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Diary

A.J.P. Taylor: An Unexpected Experience, 6 December 1984

... the 19th and 20th centuries. He wrote outstanding biographies of such Liberal leaders as Asquith, John Morley and Haldane, concluding with A.G. Gardiner, long-time editor of the Daily News. He then gave up political biography and wrote an enormous two-volume work on The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. It is difficult enough to write the ...

The Next Fix

Lara Pawson: African Oil, 7 February 2008

Poisoned WellsThe Dirty Politics of African Oil 
by Nicholas Shaxson.
Palgrave, 280 pp., £15.99, May 2007, 978 1 4039 7194 4
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Oil Wars 
edited by Mary Kaldor, Terry Lynn Karl and Yahia Said.
Pluto, 294 pp., £17.99, March 2008, 978 0 7453 2478 4
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Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil 
by John Ghazvinian.
Harcourt Brace, 320 pp., $25, April 2007, 978 0 15 101138 4
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... African countries and Angola has overtaken Saudi Arabia to become its chief supplier. In Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, Nicholas Shaxson argues that these developments are alarming. While the people who live in Africa’s big oil-producing countries are getting poorer and angrier, their leaders ‘have a rising tide of money at their ...

Ivy’s Feelings

Gabriele Annan, 1 March 1984

The Exile: A Life of Ivy Litvinov 
by John Carswell.
Faber, 216 pp., £10.95, November 1983, 0 571 13135 2
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... for Foreign Affairs in the Thirties and Stalin’s Ambassador to Washington after the war. John Carswell is the son of Catherine Carswell, who was Ivy’s best friend until she followed her husband to Russia in 1920. In 1959, after Catherine and Litvinov were dead, Ivy got permission to visit her native land and turned up on ...

Unsluggardised

Charles Nicholl: ‘The Shakespeare Circle’, 19 May 2016

The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography 
edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells.
Cambridge, 358 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 1 107 69909 0
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... unexpectedly it goes a good way towards providing one. Edited by the unflagging team of Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, the book is a remarkable collection of 25 essays, each focusing on a person or group of people known to Shakespeare, on the ways they related to him and influenced him, and, in some cases, on the ways they perceived and reported him. The ...

Buckle Up!

Tim Barker: Oil Prices, 1 June 2017

Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices 
by Robert McNally.
Columbia, 300 pp., £27.95, January 2017, 978 0 231 17814 3
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... a fall in consumption. And if prices fall, the relatively low cost of continuing to run existing wells (as opposed to the stupendously high costs of bringing new oilfields on line) means that supply won’t immediately fall far enough to bring prices back up. But both supply and demand can have long-term consequences: oversupply may continue because of the ...

Azure Puddles

John Bayley, 21 May 1987

Compton Mackenzie: A Life 
by Andro Linklater.
Chatto, 384 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 7011 2583 7
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... story about other writers, and was delighted when his friend Frank Swinnerton ventured to call on John Galsworthy in the country, and reported that the great man had risen from his work-table exclaiming gravely: ‘I say, Swinnerton, this is very sporting of you, very sporting indeed.’ Oddly enough, Walpole has probably lasted better than Mackenzie and ...

Sexist

John Bayley, 10 December 1987

John Keats 
by John Barnard.
Cambridge, 172 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 521 26691 2
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Keats as a Reader of Shakespeare 
by R.S. White.
Athlone, 250 pp., £25, March 1987, 0 485 11298 1
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... detail and come up with a host of fresh examples and insights. His book makes a good complement to John Barnard’s more general but also innovative study in the new Cambridge introductions to ‘British and Irish Authors’, a high-quality series which includes Patrick Parrinder on James Joyce and John Batchelor on ...

How do you spell Shakespeare?

Frank Kermode, 21 May 1987

William Shakespeare. The Complete Works: Original-Spelling Edition 
edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.
Oxford, 1456 pp., £75, February 1987, 9780198129196
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William Shakespeare: The Complete Works 
edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.
Oxford, 1432 pp., £25, October 1986, 0 19 812926 2
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... the greatest possible display and novelty. One has to admire not only the industry of Professor Wells and his associates, but their flair for publicity, as evidenced by the enormous solemn fuss about the poem ‘Shall I die?’, now accorded an honoured place in their canon, and also by the proclaimed scope and originality of their enterprise, which, though ...

