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More Interesting than Learning how to Make Brandy Snaps

Bernard Porter: Stella Rimington, 18 October 2001

Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 
by Stella Rimington.
Hutchinson, 296 pp., £18.99, September 2001, 0 09 179360 2
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... Secret service memoirs are invariably rubbished. When Robert Anderson’s Lighter Side of My Official Life appeared in 1910 – Anderson had headed a counter-Fenian agency – Winston Churchill lambasted it in the House of Commons for its ‘gross boastfulness’: ‘It is written, if I may say so, in the style of “How Bill Adams Won the Battle of Waterloo” ...

Great Internationalists

Rupert Cornwell, 2 February 1989

Philby: The Life and Views of the KGB Masterspy 
by Phillip Knightley.
Deutsch, 291 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 233 98360 0
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Mask of Treachery: The First Documented Dossier on Blunt, MI5 and Soviet Subversion 
by John Costello.
Collins, 761 pp., £18, November 1988, 0 00 217536 3
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A Divided Life: A Biography of Donald Maclean 
by Robert Cecil.
Bodley Head, 212 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 370 31129 9
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The Storm Birds: Soviet Post-War Defectors 
by Gordon Brook-Shepherd.
Weidenfeld, 303 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 0 297 79464 7
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... co-authored in 1968. Mr John Costello has produced Mask of Treachery, dealing with Blunt, while Mr Robert Cecil has written a biography of his former Foreign Office colleague Donald Maclean. To round things out, we have The Storm Birds, Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s study of the Soviet agents who have spied for – or defected to – the West since 1945. Equally ...

Imaginary Homelands

Salman Rushdie, 7 October 1982

... said, first of all, that description is itself a political act. The black American writer Richard Wright once wrote that black and white Americans were engaged in a war over the nature of reality. Their descriptions were incompatible. So it is clear that redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it. And it is particularly at times when ...

What Marlowe would have wanted

Charles Nicholl, 26 November 1987

Faustus and the Censor 
by William Empson, edited by John Henry Jones.
Blackwell, 226 pp., £17.50, September 1987, 0 631 15675 5
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... ventures of Ben Jonson – Hot Anger Soon Cooled, written with Thomas Dekker and Henry Porter, and Robert II, with Henry Chettle – now just bodiless titles in an old theatrical ledger. The case of Marlowe is, as always, more ambiguous. In some senses we can be grateful. Seven of his plays remain, and there is no real evidence that any whole works have been ...

I am not a world improver

Christopher Turner: Building Seagram, 6 February 2014

Building Seagram 
by Phyllis Lambert.
Yale, 306 pp., £45, January 2013, 978 0 300 16767 2
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Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography 
by Franz Schulze and Edward Windhorst.
Chicago, 493 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 226 15145 8
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... more’: ‘We know that less is not more. It is simply less!’ Mies was upset when Frank Lloyd Wright, whom he considered a friend, echoed the sentiment: ‘These Bauhaus architects ran from political totalitarianism in Germany to what is now made by specious promotion to seem their own totalitarianism in art here in America … Why do I distrust and defy ...

At MoMA

Hal Foster: ‘Inventing Abstraction’, 7 February 2013

... in past shows (Sonia Terk and Sophie Taeuber, for example, get equal billing with their husbands, Robert Delaunay and Hans Arp). At long last such movements as Italian Futurism and Polish Constructivism are given their due, and lesser figures like the Britons Lawrence Atkinson and Duncan Grant, and the Americans Stanton Macdonald-...
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology 
edited by T.F. Hoad.
Oxford, 552 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 9780198611820
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Dictionary of Changes in Meaning 
by Adrian Room.
Routledge, 292 pp., £14.95, May 1986, 0 7102 0341 1
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The Story of English 
by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert McNeil.
Faber/BBC, 384 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 563 20247 5
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Dictionary of American Regional English. Vol. I: Introduction and A-C 
edited by Frederic Cassidy.
Harvard, 903 pp., $60, July 1985, 0 674 20511 1
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... Thomas Hardy once told Robert Graves how he had gone to the Oxford English Dictionary to confirm the existence of a dialect word he proposed to use in a poem, and came to a standstill because the only authority quoted for it was his own Under the Greenwood Tree. This is an acute case of our dependence on dictionaries, and illustrates the commonest reason for resorting to them ...

