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The Manchu Conquest

Jonathan Spence, 7 August 1986

The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th-Century China 
by Frederic Wakeman.
California, 736 pp., £63.75, January 1986, 0 520 04804 0
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... Southern Ming politics are a quagmire, and Wakeman is not always clear in presenting them. The post-conquest Manchu regent Dorgon, shrewd though he was, emerges here as a paragon, as does Emperor Shunzhi after he took personal power. Both men need more highly nuanced study if they are to be fully understood. (One should maybe emphasise that the ...


Jonathan Coe, 11 May 1995

The Riders 
by Tim Winton.
Picador, 377 pp., £14.99, February 1995, 0 330 33941 9
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... in this pan-European setting, reduced to a kind of stage Oirish (in the dialogues with Pete the Post) or Inspector Clouseau-style French (in the conversations with Jennifer’s friend Marianne, who comes out with things like: ‘You were like a stone on ’er, Scully, an anchor on ’er neck’). But he still conveys very powerfully the Australian’s ...


Jonathan Parry, 21 September 1995

The City of London. Vol. II: Golden Years, 1890-1914 
by David Kynaston.
Chatto, 678 pp., £25, June 1995, 0 7011 3385 6
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... rates of interest to the fundholders who had financed the war. Taxpayers suffered badly in the post-war depression, and William Cobbett led a bitter national protest at the stockholding leeches who, he claimed, were sucking the lifeblood from John Bull. At times of economic tension over the following twenty years, the fundholder and the landowner competed ...

Cry Treedom

Jonathan Bate, 4 November 1993

Forests: The shadow of Civilisation 
by Robert Pogue Harrison.
Chicago, 288 pp., £19.95, May 1992, 0 226 31806 0
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... managed: ‘One of the ways in which this dream of mastery and possession becomes reality in the post-Christian era is through the rise of forest management during the late-18th and 19th centuries.’ Trees were planted with Cartesian precision, in straight lines. Italo Calvino’s novel The Baron in the Trees tells of an 18th-century nobleman who climbed a ...

Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe, 8 October 1992

Poor Things 
by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7475 1246 9
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... parody like this will be worth any amount of the over-careful realism practised in more solemn post-imperial novels. Not all of the treatment is facetious. Duncan Thaw remarks in Lanark that ‘if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively,’ and just as Gray’s novels to date have enormously enriched the ...

Bard of Tropes

Jonathan Lamb: Thomas Chatterton, 20 September 2001

Thomas Chatterton and Romantic Culture 
by Nick Groom.
Palgrave, 300 pp., £55, September 1999, 0 333 72586 7
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... Claude Rawson as a fluent parodist in the Augustan mode, and by Carolyn Williams as a pioneer of post-colonial resistance to the hegemony of Received Standard English. As several essays here make clear, he is the poet who, above all others, forced the early historians of English literature such as Thomas Warton, Thomas Percy and Samuel Johnson to review the ...

Holborn at Heart

Jonathan Parry, 23 January 1997

Disraeli: A Brief Life 
by Paul Smith.
Cambridge, 246 pp., £25, September 1996, 0 521 38150 9
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... accessible to us, not so much because he is the more modern figure as because he is the more Post-Modern, adept at the art of self-invention and reinvention. He was a better political actor than most of his rivals in Parliament because, while they thought they were in a glorified gentleman’s club or a glorified philanthropic meeting, he realised that ...

A Life of Its Own

Jonathan Coe, 24 February 1994

The Kenneth Williams Diaries 
edited by Russell Davies.
HarperCollins, 827 pp., £20, June 1993, 0 00 255023 7
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... of the covert bond which unites them, at least in retrospect, as key figures in British post-war comedy. Both were gay; both were in the closet; and both, therefore, were fully tapped into that vein of sexual subterfuge and masquerade which has always been central to the British sense of humour. Both idolised Sid Field, and learned some of the basic ...

