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Crocodile’s Breath

James Meek: The Tale of the Tube, 5 May 2005

The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City For Ever 
by Christian Wolmar.
Atlantic, 351 pp., £17.99, November 2004, 1 84354 022 3
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... carriages began to be replaced with sliding doors. The iconic Underground map, designed by Harry Beck, an electrical draughtsman, in imitation of a circuit diagram (he was paid only ten guineas for his masterwork) was taken up in 1932. By 1937, when the sole Tube line to go deep into South London was renamed the Northern Line, the Underground was, in ...

Our Man

Perry Anderson: The Inglorious Career of Kofi Annan, 10 May 2007

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power 
by James Traub.
Bloomsbury, 442 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 7475 8087 1
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Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War 
by Stanley Meisler.
Wiley, 384 pp., £19.99, January 2007, 978 0 471 78744 0
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... be very high. So, predictably enough, it has been with the United Nations. Readers approaching James Traub’s and Stanley Meisler’s books thus have reason to expect the worst. In some ways the expectation is amply fulfilled, but in others the two books – each by a journalist – cast more light on the UN than is normally allowed to fall on it. The ...

Dirty Little Secret

Fredric Jameson: The Programme Era, 22 November 2012

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 466 pp., £14.95, November 2012, 978 0 674 06209 2
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... as Gide liked to say, and we may have to raise some questions when someone like Henry James comes along and offers to codify its new ‘laws’ in doctrines like ‘point of view’. Even though he is virtually absent from this book, for reasons I will come to, Faulkner offered his own useful tripartite formula for what the novelist’s practice ...

Kept Alive for Thirty Days

Stefan Collini: Metrics, 8 November 2018

The Tyranny of Metrics 
by Jerry Z. Muller.
Princeton, 220 pp., £19.95, February 2018, 978 0 691 17495 2
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The Metric Tide 
by James Wilsdon et al.
Sage, 168 pp., £19.99, February 2016, 978 1 4739 7306 0
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... whole populations of people doing difficult and socially useful tasks can find themselves at the beck and call of a smaller group whose expertise consists chiefly in setting measurable targets and enforcing a system of penalties and rewards: managers tell doctors what they should be doing, managers tell teachers what they should be doing, managers tell ...

Like a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader

John Lloyd: Globalisation, 2 September 1999

The Lexus and the Olive Tree 
by Thomas Friedman.
HarperCollins, 394 pp., £19.99, May 1999, 0 00 257014 9
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Global Transformation 
by David Held and Anthony McGrew.
Polity, 515 pp., £59.50, March 1999, 0 7456 1498 1
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... politics’ after the collapse of the Soviet Union; we live in what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck calls a post-military state. We have also woven about us a ‘human rights regime’ which has, as Held & Co put it, entrenched in international law the notion that a legitimate political power must be, on the one hand, a form of political power that is ...

All Together Now

John Lloyd: The British Trade Union, 19 October 2000

British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics. Vol. I: The Postwar Compromise, 1945-64 
edited by John McIlroy and Nina Fishman et al.
Ashgate, 335 pp., £35, January 2000, 0 7546 0018 1
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British Trade Unions and Industrial Politics. Vol. II: The High Tide of Trade Unionism, 1964-79 
edited by John McIlroy and Nina Fishman et al.
Ashgate, 389 pp., £35, January 2000, 0 7546 0018 1
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The TUC: From the General Strike to New Unionism 
by Robert Taylor.
Palgrave, 299 pp., £45, September 2000, 0 333 93066 5
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... and by the public. And it was feared. Harold Wilson’s 1964-70 and 1974-76 Governments and James Callaghan’s 1976-79 Administration spent more time cajoling, ‘standing up to’, browbeating, placating and schmoozing with union leaders than with any other group. Robert Taylor’s close account of the TUC has in it some wonderfully revealing passages ...

Why are you still here?

James Meek: Who owns Grimsby?, 23 April 2015

... the prelude to far more ambitious plans, the so-called Round 3 wind farms like Dogger Bank Creyke Beck, a staggeringly grandiose project to plant turbines in the middle of the North Sea over an area almost three times the size of the Isle of Wight, 130 miles north-east of the mouth of the Humber, producing about as much electricity as a mid-sized nuclear ...


Alan Bennett: Finding My Métier, 4 January 2018

... grey-headed with bright yellow breasts, which seem to be nesting in the creeper rather than by the beck, which is what the bird book says they should be doing. Chrissie opposite says she has a couple of yellow wagtails in her garden, but she is much nearer the water. Not sure how common grey wagtails are, I knock on Timmy Hutchinson (Timmy the Twitcher)’s ...

Who does that for anyone?

Adam Shatz: Jean-Pierre Melville, 20 June 2019

Jean-Pierre Melville: Le Solitaire 
by Bertrand Teissier.
Fayard, 272 pp., €22, October 2017, 978 2 213 70573 6
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Jean-Pierre Melville, une vie 
by Antoine de Baecque.
Seuil, 244 pp., €32, October 2017, 978 2 02 137107 9
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... a film with the Rothschilds’ money’, because he’d cast Stéphane, the daughter of Baron James-Henri de Rothschild.) On the last day of the shoot, Vercors’s wife returned home early and complained that the German officer had shown more respect for their house than the film crew had. ‘But Madame,’ Melville replied, ‘the German wasn’t making ...

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