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I am a cactus

John Sutherland: Christopher Isherwood and his boys, 3 June 2004

by Peter Parker.
Picador, 914 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 330 48699 3
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... for Isherwood’s writing, praising only, in his extensive descriptions of the work, the Berlin stories, the novel A Single Man, and the polemical autobiography Christopher and His Kind. He examines the writing for film, but thinks it unimportant. Isherwood, who disliked self-revelation, was not a fluent or eloquent letter writer. Although he ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... her book. There were also the ambiguously situated onlookers (maybe participants too?) like Isaiah Berlin and one or two others, in addition to some of the people now gathered around the New York Review of Books. What is remarkable about the list of names she spools out is not only their number and even distinction (Robert Lowell, Jackson ...

Contra Mundum

Edward Said, 9 March 1995

Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 
by Eric Hobsbawm.
Joseph, 627 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 7181 3307 2
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... a bit player in his own epic. We see him as a 15-year-old with his sister on a winter afternoon in Berlin on the day that Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. Next he is a partisan in the Spanish Civil War. He is present in Moscow in 1957, ‘shocked’ to see that the embalmed Stalin was ‘so tiny and yet so all-powerful’. He is part of ‘the attentive ...

Sins of the Three Pashas

Edward Luttwak: The Armenian Genocide, 4 June 2015

‘They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else’: A History of the Armenian Genocide 
by Ronald Grigor Suny.
Princeton, 520 pp., £24.95, March 2015, 978 0 691 14730 7
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... triggered the deportations in place after place and who was assassinated by an Armenian in Berlin in 1921; and Djemal Pasha, high military commander and mayor of Istanbul, where it all began with the mass arrests and executions of Armenian leaders on 23-24 April 1915. I realise, however, that an author whom I greatly admired at the age of 12, and whose ...

An Example of the Good Life

Steven Shapin: Michael Polanyi, 15 December 2011

Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science 
by Mary Jo Nye.
Chicago, 405 pp., £29, October 2011, 978 0 226 61063 4
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... elite schools: the progressive Minta gymnasium alone produced Szilárd and his fellow physicists Edward Teller (who rejoiced in the initials E.T.) and Nicholas Kurti, the engineer Theodore von Kármán, and the economists Nicholas Kaldor and Thomas Balogh. They were overwhelmingly Jewish or from a Jewish background. Almost all were non-observant, some ...

Vanity and Venality

Susan Watkins: The European Impasse, 29 August 2013

Un New Deal pour l’Europe 
by Michel Aglietta and Thomas Brand.
Odile Jacob, 305 pp., £20, March 2013, 978 2 7381 2902 4
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Gekaufte Zeit: Die vertagte Krise des demokratischen Kapitalismus 
by Wolfgang Streeck.
Suhrkamp, 271 pp., £20, March 2013, 978 3 518 58592 4
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The Crisis of the European Union: A Response 
by Jürgen Habermas, translated by Ciaran Cronin.
Polity, 120 pp., £16.99, April 2012, 978 0 7456 6242 8
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For Europe! Manifesto for a Postnational Revolution in Europe 
by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt.
CreateSpace, 152 pp., £9.90, September 2012, 978 1 4792 6188 8
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German Europe 
by Ulrich Beck, translated by Rodney Livingstone.
Polity, 98 pp., £16.99, March 2013, 978 0 7456 6539 9
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The Future of Europe: Towards a Two-Speed EU? 
by Jean-Claude Piris.
Cambridge, 166 pp., £17.99, December 2011, 978 1 107 66256 8
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Au Revoir, Europe: What if Britain Left the EU? 
by David Charter.
Biteback, 334 pp., £14.99, December 2012, 978 1 84954 121 3
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... All quiet on the euro front? Seen from Berlin, it looks as though the continent is now under control at last, after the macro-financial warfare of the last three years. A new authority, the Troika, is policing the countries that got themselves into trouble; governments are constitutionally bound to the principles of good housekeeping ...


Ian Sansom, 17 July 1997

W.H. Auden: Prose 1926-38, Essays and Reviews and Travel Books in Prose and Verse 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Faber, 836 pp., £40, March 1997, 0 571 17899 5
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... word-play. In 1930 Auden was a 23-year-old Oxford graduate, recently returned from a year in Berlin, who had finally had his first collection of poems accepted by Faber. He was a young man beginning to make his mark on the world; he was discovering his voice, and his role. He had decided to become a teacher. Auden taught full-time for five years, from ...

The First Calamity

Christopher Clark: July, 1914, 29 August 2013

The War That Ended Peace 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Profile, 656 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 1 84668 272 8
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July 1914: Countdown to War 
by Sean McMeekin.
Icon, 461 pp., £25, July 2013, 978 1 84831 593 8
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... The Austrian government in Vienna resolved to serve an ultimatum on its Serbian neighbour. Berlin promised support for Austria on 5 July. Encouraged by Paris, Russia opted to defend its Serbian client by mobilising against Austria and Germany. Unsatisfied by the Serbian reply to its ultimatum, Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany mobilised against ...

