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We Are All Victims Now

Thomas Laqueur: Trauma, 8 July 2010

The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood 
by Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, translated by Rachel Gomme.
Princeton, 305 pp., £44.95, July 2009, 978 0 691 13752 0
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... In formal Japanese, I’m told, the word ‘trauma’ is written as a compound of two Chinese characters: one meaning ‘external’ and the other ‘injury’. Trauma is thus a hurt on the outside, as in ancient Greek – a wound. We still use the word in this way when we speak of ‘trauma surgeons’ or ‘trauma wards’, but this is not the sense that has made it so resonant and ubiquitous today ...

Why name a ship after a defeated race?

Thomas Laqueur: New Lives of the ‘Titanic’, 24 January 2013

The Wreck of the ‘Titan’ 
by Morgan Robertson.
Hesperus, 85 pp., £8, March 2012, 978 1 84391 359 7
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Shadow of the ‘Titanic’ 
by Andrew Wilson.
Simon and Schuster, 392 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 1 84739 882 6
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‘Titanic’ 100th Anniversary Edition: A Night Remembered 
by Stephanie Barczewski.
Continuum, 350 pp., £15.99, December 2011, 978 1 4411 6169 7
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The Story of the Unsinkable ‘Titanic’: Day by Day Facsimile Reports 
by Michael Wilkinson and Robert Hamilton.
Transatlantic, 127 pp., £16.99, November 2011, 978 1 907176 83 8
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‘Titanic’ Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Harper, 404 pp., £9.99, September 2012, 978 0 00 732166 7
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Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage 
by Hugh Brewster.
Robson, 338 pp., £20, March 2012, 978 1 84954 179 4
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‘Titanic’ Calling 
edited by Michael Hughes and Katherine Bosworth.
Bodleian, 163 pp., £14.99, April 2012, 978 1 85124 377 8
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... less than three hours later. All of the women survived. Most of the men would die as gentlemen. Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, inspected the damage soon after the collision, told Captain Smith that it was mathematically impossible for the Titanic to stay afloat for much more than two hours, and then quietly awaited his death after helping people ...

Among the Graves

Thomas Laqueur: Naming the Dead, 18 December 2008

The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction 
by Mark Neely.
Harvard, 277 pp., £20.95, November 2007, 978 0 674 02658 2
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This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War 
by Drew Gilpin Faust.
Knopf, 346 pp., $27.95, January 2008, 978 0 375 40404 7
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... that puts them beyond query. The man who did much of the pioneering work for the Civil War – Thomas Livermore – was himself a veteran of the war who went on to a career in law and business. He was not a professional historian or demographer. And his interest in the historical record was very different from ours: his aim was to show that the soldiers of ...

Even Immortality

Thomas Laqueur: Medicomania, 29 July 1999

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present 
by Roy Porter.
HarperCollins, 833 pp., £24.99, February 1999, 0 00 637454 9
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... century, almost 150 years after Vesalius and the beginning of bio-medicine, the great physician Thomas Sydenham observed that he knew old market women in Covent Garden who understood botany better than medical students did. Until the discovery of antibiotics, the same old women could probably prescribe as well as the most learned doctor. Huge advances in ...

While Statues Sleep

Thomas Laqueur, 18 June 2020

Learning from the Germans: Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil 
by Susan Neiman.
Allen Lane, 415 pp., £20, August 2019, 978 0 241 26286 3
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... Afew years ago​ Susan Neiman published an article titled ‘History and Guilt’, which asked whether America can ‘face up to the terrible reality of slavery in the way that Germany has faced up to the Holocaust’. Her new book tries to answer that question, considering the ways in which the US can learn from Germany’s Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit, its ‘working through the past ...

The Sound of Voices Intoning Names

Thomas Laqueur, 5 June 1997

French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial 
by Serge Klarsfeld.
New York, 1881 pp., $95, November 1996, 0 8147 2662 3
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... In a happier age, Immanuel Kant identified one of the problems of understanding any of the genocides which come all too easily to mind. It is the problem of the mathematical sublime. The arithmetician has no more difficulty in principle comprehending one murder than 600,000 – the number murdered in the Armenian atrocities of 1916-17 or by Nazi Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front in 1941 before the death camps were fully geared up – or five to six million, the best estimates we have of the number of Jews murdered in the camps ...

