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Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... Norman Podhoretz). Queenie Leavis of course became an official widow, and it is les veuves on whom David Laskin relies most heavily in this relatively orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have ...

The Exploding Harpoon

Kathleen Jamie: Whales, 8 August 2013

The Sea Inside 
by Philip Hoare.
Fourth Estate, 374 pp., £18.99, June 2013, 978 0 00 741211 2
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... book being read, a chapter a day, by people as different as Stephen Fry, Tilda Swinton, even David Cameron, as well as ordinary folk. The Sea Inside is most at ease when, again, he is in the company of whales. Companionable and entertaining, the book follows the recent fashion for combining memoir, travelogue, historical byways, natural history and ...

Giacometti and Bacon

David Sylvester, 19 March 1987

Giacometti: A Biography 
by James Lord.
Faber, 592 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 571 13138 7
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... was Simone de Beauvoir. It was one of those rare meetings of minds which make the matings of the herd seem lamentably bestial. They saw eye to eye, it appeared, on everything, including marriage, which they spurned, repudiating en masse all bourgeois standards and conventions, confident of their ability to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and ...

Too early or too late?

David Runciman, 2 April 2020

... been issued in the name of science. ‘I’m an epidemiologist. When I heard about Britain’s “herd immunity” coronavirus plan, I thought it was satire,’ one recent headline in the Guardian ran. Science (an ‘-ology’) over here; satire (politics) over there. But the people who demand more action – quicker, faster, harder – are usually those who ...

How many jellybeans?

David Runciman: Non-spurious generalisations and why the crowd will win, 5 August 2004

Profiles, Probabilities and Stereotypes 
by Frederick Schauer.
Harvard, 359 pp., £19.95, February 2004, 0 674 01186 4
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The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few 
by James Surowiecki.
Little, Brown, 295 pp., £16.99, June 2004, 0 316 86173 1
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... follow each other blindly, when they start looking for central direction, the crowd turns into a herd, and herds are notoriously bad at making decisions. But in the case of the public response to the Iraq war, Surowiecki’s conditions seem pretty much to have held. These conditions are strikingly similar, whether Surowiecki knows it or not, to the ones set ...

Damnable Deficient

Colin Kidd: The American Revolution, 17 November 2005

1776: America and Britain at War 
by David McCullough.
Allen Lane, 386 pp., £25, June 2005, 0 7139 9863 6
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... in the popular iconography of American freedom, alongside comic-book heroes in capes and tights. David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, a federalist president who failed to secure re-election, has sold two million copies since it was published in 2001. For all its sentimental and antiquarian dimensions, the cult of the founders has damaging political ...


Geoffrey Hawthorn, 15 November 1984

Social Scientist as Innovator 
by Michael Young.
Abt Books, 265 pp., $28, April 1984, 0 89011 593 1
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Revolution from Within: Co-operatives and Co-operation in British Industry 
by Michael Young and Marianne Rigge.
Weidenfeld, 188 pp., £12.95, July 1983, 0 297 78234 7
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Dilemmas of Liberal Democracies: Studies in Fred Hirsch’s ‘Social Limits to Growth’ 
edited by Adrian Ellis and Krishan Kumar.
Tavistock, 212 pp., £12.95, September 1983, 0 422 78460 5
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... fail to maintain her pretence of leadership. Neil Kinnock may, despite himself, take over. David Owen may come out of his increasingly conservative camouflage to capture that middle ground on which success in British politics has been said, with decreasing plausibility, to rest. None, however, has a politically able team behind them. Almost anything ...

Bye-bye Firefly

Edmund Gordon: Carnival of the Insects, 12 May 2022

The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World 
by Oliver Milman.
Atlantic, 260 pp., £16.99, January, 978 1 83895 117 7
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Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse 
by Dave Goulson.
Vintage, 328 pp., £9.99, May, 978 1 5291 1442 3
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... Dalí’s skulking grasshoppers and swarming ants, Frida Kahlo’s grizzled caterpillars, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.Goulson finds our aversion to insects mysterious. He has a point: outside malarial zones, the danger they pose to human health is limited. People living in the Global ...

