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Mattathias Schwartz: John Bolton’s Unwitting Usefulness, 16 July 2020

... gloss on Trump’s philosophy. In the first pages of his memoir, The Room Where It Happened (Simon and Schuster, £25), Bolton takes pains to lay out how busy he was before joining the Trump administration and how eagerly Trump’s team pursued him. The first jobs he was offered in the administration were not big or important enough: he turned down ...

Wham Bang, Teatime

Ian Penman: Bowie, 5 January 2017

The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference 
by Paul Morley.
Simon & Schuster, 484 pp., £20, July 2016, 978 1 4711 4808 8
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On Bowie 
by Rob Sheffield.
Headline, 197 pp., £14.99, June 2016, 978 1 4722 4104 7
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On Bowie 
by Simon Critchley.
Serpent’s Tail, 207 pp., £6.99, April 2016, 978 1 78125 745 6
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Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy 
by Simon Reynolds.
Faber, 704 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 571 30171 3
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... irresponsible dare, his arm curling around the guitarist Mick Ronson. ‘But he thinks he’d blow our minds!’ And he did. One reason for that blown fuse was that Bowie had already worked out that the best way to put across a serious point was to stage it as an almost luridly OTT showbiz scene. You have to remember that Top of The Pops was it. There was ...

Into the Gulf

Rosemary Hill, 17 December 1992

A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846 
by Alethea Hayter.
Robin Clark, 224 pp., £6.95, June 1992, 0 86072 146 9
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Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850 
edited by John Barrell.
Oxford, 301 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198173922
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London: World City 1800-1840 
edited by Celina Fox.
Yale, 624 pp., £45, September 1992, 0 300 05284 7
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... some form of public representation was inescapable and her disfigurement by smallpox – a great blow, thought contemporaries, to her husband’s career – made her painted image particularly difficult and painful for her. That she used exotic costume not merely as a flattering distraction from her ruined face but as a positive way of re-inventing ...

Delivering the Leadership

Nick Cohen: Get Mandy, 4 March 1999

Mandy: The Authorised Biography of Peter Mandelson 
by Paul Routledge.
Simon and Schuster, 302 pp., £17.99, January 1999, 9780684851754
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... to lobby correspondents as Routledge’s publication date grew closer. ‘It’s going to blow him away.’ In 1996, when he was living on £46,000 a year, Mandelson borrowed £373,000 (eight times his MP’s salary) from Geoffrey Robinson, an industrialist Blair put in the Treasury after New Labour’s victory. Robinson’s fortune had been inflated ...

Knights of the Road

Tom Clark: The Beat generation, 6 July 2000

This is the Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris 
by James Campbell.
Vintage, 320 pp., £7.99, May 2000, 0 09 928269 0
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... change in his attitude towards his own experience’. The change was a matter of learning how to blow up real events and people to mythic proportions. It was Cassady who taught him this: the tear-away adventurer who stole cars and carried off women at a dizzying pace appeared to be more than human. The poetic tropes with which Kerouac limned his ...

‘I was such a lovely girl’

Barbara Newman: The Songs of the Medieval Troubadours, 25 May 2006

Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours 
translated by Ezra Pound, W.D. Snodgrass and Robert Kehew, edited by Robert Kehew.
Chicago, 280 pp., £35, May 2005, 0 226 42933 4
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Medieval Lyric: Middle English Lyrics, Ballads and Carols 
edited by John Hirsh.
Blackwell, 220 pp., £17.99, August 2004, 1 4051 1482 7
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An Anthology of Ancient and Medieval Woman’s Song 
edited by Anne Klinck.
Palgrave, 208 pp., £19.99, May 2004, 9781403963109
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... practice. It is as if we had only the lyrics, without recordings or melodies, of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joan Baez – and those only in indifferent Portuguese translations. Most of their power and all of their subtlety would vanish. For similar reasons, the troubadours have more often been honoured as cultural pioneers than admired as ...

What the Public Most Wants to See

Christopher Tayler: Rick Moody, 23 February 2006

The Diviners 
by Rick Moody.
Faber, 567 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 571 22946 8
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... one of the characters in The Ice Storm imagines herself plunged by ‘a slight warp in her Paul Simon album’ into ‘a bottomless pit of loneliness beside which even Cambodia paled’, you take the point about well-heeled self-indulgence in the face of South-East Asian suffering without losing sight of her genuine isolation. Years later, though, Moody ...