Among the Picts

John Sutherland, 18 August 1994

Stained Radiance: A Fictionist’s Prelude 
by J. Leslie Mitchell.
Polygon, 219 pp., £7.95, July 1993, 0 7486 6141 7
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The Speak of the Mearns 
by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.
Polygon, 268 pp., £8.95, June 1994, 0 7486 6167 0
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... him during his lifetime, although some prescient fellow writers, notably Hugh MacDiarmid and H.G. Wells, had marked him as a major talent. Say ‘Scotland’ and few people (and no travel agents) will think of the bleak, windswept, comparatively featureless North-Eastern coastal region that separates St Andrews from Aberdeen. The Mearns is not a beauty spot ...

Dummy and Biffy

Noël Annan, 17 October 1985

Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community 
by Christopher Andrew.
Heinemann, 616 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 02110 5
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The Secret Generation 
by John Gardner.
Heinemann, 453 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 434 28250 2
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Two Thyrds 
by Bertie Denham.
Ross Anderson Publications, 292 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 86360 006 9
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The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933-1939 
by Wesley Wark.
Tauris, 304 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 1 85043 014 4
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... heroes outwit von Stumm and Hilda von Einem as they did in Greenmantle. Giles Railton, the hero of John Gardner’s novel, is a scion of the landed gentry and works in the mysterious upper reaches of the Foreign Office. There he recruits his offspring and nephews and nieces into the ranks of the secret service, just in time for the First World War. But all ...

The Only Alphabet

August Kleinzahler: Ashbery’s Early Life, 21 September 2017

The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life 
by Karin Roffman.
Farrar, Straus, 316 pp., £25.50, June 2017, 978 0 374 29384 0
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... Karin Roffman​ ’s superb biography of John Ashbery’s early life concludes with a photograph of the poet striding towards the camera. He is a tallish, handsome young man. The photograph was taken in the autumn of 1955 when he was 28, shortly after he arrived in Montpellier to begin his Fulbright Fellowship. He looks to have the world at his feet ...
... have also managed to neutralise much of what they show. Buildings like those of Lubetkin or Wells Coates, for instance, were presented as solutions, not creations, and to suggest, as the exhibition must, that other conventions have equal validity undermines the fragile logic that supported their simplicities. A fragment of a Rex Whistler ...

Grains and Pinches

V.G. Kiernan, 9 July 1992

Salt and Civilisation 
by S.A.M. Adshead.
Macmillan, 417 pp., £45, March 1992, 0 333 53759 9
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... has narrowed its meaning since Shakespeare wrote the Bastard’s great speech about it in King John, where it meant greed, self-interest, the opening bars of capitalism. Adshead’s book belongs to a recently growing genus of works on the history of particular commodities. To be of most value a study of this kind should be a part of general history, joined ...

Creative Affinities

Martin Swales, 15 July 1982

The Newton Letter 
by John Banville.
Secker, 82 pp., £5.95, May 1982, 0 436 03265 1
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... The unnamed narrator of John Banville’s novel is an academic who spends the summer on a run-down country estate in Ireland where he hopes to put the finishing touches to a book on Isaac Newton. Gradually, his research takes a back seat as he becomes fascinated with the family on whose property he is living. Edward Lawless is a wreck of a man, clumsy, inarticulate, frequently drunk; his wife Charlotte is noble, suffering, strangely withdrawn; Ottilie, Charlotte’s niece, is blonde, somewhat graceless, but physically available ...

Desmondism

John Sutherland, 23 March 1995

Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple 
by Adrian Desmond.
Joseph, 474 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 7181 3641 1
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... is never left unadorned by epithet: ‘the sour-stomached Thomas Carlyle’, ‘the flamboyant John Elliotson’, ‘the one-eyed, gold-waistcoated, civic-skewering Robert Knox’, ‘the humane mad-doctor John Conolly’, ‘the bombastic Ernst Haeckel’. If Desmond gave us time to think about it, one might wonder ...

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