry’s ‘matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs’. Those figures now seem to me to express an enormous thoughtfulness about the conditions and effects of life in industrial towns; and ...

When judges sleep

Stephen Sedley, 10 June 1993

In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without Trial in Wartime Britain 
by A.W.B. Simpson.
Oxford, 453 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 19 825775 9
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... a straight bat. A book may be lurking there, as it must in many other corners of the legal attic. Brian Simpson himself embarked on such an enterprise some years ago with the 19th-century case, known to every law student, of the Crown v. Dudley and Stephens – the captain and mate of the yacht Mignonette who survived a ship-wreck by eating the cabin boy and ...


Tom Paulin: Summer in Donegal, 16 September 1999

... Something in the cool, sun-stippled hazel grove I don’t understand – a low wall made of dressed stone, large thin flat slabs, no mortar, but packed with small stones to bind them. Then the remains of a lower wall running up against it, making the corner of a rectangle. I pull away moss and earth, and find a stone-paved floor, the hazel bushes growing up through it ...

Behaving like Spiders

Tim Flannery: The Holocene summer of social evolution, 24 June 2004

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilisation 
by Brian Fagan.
Granta, 284 pp., £20, May 2004, 1 86207 644 8
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... we think about shifts in climate, both large and small, and how they have affected people. Indeed, Brian Fagan takes the view that climate change has fundamentally shaped the course of civilisation. This is his third book on the topic (his earlier works examined floods and the Little Ice Age) and in it he uses the unprecedented accuracy of newly recovered ...

That Impostor Known as the Buddha

Eliot Weinberger: Incarnations of the Buddha, 11 September 2014

From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha 
by Donald S. Lopez Jr.
Chicago, 289 pp., £18, April 2013, 978 0 226 49320 6
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In Search of the Christian Buddha: How an Asian Sage Became a Medieval Saint 
by Donald S. Lopez Jr and Peggy McCracken.
Norton, 262 pp., £17.99, May 2014, 978 0 393 08915 8
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... impostor’ who had promulgated ‘intentional perversion and mystification’. In Kathmandu, Brian Houghton Hodgson was stranded for years with little to do for his employer, the East India Company, and passed the time collecting ornithological specimens for the British Museum and Buddhist scriptures. The original, Sanskrit versions of Buddhist texts had ...

Not Enjoying Herself

Jenny Diski: Princess Margaret, 16 August 2007

Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled 
by Tim Heald.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £20, July 2007, 978 0 297 84820 2
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... according to Tim Heald, her latest biographer, who has previously committed to paper the lives of Brian Johnston,2 Denis Compton,3 Barbara Cartland4 and Prince Philip,5like the other four biographical subjects she was also a household word in her day. This had nothing to do with hard work and natural ability – as, I would argue, it did in the other four ...

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