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Mr Straight and Mr Good

Paul Foot: Gordon Brown, 19 February 1998

Gordon Brown: The Biography 
by Paul Routledge.
Simon and Schuster, 358 pp., £17.99, February 1998, 0 684 81954 6
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... in the race for Labour’s deputy leadership against the candidate supported by the Tribune Group, John Prescott? Right again. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. In The Candidate, the great American film about political compromise starring Robert Redford, a young welfare lawyer is persuaded against his instinct to go into politics to change the world. He starts by ...

Hawks and Doves

Mark Ridley, 21 July 1983

Evolution and Theory of Games 
by John Maynard Smith.
Cambridge, 224 pp., £18, October 1982, 0 521 24673 3
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... and the health of their opponents. Apparently, however, they do not. Which brings us, at last, to John Maynard Smith. It was in an attempt, ten years ago, to show how the theory of individual selfishness could explain the restrained nature of animal contests that he introduced game theory to evolutionary biology. The ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith, 17 September 1981

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... Pandas are peculiar bears, which spend most of their days munching bamboo. To do this, they strip off the bamboo leaves by passing the stalks between their flexible thumb and the remaining fingers. But how can a panda have an opposable thumb, when in bears the thumb lies parallel to the fingers, and inseparable from them? In fact, the panda does not have a proper thumb at all: it has five parallel digits just like other bears ...

Burke and Smith

Karl Miller, 16 October 1980

Sydney Smith 
by Alan Bell.
Oxford, 250 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 19 812050 8
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Burke and Hare 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Polygon, 300 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 904919 27 7
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... Sydney Smith and William Burke lived at the same time and in the same country: but at opposite ends of the spectrum of class, ends which rarely met, except in court. Such people were strangers to one another, foreigners, and could hate and suspect one another in the style that has been reserved for foreigners. Smith and Burke lived for a while in the same place, Edinburgh – the city of Calvin and caller air, of metaphysics and foul smells, according to Smith, who claimed, in a typical tease, that he had to detach a passer-by ‘blown flat against my door’ by the prevailing winds, and ‘black in the face ...

What is Labour for?

John Lanchester: Five More Years of This?, 31 March 2005

David Blunkett 
by Stephen Pollard.
Hodder, 359 pp., £20, December 2004, 0 340 82534 0
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... year’s general election, it was obvious they were overwhelmingly likely to lose the next one. John Smith, who took over the leadership of the Labour Party, was an advocate of what was called ‘one more heave’: that Labour should carry on more or less as it had been doing since Kinnock took over in 1983, present itself as the responsible face of ...

Boy or Girl

John Maynard Smith, 3 February 1983

The Theory of Sex Allocation 
by Eric Charnov.
Princeton, 355 pp., £29.80, December 1982, 0 691 08311 8
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... Why, in the great majority of animals, are there equal numbers of males and females? For John Arbuthnot, writing in 1710, it was evidence of the beneficence of God: ‘for by this means it is provided, that the species may never fail, nor perish, since every male may have its female, and of a proportionable age.’ But while that might do for man, it will hardly do for those many species in which there is no monogamous pair bond and no parental care, and in which one male can fertilise many females, and yet which have an equal sex ratio ...

Diary

William Rodgers: Party Conference Jamboree, 25 October 1990

... restraint. It had been quite like an SDP Conference. The depression which settled over Labour with John Major’s sudden announcement of entry to the ERM and a cut of 1 per cent in interest rates is a measure of the fragility of its confidence, however. Mrs Thatcher had shot its fox, improbable fox though it may be. Neil Kinnock was harshly reminded that every ...

How to dislodge a leader who doesn’t want to go

Ross McKibbin: Where are the Backbenchers?, 8 July 2004

... proof against their leader’s displeasure. With the exception of Gordon Brown, and possibly John Prescott, no member of the present cabinet has such standing. Ministers have no power bases within the party or the country and are largely unknown to the electorate. They owe their places in the cabinet almost entirely to their relationship with Blair. As ...

