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He blinks and night is day

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Light Perpetual’, 17 June 2021

Light Perpetual 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 336 pp., £16.99, February, 978 0 571 33648 7
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... London. The place and time correspond with a particularly terrible missile strike on New Cross on 25 November 1944. The novel is a sort of counter-history, imagining that five of the children killed on that day escaped unharmed, and charting the lives that they might have gone on to lead. Although Spufford makes clear in his acknowledgments that the ...

To kill a cat

Anthony Pagden, 21 February 1985

Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part One: I Grandi Staii dell’Occidente 
by Franco Venturi.
Einaudi, 463 pp., lire 45,000, July 1984, 88 06 05695 6
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Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part Two: II Patriotismo Repubblicano e gli Imperi dell’Est 
by Franco Venturi.
Einaudi, 1040 pp., lire 55,000, July 1984, 88 06 05696 4
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The Great Cat Massacre, and Other Episodes in French Cultural History 
by Robert Darnton.
Viking, 284 pp., £14.95, July 1984, 0 7139 1728 8
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Rousseau, Dreamer of Democracy 
by James Miller.
Yale, 272 pp., £25, July 1984, 0 300 03044 4
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... of every culture, to resort to the stock means of dealing with the problem: the use of simple cross-cultural parallels, the belief that if it were possible to find instances of cat massacres among some remote and ‘primitive’ people, then the mere fact of the similarity would both preserve the strangeness of the deed and provide an explanation for ...

He had fun

Anthony Grafton: Athanasius Kircher, 7 November 2013

Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity 
by Daniel Stolzenberg.
Chicago, 307 pp., £35, April 2013, 978 0 226 92414 4
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Exploring the Kingdom of Saturn: Kircher’s Latium and Its Legacy 
by Harry Evans.
Michigan, 236 pp., £63.50, July 2012, 978 0 472 11815 1
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... identify Kircher as a mystical historian and philologist – one who realised that he could not cross the abyss that separated the present from the past by reading texts and grubbing in ruins. And perhaps that realisation set him on a different path: the kind of swooping, dramatic ascent that brought other mystics to their union with the divine. If so, we ...

Who knew?

Norman Stone, 20 November 1980

The Terrible Secret 
by Walter Laqueur.
Weidenfeld, 262 pp., £8.95, September 1980, 0 297 77835 8
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... the Soviet Jews were systematically hunted down and killed. There were plenty of observers – Red Cross, neutral businessmen, conscience-stricken Germans, Jews who escaped – who let the world know what was happening. The Polish underground, which had agents in Kiev or Zhitomir or elsewhere in the Ukraine, could quite easily report to London through friendly ...

Bad Habits

Basil Davidson, 27 June 1991

The Repatriations from Austria: The Report of an Inquiry 
by Anthony Cowgill, Lord Brimelow and Christopher Booker.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 367 pp., £19.95, October 1990, 1 85619 029 3
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Cossacks in the German Army 1941-1945 
by Samuel Newland.
Cass, 218 pp., £30, March 1991, 0 7146 3351 8
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Eyewitnesses at Nuremberg 
by Hilary Gaskin.
Arms and Armour, 192 pp., £14.95, November 1990, 1 85409 058 5
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... the conceptual possibility of crimeless war, and is this to be welcomed? Awkward ground to cross with any safety. As a sharer of my generation’s fate, settled one way or the other between 1939 and 1945, I have thought that the Nuremberg Trials and lesser assizes held in the wake of the Second World War were entirely necessary and even ...

Hands Down

Denise Riley: Naming the Canvas, 17 September 1998

Invisible Colours: A Visual History of Titles 
by John Welchman.
Yale, 416 pp., £35, October 1997, 0 300 06530 2
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... words win hands down. Their triumph seems to stem from a fierce and prior quarrel. Welchman cross-examines Morris Louis and Frank Stella and Anthony Caro as namers, and catches too much noise in them, as if he’d cracked the secret of Modernism’s purity – that it was really contaminated by a literariness it ...