Wayne Koestenbaum: Tennessee Williams, 4 October 2007

Tennessee Williams: Notebooks 
edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton.
Yale, 828 pp., £27.50, February 2007, 978 0 300 11682 3
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... after his early winning streak, as each new play bombed, he underwent public whippings. John Simon called Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Sweet Bird of Youth ‘cowardly’, and, in 1978, wrote: ‘The kindest thing to assume is that Williams died shortly after completing Sweet Bird of Youth, and that his subsequent, ever more dismal ...

The Problem of Reality

Michael Wood: Primo Levi, 1 October 1998

Primo Levi: The Tragedy of an Optimist 
by Myriam Anissimov, translated by Steve Cox.
Aurum, 452 pp., £25, September 1998, 1 85410 503 5
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... can be ‘surprisingly like any other laboratory’: The smell makes me start back as if from the blow of a whip: the weak aromatic smell of organic chemistry laboratories. For a moment the large semi-dark room at the university, my fourth year, the mild air of May in Italy comes back to me with brutal violence and immediately vanishes. At another point Levi ...

Born in a Land where Yoghurt Rules the Roost

Paul Driver: Sibelius, 26 November 1998

Sibelius. Vol. III: 1914-57 
by Erik Tawaststjerna, edited by Robert Layton.
Faber, 384 pp., £30, January 1997, 0 571 19085 5
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... century’s end. It is impossible to think of Sibelius’s music as in any way factitious, despite Simon Parmet’s claim that he used Golden Section proportions, just as Bartók and Debussy are supposed to have done. A certain amount of number-working is inherent to composition. What Sibelius demonstrates is that it was possible to write significant music in ...

On the Brink

James Lever: Philip Roth, 28 January 2010

The Humbling 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 140 pp., £12.99, November 2009, 978 0 224 08793 3
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... gods. Attempting a Tempest/Macbeth double bill at the Kennedy Center, the 65-year-old protagonist, Simon Axler, ‘the last of the best of the classical American stage actors’, is suddenly abandoned by his talent. No reason is given – there is no reason – and Axler suffers a breakdown, aggravated by his inability to believe even in the sincerity of his ...

Voldemort or Stalin?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Shostakovich, 1 December 2011

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets 
by Wendy Lesser.
Yale, 350 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 300 16933 1
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1-7 
by Judith Kuhn.
Ashgate, 296 pp., £65, February 2010, 978 0 7546 6406 2
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... in idiom, too much sex – and the work was roundly condemned in Pravda. It was a substantial blow, but even as his colleagues dutifully criticised the opera in public, the Soviet arts boss Platon Kerzhentsev was responding warmly to his pleas for help in regaining official favour (while at the same time assuring the Politburo that Shostakovich had ...

But I wanted a crocodile

Thomas Meaney: Castro in Harlem, 4 February 2021

Ten Days in Harlem: Fidel Castro and the Making of the 1960s 
by Simon Hall.
Faber, 276 pp., £17.99, September 2020, 978 0 571 35306 4
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... Korda snapped of the bereted Che Guevara at a memorial service for the victims is hard to avoid.Simon Hall’s Ten Days in Harlem is a lively account of Castro’s charm offensive in September 1960 when he visited New York again, this time to address the United Nations General Assembly. It was a sensitive moment for all concerned: Castro’s revolution was ...

Costa del Pym

Nicholas Spice, 4 July 1985

Crampton Hodnet 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 0 333 39129 2
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Foreign Land 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 352 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 00 222918 8
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Black Marina 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 157 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 9780571134670
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... his mistake; Anthea Cleveland has her heart temporarily broken by an Old Etonian undergraduate, Simon Beddoes; and Mr Cleveland, Anthea’s father, becomes infatuated with his pupil Barbara Bird, who is quite happy to return the sentiment so long as it does not entail kissing and ‘that sort of thing’. Francis Cleveland’s affair with Barbara is much ...

Rising Moon

R.W. Johnson, 18 December 1986

L’Empire Moon 
by Jean-Francois Boyer.
La Découverte, 419 pp., August 1986, 2 7071 1604 1
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The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection 
by Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.
Sheridan Square, 255 pp., $19.95, May 1986, 0 940380 07 2
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... invited Moon to the White House, where the two men prayed together. Nixon’s fall was a grievous blow to Moon, who immediately set out on a campaign of extreme right-wing agitation to reverse what he saw as the decline into leftism inaugurated by Watergate. The Moonie newspaper, Rising Tide, played a key role in these years in rallying the disparate elements ...

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