Something else

Jonathan Coe, 5 December 1991

In Black and White 
by Christopher Stevenson.
New Caxton Press, 32 pp., £1.95
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The Tree of Life 
by Hugh Nissenson.
Carcanet, 159 pp., £6.95, September 1991, 0 85635 874 6
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by Carey Harrison.
Heinemann, 181 pp., £13.99, November 1991, 0 434 31368 8
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... the gigantic Richard’s Feet, which traces the career of Richard Thurgo, a London solicitor, in post-war Hamburg where he is masquerading as an ex-Nazi. Back in England, Thurgo has been presumed dead for some twenty years after his body was supposedly found in the remains of a burnt-out jeep, the only identifiable features being his well-protected feet ...

Half a Revolution

Jonathan Steele: In Tunisia, 17 March 2011

... Some Western analysts have suggested that Tunis and Egypt will turn into North African versions of post-revolutionary Iran, if the Muslim Brotherhood and its Tunisian counterpart, Nahda, or the Renaissance Party, come to power. Chourfi and Ali admit they used to be admirers of Iran. Ali did his student dissertation on Marx, and when the Iranian Revolution ...

Newton reinvents himself

Jonathan Rée, 20 January 2011

Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist 
by Thomas Levenson.
Faber, 318 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22993 2
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... head and our country repeopled with foreigners’. He did not miss a trick in turning himself, as Jonathan Israel once put it, into an object of ‘national detestation’. The only comfort he could offer his subjects was the exhilaration of war. Within a few days of the coronation, the English fleet engaged the French off the coast of Ireland, and at the end ...

Effing the Ineffable

Glen Newey: Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century by Jonathan Glover, 25 November 1999

Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century 
by Jonathan Glover.
Cape, 469 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 224 05240 3
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... look the odder it gets. There is, at least superficially, a limit to this. Facts, so belaboured by Post-Modernism, prove pertinacious in the face of atrocity. It’s notable that the dogma of social constructionism, lately so infarcted in cultural and literary studies, has had little to say about the creation of ‘the Holocaust’, long dignified with the ...

Strenuous Unbelief

Jonathan Rée: Richard Rorty, 15 October 1998

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th-Century America 
by Richard Rorty.
Harvard, 107 pp., £12.50, May 1998, 9780674003118
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Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. III 
by Richard Rorty.
Cambridge, 355 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 521 55347 4
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... of Descartes and the inanity of Carnap, but with their inspiration Rorty began to advocate a post-philosophical culture in which everyone would accept that knowledge has count less varieties, all suited to different human purposes, and none intrinsically superior to any other. In the new democratic order we would realise that there are no magic skyhooks ...

Life after Life

Jonathan Rée: Collingwood, 20 January 2000

An Essay on Metaphysics 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by Rex Martin.
Oxford, 439 pp., £48, July 1998, 0 19 823561 5
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The New Leviathan 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by David Boucher.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 0 19 823880 0
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The Principles of History 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by W.H. Dray and W.J. van der Dussen.
Oxford, 293 pp., £48, March 1999, 0 19 823703 0
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... work once he was back at Oxford and the war had just begun. The first part of Collingwood’s post-Autobiography project was published in 1940 as An Essay on Metaphysics. Metaphysics was out of fashion, and in some ways Collingwood thought it deserved its unpopularity. He accepted that the old Aristotelian dream of a ‘science of pure being’ was ...

In such a Labyrinth

Jonathan Rée: Hume, 17 December 2015

Hume: An Intellectual Biography 
by James Harris.
Cambridge, 621 pp., £35, September 2015, 978 0 521 83725 5
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... known in England.’ But he hadn’t confined himself to literature. In 1746 he accepted a post as secretary to Lieutenant General James St Clair, who was preparing to lead a force of several thousand in an assault on the French in Canada. He spent two or three months anticipating a ‘romantic adventure’ on the other side of the Atlantic, but owing ...

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