All together

Humphrey Carpenter, 7 December 1989

The Safest Place in the World: A Personal History of British Rhythm and Blues 
by Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Quartet, 178 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 7043 2696 5
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Mama said there’d be days like these: My Life in the Jazz World 
by Val Wilmer.
Women’s Press, 336 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 7043 5040 8
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Lenya: A Life 
by Donald Spoto.
Viking, 371 pp., £15.95, September 1989, 0 670 81211 0
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... her an atmosphere of something forbidden – and, I should say, very interesting.’ She went to Berlin in 1921, during the period of hyper-inflation, when actors, like everyone else, were paid in millions of useless marks: ‘You just stuffed it in a drawer and tried somehow to get rid of it,’ recalled Lenya. She met Weill in 1924, via the ...

From the Urals to the Himalayas

T.H. Barrett, 12 July 1990

The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia 
edited by Denis Sinor.
Cambridge, 518 pp., £60, March 1990, 0 521 24304 1
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... that this may now be changing. The most famous Inner Asian of our own times was probably Irving Berlin, and he left at a very early age. Where the Golden Horde has yielded to Alexander’s Ragtime Band why bother about so long ago, so very far away? Of course, such complacency may be premature. The late 20th century turns out to be full of the most unlikely ...

Enjoying every moment

David Reynolds: Ole Man Churchill, 7 August 2003

by John Keegan.
Weidenfeld, 181 pp., £14.99, November 2002, 0 297 60776 6
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Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend since 1945 
by John Ramsden.
HarperCollins, 652 pp., £9.99, September 2003, 0 00 653099 0
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Clementine Churchill: The Revised and Updated Biography 
by Mary Soames.
Doubleday, 621 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 385 60446 7
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Churchill at War 1940-45 
by Lord Moran.
Constable, 383 pp., £9.99, October 2002, 1 84119 608 8
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Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy 
by Klaus Larres.
Yale, 583 pp., £25, June 2002, 0 300 09438 8
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... The same could not be said of the two alternatives for the Premiership, Neville Chamberlain and Edward Halifax. ‘I was never meant to be a War Minister,’ Chamberlain told his sisters in October 1939, whereas Winston was ‘enjoying every moment of the war’. As for Lord Halifax, no shrinking violet in political argument, the thought of being a war ...

Bolsheviks and Bohemians

Angus Calder, 5 April 1984

The Life of Arthur Ransome 
by Hugh Brogan.
Cape, 456 pp., £10.95, January 1984, 0 224 02010 2
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Bohemia in London 
by Arthur Ransome, introduced by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Oxford, 284 pp., £3.50, January 1984, 0 19 281412 5
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... They lived for a time in adjacent lodgings. For a week they subsisted on cheese and apples, till Edward, the older man, unexpectedly got a cheque for £25. They had a good meal in a Soho restaurant, crossed the street and sat down to another. Half a bottle of wine could then be had for tenpence. They went on to port in a friend’s room. When they got back ...


Craig Raine, 13 June 1991

Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life 
by Richard Garnett.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 402 pp., £20, March 1991, 1 85619 033 1
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... own belief was that some things do not translate: ‘The Cherry Orchard is being translated for Berlin and Vienna. But it won’t succeed there because they don’t have billiards, Lopakhins or students à la Trofimo.’ Undeterred by this, or by Matthew Arnold’s ironic example of Mdlle Rossignol for Florence Nightingale, Hingley boldly translates the ...

Not Very Permeable

Colin Kidd: Rory Stewart’s Borderlands, 19 January 2017

The Marches: Border Walks with My Father 
by Rory Stewart.
Cape, 351 pp., £18.99, October 2016, 978 0 224 09768 0
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... Wall, Rory reckons, reminded his father – a one-time ‘Cold War intelligence officer’ – of Berlin. Surely this wall too was first and foremost ‘a bureaucratic edifice of paranoia and surveillance’? The wall – constructed from 122 ad and running from the Solway Firth to the Tyne – also serves as a reminder that for two long periods in its ...

Only in the Balkans

Misha Glenny: The Balkans Imagined, 29 April 1999

Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination 
by Vesna Goldsworthy.
Yale, 254 pp., £19.95, May 1998, 0 300 07312 7
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Imagining the Balkans 
by Maria Todorova.
Oxford, 270 pp., £35, June 1997, 9780195087505
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... form of literary and ideological imperialism visited on the Balkans. While consciously drawing on Edward Said’s Orientalism for inspiration, Todorova makes clear distinctions between Said’s consideration of the Middle East and her own of what used to be called the Near East. Both authors draw on a third academic, Milica Bakic-Hayden, to describe the ...

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