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The Plot to Make Us Stupid

David Runciman, 22 February 1996

... Why is it,’ asks the mathematician John Allen Paulos in his book about the pitfalls of innumeracy, ‘that a lottery ticket with the numbers 2 13 17 20 29 36 is for most people far preferable to one with the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6?’ It is not an easy question to answer. All lotteries, after all, rely on a recognition by those who participate in them that the winning numbers are chosen at random, if only so that the participants can feel that their numbers have as good a chance of coming up as any others ...

On a par with Nixon

Stephen Alford: Bad Queen Bess?, 17 November 2016

Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I 
by Peter Lake.
Oxford, 497 pp., £35, January 2016, 978 0 19 875399 5
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Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years 
by John Guy.
Viking, 494 pp., £25, May 2016, 978 0 670 92225 3
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... In​ 1948 Allan Wingate published British Pamphleteers, a collection of tracts assembled by Richard Reynolds and introduced by George Orwell. The first pamphlet in the book is John Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet (1558), which begins: ‘To promote a woman to beare rule, superioritie, dominion or empire above any realme, nation, or citie, is repugnant to nature, contumelie to God, a thing most contrarious to his reveled will and approved ordinance, and finallie it is the subversion of good order, of all equitie and justice ...

A Common Playhouse

Charles Nicholl: The Globe Theatre, 8 January 2015

Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe 
by Chris Laoutaris.
Fig Tree, 528 pp., £20, April 2015, 978 1 905490 96 7
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... a Mistress Greffine or Griffin, and among its frequent guests was a Stratford businessman called Richard Quiney. From here, on 25 October 1598, Quiney wrote a short letter addressed on the verso ‘To my Loveinge good ffrend & contreymann Mr Wm Shackespere’ – the only item of Shakespeare’s correspondence to survive. It is a request for a loan of ...

Superficially Pally

Jenny Turner: Richard Sennett, 22 March 2012

Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-Operation 
by Richard Sennett.
Allen Lane, 323 pp., £25, February 2012, 978 0 7139 9874 0
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... not written into any contract: self-respect, stability, social standing. Work is ‘a road’, as Richard Sennett once wrote, ‘to the unification of the self’. Except that it doesn’t usually end up like that, which is the reason the next page of the Guardian has Jeremy Bullmore, a sage and doleful-looking ‘agony uncle’, fielding people’s problems ...

Diary

Peter Craven: On the Demidenko Affair, 16 November 1995

... we had determined weeks before the Demidenko affair reached its final phase to give the prize to Richard Flanagan, for his magical-realist investigation of Tasmania’s history, The Death of a River Guide. Helen Demidenko published her novel, The Hand That Signed the Paper, in 1994, when she was 23. She claimed that, like the narrator of her book, she had a ...

Pretenders

Kenneth Fowler, 13 June 1991

Ways of Lying: Dissimulation and Conformity in Early Modern Europe 
by Perez Zagorin.
Harvard, 337 pp., £27.95, September 1990, 0 674 94834 3
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Lucrecia’s Dreams: Politics and Prophecy in 16th-Century Spain 
by Richard Kagan.
California, 229 pp., £24.95, July 1990, 0 520 06655 3
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‘In his Image and Likeness’: Political Iconography and Religious Change in Regenshurg, 1500-1600 
by Kristin Zapalac.
Cornell, 280 pp., $29.95, October 1990, 0 8014 2269 8
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... While such authority was granted to a number of English clerics, including Father William Allen, who in 1568 founded the seminary in Douai for the training of English missionary priests, and the Jesuit Robert Parsons, the position taken by the Catholic and Protestant authorities alike was that men faced damnation in dissembling their ...

Should we say thank you?