Hopeless Warriors

Michael Gorra: Sherman Alexie’s novels, 5 March 1998

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven 
by Sherman Alexie.
Vintage, 223 pp., £6.99, September 1997, 9780749386696
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Reservation Blues 
by Sherman Alexie.
Minerva, 306 pp., £6.99, September 1996, 0 7493 9513 3
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Indian Killer 
by Sherman Alexie.
Secker, 420 pp., £9.99, September 1997, 0 436 20433 9
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... For the girl has agreed to adoption: the baby is given to the Smiths of Seattle. They name him John, a choice that Alexie uses to signal a well-meaning lack of imagination, and when John Smith grows up, Indian-born but raised by whites, he will become the chief suspect in the search for the Indian Killer. It’s not ...

Popper’s World

John Maynard Smith, 18 August 1983

The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism 
by Karl Popper, edited by W.W. Bartley.
Hutchinson, 185 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 09 146180 4
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... Karl Popper is perhaps the only living philosopher of science who has had a substantial influence on the way scientists do what they do. I say ‘perhaps’ because the same claim might be made for Thomas Kuhn. However, Kuhn seems to me a perceptive sociologist of science, but a poor philosopher. Also, in so far as he has had an effect on the way scientists behave, it has been pernicious: to be a great scientist, according to Kuhn, you must do revolutionary science, and the best evidence that you are doing it is that you are so obscure and inconsistent in your statements as to be wholly incomprehensible to others ...

Understanding Science

John Maynard Smith, 3 June 1982

The Laws of the Game: How the principles of nature govern science 
by Manfred Eigen and Ruthild Winkler, translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber.
Allen Lane, 347 pp., £14.95, March 1982, 9780713914849
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... This is a translation of a book first published under the title Das Spiel in 1975. It is an ambitious book whose aim is to convey to the reader what it is to have a well-furnished scientific mind. Some years back, C.P. Snow persuaded us that the diagnostic characteristic of such a mind is familiarity with the second law of thermodynamics. His particular choice of a scientific law was unfortunate, because it is easier to talk nonsense about the second law than almost anything else, but in principle he was on the right track ...

Purchase and/or Conquest

Eric Foner: Were the Indians robbed?, 9 February 2006

How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier 
by Stuart Banner.
Harvard, 344 pp., £18.95, November 2005, 0 674 01871 0
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... diminished. In Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), a pivotal Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that Indians had a ‘right of occupancy’, but were not full owners of their land as whites understood it. Nonetheless, to the end of the 19th century, even as the federal government forcibly expelled Indians from the eastern half of the ...

Bring out the lemonade

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite: What the Welsh got right, 7 April 2022

Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales, 1962-97 
by Richard King.
Faber, 526 pp., £25, February, 978 0 571 29564 7
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... that put the issue back on the agenda in Wales. During his brief time as Labour leader, John Smith tasked Davies with drawing up plans for devolution in Wales. Smith was a true believer, unlike Tony Blair. But Blair inherited fully formed plans for devolution in Scotland and Wales when he became leader in ...

Global Morality Play

Helen Pfeifer: Selimgate, 1 July 2021

God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World 
by Alan Mikhail.
Faber, 479 pp., £10.99, June, 978 0 571 33194 9
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... the Ottoman-controlled Aegean. In the years that preceded the founding of Jamestown in Virginia, John Smith had fought Ottoman armies in Eastern Europe and spent time as an Ottoman captive. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the conceptual frameworks that European colonisers applied to the Americas derived from their encounters with Muslims at ...

John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

The Life of John Berryman 
by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 451 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 7100 9216 4
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Poets in their Youth: A Memoir 
by Eileen Simpson.
Faber, 272 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 571 11925 5
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... When John Berryman’s first full-length collection of poems, The Dispossessed, was published in 1948, Yvor Winters wrote a notice of it for the Hudson Review. Here Winters drew attention to Berryman’s ‘disinclination to understand and discipline his emotions’, and went on to suggest: ‘Most of his poems appear to deal with a single all-inclusive topic: the desperate chaos, social, religious, philosophical and psychological, of modern life, and the corresponding chaos and desperation of John Berryman ...

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