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Suppose the Archduke had ducked

Andrew Berry: Game theory and human evolution, 7 September 2000

Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny 
by Robert Wright.
Little, Brown, 435 pp., £22.50, March 2000, 0 316 64485 4
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... products, and not in any general sense ‘better’ than even the lowliest bacterium. Stephen Jay Gould, in particular, has insisted that the anthropocentric Victorian perspective was fuelled more by theology than by sound biology. Like his pet theme, Spencer’s reputation, too, has been eclipsed. In the 1890s, he was well enough known to receive a ...

Swiping at Suburbs

Andrew Saint: The course of British urbanism, 31 March 2005

Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City 
by Tristram Hunt.
Weidenfeld, 432 pp., £25, June 2004, 0 297 60767 7
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... Roscoe, Dickens, Cobden, Bright, Ruskin, Macaulay, Eliot, Gaskell, Arnold, Chadwick and Toulmin-Smith are all there; and so are Tocqueville, Guizot and Sismondi. At some cost to coherence, the star-studded cast rolls by. Nor are the arts forgotten. One reason Hunt so fiercely champions Britain’s old industrial cities is that he loves their ...

Digging up the Ancestors

R.W. Johnson, 14 November 1996

Hugh Gaitskell 
by Brian Brivati.
Cohen, 492 pp., £25, September 1996, 1 86066 073 8
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... Foot or Neil Kinnock as candidates for the pantheon and some of the devotion to the late John Smith derives, no doubt, from a desperate endeavour to find a leader of note somewhere. Hence this book. ‘Hugh Gaitskell was the grandfather of Tony Blair’s revolution, the original Labour moderniser,’ the blurb begins. With Labour under Blair mobilising ...

After the May Day Flood

Seumas Milne, 5 June 1997

... in advance. Then there was the cancellation of the deportation order against the adopted Nepalese, Jay Khadka, by – of all people – Jack Straw. Within a few days, hospital closures had been suspended, as had the privatisation of High Street post offices. None of it earth-shattering, much of it largely symbolic, but combined with the shifts in government ...

Each Cornflake

Ben Lerner: Knausgaard, Vol. 3, 22 May 2014

My Struggle: Vol. 3. Boyhood Island 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 490 pp., £12.99, March 2014, 978 1 84655 722 4
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... is that we keep likening his writing to a drug. ‘I need the next volume like crack,’ Zadie Smith writes. As the literary critic – and former junkie – Michael Clune has pointed out, we tend to reach for drug metaphors when we find ourselves taking pleasure in a book without being able to ascribe our interest to respectable literary values. Is ...

Middle Positions

John Hedley Brooke, 21 July 1983

Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875 
by Adrian Desmond.
Blond and Briggs, 287 pp., £15.95, October 1982, 0 85634 121 5
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Evolution without Evidence: Charles Darwin and ‘The Origin Species’ 
by Barry Gale.
Harvester, 238 pp., £18.95, January 1983, 0 7108 0442 3
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The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography 
by Janet Browne.
Yale, 273 pp., £21, May 1983, 0 300 02460 6
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The Descent of Darwin: A Handbook of Doubts about Darwinsm 
by Brain Leith.
Collins, 174 pp., £7.95, December 1982, 0 00 219548 8
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... effect, only two theories of evolution have ever been put forward,’ writes John Maynard Smith, ‘one, originating with Lamarck ... the other originating with Darwin.’ Such reduction of the scientific corpus to patterns of mutual exclusivity doubtless tells us something about the strategy, if not the logic, of scientific corroboration. It is a ...

Shockingly Worldly

David Runciman: The Abbé Sieyès, 23 October 2003

Emmanuel Sieyès: Political Writings 
edited by Michael Sonenscher.
Hackett, 256 pp., $34.95, September 2003, 0 87220 430 8
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... from rather out-of-the-way places, at least in geopolitical terms: Vico from Naples; Hume and Adam Smith from Edinburgh; Rousseau from Geneva; Kant from Königsberg. But because the 18th century was also, in the end, an Age of Revolution, its two most important political thinkers do not really belong in this club of international superstars. One, James Madison ...

On the Way to First Base

R.W. Johnson, 17 October 1996

... pushes through privatisation in the face of a transport strike while the former trade-union leader Jay Naidoo’s old cronies stand appalled at his talk, as Minister of Telecommunications, of privatisation. Ronnie Kasrils, the Deputy Minister of Defence, speaks of the urgent need for rearmament – which means spending billions on corvettes, submarines and jet ...

They rudely stare about

Tobias Gregory: Thomas Browne, 4 July 2013

‘Religio Medici’ and ‘Urne-Buriall’ 
by Thomas Browne, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff.
NYRB, 170 pp., £7.99, September 2012, 978 1 59017 488 3
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... It is still often proposed that religion and science need not conflict. Stephen Jay Gould held that they occupy ‘non-overlapping magisteria’: science deals with questions of fact, religion with questions of value and meaning. This is wishful thinking, because religions base themselves on factual claims. The god Yahweh promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants; Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates received from the angel Moroni; Jesus of Nazareth is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will return to judge the living and the dead ...

Libel on the Human Race

Steven Shapin: Malthus, 5 June 2014

Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet 
by Robert Mayhew.
Harvard, 284 pp., £20, April 2014, 978 0 674 72871 4
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... the cacophony of what was called ‘Malthusianism’ through the 19th and 20th centuries. Sydney Smith said of the Essay that it was a book ‘much more talked about than read’, both by admirers and critics; certainly the later career of Malthusian thought and commentary breaks free of detailed engagement with the late 18th-century pastiche of moral ...

Illuminating, horrible etc

Jenny Turner: David Foster Wallace, 14 April 2011

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace 
by David Lipsky.
Broadway, 320 pp., $16.99, 9780307592439
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The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel 
by David Foster Wallace.
Hamish Hamilton, 547 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 241 14480 0
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... of the mid-1980s craze for what Wallace called ‘conspicuously young’ first-time novelists: Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, writers Wallace despised. His next book, Girl with Curious Hair (1989), saw him starting to focus his brainpower in haunting, enduringly strange tales of television, flatness, chemical and electrical ...

What I Heard about Iraq

Eliot Weinberger: Watch and listen, 3 February 2005

... those who opposed this war can be discarded like spent cartridges.’ I heard Lieutenant-General Jay Garner say: ‘We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say: “Damn, we’re Americans.”’ And later I heard that I could buy a 12-inch ‘Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush’ action ...

The Inevitable Pit

Stephen Greenblatt: Isn’t that a Jewish name?, 21 September 2000

... my maternal grandfather, whose name was Mendel Seidel, that all Americans were named Brown, Smith or Jones, so he told the immigration officer at Ellis Island that his name was Mendel Brown. Perhaps these surnames did not really mean very much to him: he presumably thought of himself as Mendel ben Avraham. In the same vein, my paternal grandfather ...

Who do you think you are?

Jacqueline Rose: Trans Narratives, 5 May 2016

... transsexuality is an infinite confusion of tongues. Neither of them is arriving anywhere. For Jay Prosser by contrast, the transsexual man or woman is enfolded in their new body like a second skin (his 1998 book, one of the most widely circulated and debated on the topic, has the title Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality). As he describes ...

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