Hugh Wilford: The Overrated Marshall Plan, 30 April 2009

The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Postwar Europe 
by Greg Behrman.
Aurum, 448 pp., £25, February 2008, 978 1 84513 326 9
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Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower 
by Nicolaus Mills.
Wiley, 290 pp., £15.99, August 2008, 978 0 470 09755 7
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... devising the ERP and ensuring it was carried out: Marshall himself, William Clayton, Paul Hoffman, Richard Bissell and Arthur Vandenberg. All are portrayed as extraordinarily talented, dedicated and selfless individuals who acted out of a classical sense of republican virtue and, like Cincinnatus or George Washington, returned to private life at the first ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Meeting the Royals, 19 February 2015

... be considered a letdown. The new biography by Catherine Mayer, Charles: The Heart of a King (W.H. Allen, £20), begins by reminding people of an earlier claim, made by Jeremy Paxman, that Charles regularly instructs his cook to boil seven eggs each morning in the hope of getting a soft one. But then quickly quotes a former private secretary who says this ...

Big Pod

Richard Poirier: How Podhoretz Dumped His Friends, 2 September 1999

Ex-Friends 
by Norman Podhoretz.
Free Press, 256 pp., $25, February 1999, 0 684 85594 1
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... of Commentary, was closely involved from the early Fifties until the early Seventies: Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Hannah Arendt, Lillian Hellman and Norman Mailer. It was in the early years of this same period, the first five years of the Sixties, that what was often called the Family, a closely allied group of mostly New York ...

Got to go make that dollar

Alex Abramovich: Otis Redding, 3 January 2019

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life 
by Jonathan Gould.
Crown, 544 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 0 307 45395 2
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... Reddings moved back to Tindall Heights. The year Redding turned 14 was also the year that Little Richard – a Macon native who had made a small name for himself as a gospel singer before switching over to rhythm and blues – recorded ‘Tutti Frutti’. Redding fell in love with the song, and with Little Richard’s ...

Damsons and Custard

Paul Laity: Documentary cinema’s unsung poet, 3 March 2005

Humphrey Jennings 
by Kevin Jackson.
Picador, 448 pp., £30, October 2004, 0 330 35438 8
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... there, and staying, for a short while at least, in an unemployed miner’s house. His friend Allen Hutt later wrote of this as a turning point in Jennings’s life: his upbringing had instilled in him a Ruskinian obsession with the impact of mechanisation on work and on ways of thinking, but he now encountered at first hand ‘the land of industry, of ...

A bout de Bogart

Jenny Diski, 19 May 2011

Tough without a Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Faber, 288 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 571 26072 0
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... Kanfer shrugs off one of the darkest and most disturbing episodes in American history. He cites Richard Brooks’s suggestion that ‘Bogie was never the same again’ after his renunciation of the First Amendment Committee, and says: ‘This smacks of the kind of romantic wish-dream that stayed with the Old Left for decades, crystallised in a film called ...

Joan Didion’s Style

Martin Amis, 7 February 1980

The White Album 
by Joan Didion.
Weidenfeld, 223 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 297 77702 5
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... such a take-me-or-leave-me tone. It occurs to you that Miss Didion’s reasons for disliking Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and for attacking it at length in the New York Review, are perhaps largely defensive in origin. What is objectionable about Manhattan is not that it is knowing, cute, ‘in’, as Miss Didion claimed. What is objectionable about ...

Female Bandits? What next!

Wendy Doniger: The incarnations of Robin Hood, 22 July 2004

Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography 
by Stephen Knight.
Cornell, 247 pp., £14.50, May 2003, 0 8014 3885 3
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... Many people firmly believe there was. We owe the widespread belief that Robin lived in the time of Richard I (1157-1199) to William Stukeley (1687-1765), an eccentric scholar of ancient British history who fabricated for him a crazy family pedigree going back to the Normans. Knight argues that the search for the historical Robin is as quixotic as the search ...

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... in Alistair Cooke’s great account of the time, Generation on Trial. He was the man who made Richard Nixon’s self-serving book, Six Crises (a ‘campaign book’ for an entire career), possible in the first place. Witness, his own work, had a marked influence on Arthur Koestler and on Czeslaw Milosz and is, indeed, the nativist American equivalent of ...

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