It’s not the bus: it’s us

Thomas Sugrue: Stars, Stripes and Civil Rights, 20 November 2008

The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph that Shocked America 
by Louis Masur.
Bloomsbury US, 224 pp., $24.95, April 2008, 978 1 59691 364 6
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... about to impale Theodore Landsmark, a well-dressed black attorney who’d had the misfortune to cross paths with the protesters. As Landsmark tries to dodge his attacker, a heavy-set white man appears to restrain him, readying him for martyrdom. In the bicentenary year of America’s independence, Forman’s photograph was a reminder that, despite ...

Places Never Explained

Colm Tóibín: Anthony Hecht, 8 August 2013

The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht 
edited by Jonathan Post.
Johns Hopkins, 365 pp., £18, November 2012, 978 1 4214 0730 2
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... lucky for the past six months – my job and Tucson are swell, Mackie has an awfully nice Red Cross job (so we’ve enough money), I live off post and get to play tennis, I like the people in my department, I’m even writing poems. My two subjects are: bombing Hamburg and bombing crews – I feel sympathetic and sorry for both of them. Jarrell wrote to ...

Find the birch sticks

R.W. Johnson: A spy’s diary, 1 September 2005

The Guy Liddell Diaries. Vol. I: 1939-42 
edited by Nigel West.
Frank Cass, 329 pp., £25, February 2005, 0 415 35213 4
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... or anything personal. Yet Liddell was a considerable man in every way. After winning the Military Cross in the First World War, as both his brothers did, he spent the entire period after 1919 in counter-intelligence. He and his eccentric wife, the Hon. Calypso Baring, formed the centre of a large dinner-party world in their Cheyne Walk house designed by ...

Rivonia Days

R.W. Johnson: Remembering the trial, 16 August 2007

The State v. Nelson Mandela: The Trial That Changed South Africa 
by Joel Joffe.
Oneworld, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2007, 978 1 85168 500 4
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... of the most senior SACP members, made no mention of it during the five days that he spent under cross-examination. Although far more was made of Mandela’s five-hour speech, Sisulu’s performance was more remarkable. Held in isolation, unable to consult his comrades or his lawyers, surrounded by intimidating policemen and warders, hectored and pilloried ...

Cheerful weather for the wedding

Ann Schlee, 20 August 1981

... see the Royal Family, from the formal studies to the candid shot. I was surprised to discover in Anthony Holden’s book how recent a development this is.* He quotes the Duke of Windsor: ‘I grew up before the age of the flash camera, when newspapers still employed large staffs of artists to depict the daily events with pen sketches ... Because our ...


John Bayley, 29 September 1988

Something to hold onto: Autobiographical Sketches 
by Richard Cobb.
Murray, 168 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 7195 4587 0
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... Something to hold onto, whose title would itself have been greeted with fellow-feeling by Bagshaw. Anthony Powell’s character is fascinated by things for their own sake, an attitude not common among either believers or men of action. Kermode’s sense of history, of the novels and poems of the Thirties, is of the same kind. He has a strong feeling for ...


W.G. Runciman: 1920s v. 1980s, 17 March 1988

... to do battle against her, but of the services of such invaluable allies as General Galtieri, Anthony Wedgwood Benn and ‘King Arthur’ Scargill? And was there anyone at Tory Central Office so absurdly optimistic as to foresee the hilarious shambles which would be made of itself by the so-called ‘Alliance’? Yet I wonder. Asquith’s long tenure as ...


Blake Morrison: On the Independent on Sunday , 27 May 1993

... Lurie’s obituary of Mary McCarthy, Salman Rushdie on Graham Greene, Claire Tomalin on Coleridge, Anthony Burgess on Fielding, other reviews by Anita Brookner, Peter Conrad, Roy Foster and Hilary Mantel), and as the limits on the new paper’s resources became apparent I thought how hard it would be to put together pages of comparable stature. There was one ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... project, it’s also one that stands on its own feet. An affinity with the fiction of Anthony Powell has been caught, but this is not a novel. It is not a memoir, though it eats the memoirs of others, plankton-fashion. It is a species of history – annals, perhaps. Kynaston’s far from copious political judgments are sensible and ...

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