No one hates him more

Joshua Cohen: Franzen on Kraus, 7 November 2013

The Kraus Project 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 318 pp., £18.99, October 2013, 978 0 00 751743 5
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... that individualisme took on the positive connotation of a heroic severance of personality from the herd, and was opposed by negative, greedy égoïsme; both terms were soon shepherded into German. Instead of elucidating this paradox, and inquiring whether Kraus was aware of it, Franzen writes the following note: You’re not allowed to say things like this in ...

The Irresistible Itch

Colin Kidd: Vandals in Bow Ties, 3 December 2009

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters 
by Alexander Brown.
Continuum, 214 pp., £12.99, September 2009, 978 1 84706 399 1
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... of uncharismatic right-wing leaders came to an end with the accession to the party leadership of David Cameron, a smoother, less straightforward kind of Conservative. Cameron recognised that if he was to ‘detoxify’ the Tory brand, loosen its association with uncaring Thatcherite economics, then he needed to explode the assumption that the Conservatives ...

Tang and Tone

Stephen Fender: The Federal Writer’s Project’s American epic, 18 March 2004

Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers’ Project 
by Jerrold Hirsch.
North Carolina, 293 pp., £16.50, November 2003, 0 8078 5489 1
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... in autobiography; it positively ‘encapsulates rather than . . . qualifies its meaning’, as David Vincent has put it. However, it’s still possible to plot the degrees to which it was allowed to flourish in the FWP biographies. This is how Mary Hicks introduces her interview with Betty Cofer, a former slave of a plantation-owning family, in North ...

Full Tilt

Thomas Jones: Peter Carey, 8 February 2001

True History of the Kelly Gang 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 352 pp., £16.99, January 2001, 0 571 20987 4
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... In the penultimate chapter of David Copperfield, David and Agnes, after ten years of uneventful but blissful marriage – ‘I had advanced in fame and fortune, my domestic joy was perfect’ – are sitting by the fire in their house in London, one night in spring, when they receive a visit from an elderly stranger ...

Sheep into Goats

Gabriele Annan, 24 January 1980

The British Aristocracy 
by Mark Bence-Jones and Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd.
Constable, 259 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 09 461780 5
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The Astors 
by Virginia Cowles.
Weidenfeld, 256 pp., £8.50, November 1980, 9780297776246
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Barclay Fox’s Journal 
edited by R.L. Brett.
Bell and Hyman, 426 pp., £8.95, July 1980, 0 7135 1865 0
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... defined aristocratic virtue as a variant of virtú: it had to be amoral. ‘Morality is the herd instinct of the individual,’ he said, therefore the opposite of aristocratic. Bence-Jones and Montgomery-Massingberd don’t mention Nietzsche, but they make the Continental aristocrat out to be something of a Nietzschean figure, whereas the British ...

Prince of Darkness

Ian Aitken, 28 January 1993

Rupert Murdoch 
by William Shawcross.
Chatto, 616 pp., £18.99, September 1992, 0 7011 8451 5
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... entire printing operation into his Wapping fortress turned his milch cows overnight into a whole herd of prize animals. At the final count, he paid £60 million to get rid of the unions: in return, the value of his papers soared from £300m to around £1 billion. The number of print workers fell from two thousand to 570, the packers from 1469 to ...

It’s good to be alive

Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Science does ethics, 9 February 2012

Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition and Complexity Are Revolutionising Our View of Human Nature 
by Douglas Kenrick.
Basic, 238 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 0 465 02044 7
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Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values 
by Sam Harris.
Bantam, 291 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 593 06486 3
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The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice 
by Peter Corning.
Chicago, 237 pp., $27.50, April 2011, 978 0 226 11627 3
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... we’d figured out that human nature was simply animal competition it was our duty to help the herd thin itself out. Science has corrected itself since then, and we now understand that just because a gene is selfish it doesn’t follow that a person should be. The ideas of inclusive fitness and group selection make it clear that we’re biologically better ...

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