Four pfennige per track km

Thomas Laqueur: Adolf Eichmann and Holocaust photography, 4 November 2004

Eichmann: His Life and Crimes 
by David Cesarani.
Heinemann, 458 pp., £20, August 2004, 0 434 01056 1
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Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence 
by Janina Struk.
Tauris, 251 pp., £15.95, December 2003, 1 86064 546 1
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... Adolf Eichmann is not an obvious candidate for a full-length biography, and before his capture in 1960 and trial the following year no one would have thought of writing one. The historical record would have been too thin; much of what we know about his life and crimes emerged from his interrogation by the Israeli authorities and from the vast research effort that went into preparing the case against him ...

Festival of Punishment

Thomas Laqueur: On Death Row, 5 October 2000

Proximity to Death 
by William McFeely.
Norton, 206 pp., £17.95, January 2000, 0 393 04819 5
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Death Row: The Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment 
edited by Bonnie Bobit.
Bobit, 311 pp., $24.95, September 1999, 0 9624857 6 4
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... in British reforming circles and even more so among their Revolutionary American cousins. Thomas Jefferson regarded it as belonging with the handful of books essential for understanding the new forms of civil government being built in America. Capital punishment was not abolished in any of the new American jurisdictions, despite the efforts of some of ...

Travelling in the Classic Style

Thomas Laqueur: Primo Levi, 5 September 2002

Primo Levi’s Ordinary Virtues: From Testimony to Ethics 
by Robert Gordon.
Oxford, 316 pp., £45, October 2001, 0 19 815963 3
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Primo Levi 
by Ian Thomson.
Hutchinson, 624 pp., £25, March 2002, 0 09 178531 6
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The Double Bond: Primo Levi, a Biography 
by Carole Angier.
Viking, 898 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88333 6
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... Primo Levi is among the most read and most resonant witnesses to the greatest human disaster of a disastrous age. He created more powerful images, more mind-sustaining turns of phrase through which to think about these matters than any other writer. The ‘drowned and the saved’, for example: that appallingly stark, Darwinian division between those who managed to secure a few extra grams of food for themselves, or respite from labour, or shelter from the cold, or friendship, and those who ended ‘on the bottom’, the ‘Muselmänner’, whom a pitiless system had reduced to the merely biological, the already dead whom everyone shunned ...

Too Much

Barbara Taylor: A history of masturbation, 6 May 2004

Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Zone, 501 pp., £21.95, March 2003, 1 890951 32 3
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... act become a site of such debilitating fear and shame? Why, in the course of the 18th century, as Thomas Laqueur asks in this rich and lively history, did a practice tolerated by the ancients and largely ignored by Judeo-Christian moralists, come to be seen as the height of erotic depravity? Laqueur, who teaches at ...

Back from the Underworld

Marina Warner: The Liveliness of the Dead, 17 August 2017

The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Princeton, 711 pp., £27.95, October 2015, 978 0 691 15778 8
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... presence in the world didn’t dim.Secularism, reason, scepticism don’t bring disenchantment, Thomas Laqueur argues in this monumental study, the harvest of more than ten years’ concentrated exploring of archives, tombstones, battlefields and furnace design. Laqueur principally scrutinises developments since ...

Do women like sex?

Michael Mason, 8 November 1990

Making sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Harvard, 352 pp., $27.50, October 1990, 0 674 54349 1
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... The other day I came across an article by Professor Laqueur, written some fourteen years ago, which makes a striking and dismaying contrast to the book he has just published. The contrast is fairly significant of the destructive potential of the New Historicism for the writing of history. Happily Professor Laqueur’s case is unusual, for the community which has shown by far the most susceptibility to this new and potent intellectual virus is the literary one, rather than the community of historians ...


Stephen Greenblatt, 19 June 1986

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy 
by Judith Brown.
Oxford, 214 pp., £12.50, January 1986, 0 19 503675 1
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... by a number of scholars, including Caroline Bynum, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Christopher Craft, Thomas Laqueur, and, of course, Michel Foucault. When the implications of this work are fully absorbed, it will be more difficult to write of lesbian nuns in Renaissance Italy, but it will be easier to understand the relationship between demonic possession ...

John Sturrock

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 21 September 2017

... and taste and high standards made me better than I am. I am grateful to him and mourn his death. Thomas Laqueur John was one of my oldest friends, indeed I can’t think of any older. We met very soon after our simultaneous arrival at Lincoln College in 1951. There he introduced me to the Ximenes crossword competition in the Observer: he was something ...

11 September

LRB Contributors, 4 October 2001

... the great champion of New York, in the old cemetery of Trinity Church near the WTC. While Thomas Jefferson waxed pastoral about an agrarian America, Hamilton insisted on the cosmopolitanism of the city as the wellspring of the nation. To see his grave buried again was difficult, but the rubble will be removed. So come delight in the city again, swap ...

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