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Lord Bounder

David Cannadine, 19 January 1984

F.E. Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead 
by John Campbell.
Cape, 918 pp., November 1983, 0 224 01596 6
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... Gilbert’s rich comic creation in Iolanthe, a susceptible insomniac who married a fairy; and F.E. Smith, first Earl of Birkenhead, whose appointment to the Woolsack was denounced by the Morning Post as ‘carrying a joke too far’. FE’s life was shamelessly, successfully and simultaneously devoted to self-advancement, self-advertisement, self-indulgence ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco leather. Boswell believed, Sher writes, that an ‘infidel’ writer such as Hume had no right to such marks of ‘politeness and respect’ from Christian ...

All hail, sage lady

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Crown’, 15 December 2016

... in the home he had chosen for them, and his frustrations grew dark. Recently, when the actor Matt Smith was introduced to Prince William and the prince was told Smith would soon be playing his grandfather in an epic Netflix series, The Crown, William offered only one word. ‘Legend,’ he said, as if they were talking ...

Whomph!

Joanna Biggs: Zadie Smith, 1 December 2016

Swing Time 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 453 pp., £18.99, November 2016, 978 0 241 14415 2
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... The ends​ of great fiction do not change, much,’ Zadie Smith wrote eight years ago in an essay about David Foster Wallace. ‘But the means do.’ She was between novels: three years had passed since her most traditional, On Beauty, was published; NW, her most experimental, wouldn’t appear for another four ...

Who’s your dance partner?

Thomas Meaney: Europe inside Africa, 7 November 2019

The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent 
by Stephen Smith.
Polity, 197 pp., £15.99, April 2019, 978 1 5095 3457 9
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... which can only be alleviated one bad actor at a time. In tone​ , if not in argument, Stephen Smith’s Scramble for Europe belongs to the crisis literature that began to appear in 2015 after Merkel’s decision to allow more refugees into Germany than EU burden-sharing rules required. The notion of a ‘European refugee crisis’ had already coalesced in ...

Vote for the Beast!

Ian Gilmour: The Tory Leadership, 20 October 2005

... distinguished and competent. That the names of William Hague at the age of 36 and Iain Duncan Smith at any age should now be added to that illustrious roll is bizarre. How did this Conservative descent into absurdity occur? During Major’s premiership by far the greatest cause of dissension in the governing party was Europe. After she had been deprived ...

Profits Now, Costs Later

David Woodruff: Mariana Mazzucato, 22 November 2018

The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy 
by Mariana Mazzucato.
Allen Lane, 384 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 0 241 18881 1
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... organising concept more than a hundred years ago. Mazzucato rummages in the classical armoury of Smith, Ricardo and Marx. But the weapons she emerges with are blunt and poorly suited to her purposes. Hoping to challenge the inflated incomes of financiers and others, she seizes on Smith’s distinction between ...

Now to Stride into the Sunlight

Ian Jack: The Brexiters, 15 June 2017

What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit 
by Daniel Hannan.
Head of Zeus, 298 pp., £9.99, November 2016, 978 1 78669 193 4
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The Bad Boys of Brexit: Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign 
by Arron Banks.
Biteback, 354 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 1 78590 205 5
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All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class 
by Tim Shipman.
William Collins, 688 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 0 00 821517 0
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... What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit. Striding into the sunlight, we encounter Adam Smith and David Ricardo and the slightly more contemporary figure of Theresa May, whose ambition to make Britain ‘the global leader in free trade’ Hannan quotes approvingly. Free trade is the great elixir. ‘Free trade ...

Endless Uncertainty

Colin Kidd: Adam Smith’s Legacy, 19 July 2001

Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment 
by Emma Rothschild.
Harvard, 366 pp., £30.95, June 2001, 0 674 00489 2
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... Among the intellectual figures who have shaped the modern world Adam Smith stands out as someone who doesn’t frighten the laity, might be positively welcomed indeed by middle England. Should the neighbours catch a glimpse of the Wealth of Nations sitting on the bookshelf alongside Thatcher’s memoirs or the latest Delia Smith, there’s no risk of ostracism ...

Little Mercians

Ian Gilmour: Why Kenneth Clarke should lead the Tories, 5 July 2001

... with any knowledge of recent history, yet the Conservative Parliamentary Party, its strategists in Smith Square, its aged followers in the country and its North American press supporters were too paralysed by ideology to accept it. Over Europe, too, much of the Conservative Party has been gazing selectively at the past. It seems to regard England (not even the ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

Stevie 
by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Heinemann, 378 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 434 44105 8
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... This biography gets off to a bad start with its title. The writer called Stevie Smith was also a celebrity called Stevie – a spiky sprite who was famous for being unfashionable. This creature thrived on being a spinster, which licensed her to be a bit cuckoo, and on speaking her hard words from a spindly frame decked out like a schoolgirl’s – as if it were a feat to think behind a fringe ...

Mad or bad?

Michael Ignatieff, 18 June 1981

Trial by Medicine: Insanity and Responsibility in Victorian Trials 
by Roger Smith.
Edinburgh, 288 pp., £15, March 1981, 9780852244074
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... ourselves. Such help is at hand in a historical work, published by chance during the trial. Roger Smith’s history of the conflict between medical and legal discourses in the insanity trials of the 19th century is ‘relevant’ in a way he could never have anticipated or, in this tragic instance, have wished. His book is more than a history of trials, a ...

Infidels

Malise Ruthven, 2 June 1983

The Helen Smith Story 
by Paul Foot and Ron Smith.
Fontana, 418 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 636536 1
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... sixth floor of a Jeddah apartment block in May 1979. There were no other women, except for Helen Smith, a 23-year-old nurse from Yorkshire who worked in the same private hospital as Richard Arnot, a surgeon. What actually occurred at the party is still the subject of dispute, and is related to a pending legal action. But everyone knows what happened ...

Fundamentally Goyish

James Wood: Zadie Smith, 3 October 2002

The Autograph Man 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 420 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 241 13998 8
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... kid with EkaSystems Inc, and earning at least half a million a year . . . Alas, much of Zadie Smith’s second novel reads like this. (It’s better written, but she had two years, and I had two minutes.) White Teeth, for all its many miracles, occasionally revealed a cartoonish energy that at times seemed to amount to a fear of silence, a perpetual ...

Is this the end of the UK?

David Runciman: The End of the UK?, 27 May 2010

... able to buck the national trends, though unpopular local ones (hello Lembit Opik, hello Jacqui Smith) couldn’t rely on general goodwill to see them home. Yet in the cold light of morning, once the dust had settled, and before Cameron and Clegg decided to stir it all up again, this looked like a pretty conventional sort of result. A tough economic ...

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