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After the May Day Flood

Seumas Milne, 5 June 1997

... an inch of difference between Labour and Conservatives, the one-time counter-culture celebrity Richard Neville said long ago, but it is in that space that we live. The opening weeks of the first Labour Government for a generation have been a daily reminder of how far Neville’s aphorism still holds. So tirelessly had Tony Blair strained to ratchet down ...

Dun-Coloured Dust

Thomas de Waal: Russia’s war, 15 July 1999

Russia's War 
by Richard Overy.
Penguin, 416 pp., £8.99, July 1999, 0 14 027169 4
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Stalingrad 
by Antony Beevor.
Viking, 512 pp., £12.99, May 1999, 0 14 024985 0
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... Certainly the history of what actually happened in the war has only just begun to be written. Richard Overy’s impressive overview is a reminder of how poorly the English-speaking reader has been served with histories of the war on the Eastern Front. Although it was of a far greater order of magnitude than the war in the West (Hitler sent 228 divisions ...

Keep him as a curiosity

Steven Shapin: Botanic Macaroni, 13 August 2020

The Multifarious Mr Banks: From Botany Bay to Kew, the Natural Historian Who Shaped the World 
by Toby Musgrave.
Yale, 386 pp., £25, April, 978 0 300 22383 5
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... The vessel was the bark Endeavour; the commander was the bluff, 39-year-old Yorkshireman James Cook, who was also an able astronomer. No one had thought to add natural history to the workload, but Banks got wind of the plan and thrust himself forward. He secured his place on the Endeavour by pulling strings – Lord Sandwich, a former first lord of the ...

American Manscapes

Richard Poirier, 12 October 1989

Manhood and the American Renaissance 
by David Leverenz.
Cornell, 372 pp., $35.75, April 1989, 0 8014 2281 7
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... vengefulness, the compulsive penis envy, and the desire to be whipped, of Captain Ahab. Only Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast and, in The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, whose homosexual proclivities deserve more attention here, come forward as relatively standard cases of the urge to ‘be a man’. Leave it to the genteel types ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... Mailer, Barbara Walters (they almost married), Cardinal Spellman, nearly all the top Mafia people, Richard Nixon, Si Newhouse, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, William F. Buckley, an endless list of Congressmen and judges and society swells, of the rich and famous. Cohn knew, dealt with, worked for, went to parties with and generally hobnobbed ...

Lord Vaizey sees the light

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 20 October 1983

In Breach of Promise 
by John Vaizey.
Weidenfeld, 150 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 297 78288 6
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... Vaizey has no doubt at all. ‘They were the best.’ Hugh Gaitskell, Iain Macleod, Richard Titmuss, Anthony Crosland and Edward Boyle. They were all ‘clever, honest, admirable and honourable’. They were all, except Boyle, who was at school at the time, affected by the slump. They were all excited by the political changes and administrative advances of the war ...

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 ...

White Nights

Penelope Fitzgerald, 11 October 1990

In the beginning 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by Alyona Kojevnikov.
Hodder, 320 pp., £14.95, March 1990, 9780340416983
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Goodnight 
by Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky), translated and introduced by Richard Lourie.
Viking, 364 pp., £14.99, April 1990, 0 670 80165 8
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Comrade Princess: Memoirs of an Aristocrat in Modern Russia 
by Ekaterina Meshcherskaya.
Doubleday, 228 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 385 26910 2
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... is perhaps the last of his judgments on himself. This is said to be an autobiographical novel, and Richard Lourie, in his introduction, calls it ‘the culmination of everything he has so far written’, but it strikes me more as an elegy, a jazz elegy in five movements, of which three are very much more important than the others. Like Ratushinskaya, Sinyavsky ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: The Je Ne Sais Quoi, 15 December 2005

... spectacular daube at a dinner party, recipe by Elizabeth David but with a freehand addition by the cook, had it – lips this time pursed, thumb and forefinger connected to indicate perfection. A work of art, of course, had a je ne sais quoi, spoken with wide eyes and lips apart to perform a look of wonder, and one open hand describing small circles in an ...

Short Cuts

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

... 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 can’t be true, because Charles hates waste. This is Mayer’s method, a method you might recognise, that of the ‘good ...

Staggering on

Stephen Howe, 23 May 1996

The ‘New Statesman’: Portrait of a Political Weekly, 1913-31 
by Adrian Smith.
Cass, 340 pp., £30, February 1996, 0 7146 4645 8
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... In 1950 a venerable, once highly successful, long-ailing magazine quietly expired. Richard Usborne, the assistant editor in its dying days, later recalled an aficionado’s touching reaction. ‘When the Strand finally folded in 1950, my old sixth-form master wrote to me regretfully: “I loved the dear old Strand ...

Our Flexible Friends

Conor Gearty, 18 April 1996

Scott Inquiry Report 
by Richard Scott.
HMSO, 2386 pp., £45, February 1996, 0 10 262796 7
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... and complex treatise full of ambiguity and complex allusion, a sort of political bible with Sir Richard Scott in the role of the Yahweh/ Saviour and Robin Cook and Ian Lang fighting it out to play St Paul. In fact, the occasional double negative aside (these alone have been enough to drive our illiterate media into ...

Freaks of Empire

V.G. Kiernan, 16 July 1981

Revolutionary Empire: The Rise of the English-Speaking Empires from the 15th Century to the 1780s 
by Angus Calder.
Cape, 916 pp., £16.50, April 1981, 0 224 01452 8
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... to the mark. All the tropical products except cotton were deleterious or, at best, useless. As in Richard Dunn’s book, we are given gruesome details about the vicious, often sadistic regime of the plantations which produced them. Speaking of the Antigua revolt of 1736, Calder discusses, as others have been doing lately, the general puzzle of whether raw ...

Plays for Puritans

Anne Barton, 18 December 1980

Puritanism and Theatre 
by Margot Heinemann.
Cambridge, 300 pp., £12.50, March 1980, 0 521 22602 3
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John Webster: Citizen and Dramatist 
by M.C. Bradbrook.
Weidenfeld, 205 pp., £10, October 1980, 0 297 77813 7
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... are supposed to be court ladies, they sound as though they actually knew what it was like to cook and run a house. According to Miss Heinemann this sets them off sharply from principal characters in Shakespeare, mere consumers of feasts and fine wines whose tables are spread and cleared by servants, and whose food imagery reflects their distance from ...

Boys will be girls

Clive James, 1 September 1983

Footlights! A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy 
by Robert Hewison.
Methuen, 224 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 0 413 51150 2
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... is always the possibility that all the swooping and posing was shriekingly funny to watch, but Richard Murdoch, who was up in 1936 and much later made a solid contribution to the British humorous tradition with Much Binding in the Marsh, looked back on his Footlights days with a nostalgia well tempered by a sense of proportion. He said that they weren’t ...

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