Nature’s Chastity

José Harris, 15 September 1983

Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the 19th Century 
by Barbara Taylor.
Virago, 402 pp., £9.95, March 1983, 0 86068 257 9
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Virgins and Viragos: A History of Women in Scotland from 1080 to 1980 
by Rosalind Marshall.
Collins, 365 pp., £13.50, June 1983, 0 00 216039 0
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... whom the term would have embraced at any later period, but one specific group – the followers of Robert Owen. Like Engels himself, Robert Owen was an unusual figure among the founding fathers of socialism in that he was also a successful capitalist entrepreneur. Born in 1771, the son of a humble Welsh saddler, Owen soared ...

Destined to Disappear

Susan Pedersen: ‘Race Studies’, 20 October 2016

White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations 
by Robert Vitalis.
Cornell, 272 pp., $29.95, November 2015, 978 0 8014 5397 7
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... Robert Vitalis​ tells a great story about how he came to write this book. Some years ago, sitting in the Clark University library avoiding grading his students’ final exams, he pulled an old history of the university off the shelf. Clark played a key role in the birth of the field of international relations in the two decades before the First World War, he read, especially by founding and supporting one of the new discipline’s flagship journals, the Journal of Race Development ...

Gotterdämmerung

Christopher Hitchens, 12 January 1995

... been faced, with such a choice? In 1917 or thereabouts, Siegfried Sassoon confided to his friend Robert Graves that he was planning to ‘go public’, as a decorated front-line officer, with what he knew about real conditions on the Western Front. Graves had him put away for ‘shell-shock’, for his own good. That was certainly a betrayal of a friend ...

For the Good of Our Health

Andrew Saint: The Spread of Suburbia, 6 April 2006

Sprawl: A Compact History 
by Robert Bruegmann.
Chicago, 301 pp., £17.50, January 2006, 0 226 07690 3
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... nibbled at by the sharp tooth of development. But it still just about holds. In Sprawl, Robert Bruegmann bids those of us who cherish the division between city and countryside to take stock and review our values. Everywhere, the arbitrary containment of communities is dead or dying, he argues. Where it is maintained, it is only at a cost and by a ...

Fog has no memory

Jonathan Meades: Postwar Colour(lessness), 19 July 2018

The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Postwar Britain 
by Lynda Nead.
Yale, 416 pp., £35, October 2017, 978 0 300 21460 4
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... is a woolly conceit, almost a faith. Proof isn’t required. A Brighton film of two years earlier, Robert Hamer’s delightfully sinister Pink String and Sealing Wax, set, to judge by the costumes, in the 1880s, does indeed have ‘Victorianism’ written all over it, as does Hamer’s subsequent Kind Hearts and Coronets. But neither of these is scrutinised by ...

Grandiose Moments

Frank Kermode, 6 February 1997

Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, Vol. II 
by Max Saunders.
Oxford, 696 pp., £35, September 1996, 0 19 212608 3
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... fact. It was a charge perfectly commonplace among all who knew Ford, friends as well as enemies. Robert Lowell, who met him through Allen Tate near the end of his life, quotes the story of Ford, an over-age wartime second lieutenant, playing golf with Lloyd George and giving the PM a piece of his mind on golfing etiquette: had he refrained, he told ...

Why all the hoopla?

Hal Foster: Frank Gehry, 23 August 2001

Frank Gehry: The Art of Architecture 
edited by Jean-Louis Cohen et al.
Abrams, 500 pp., £55, May 2001, 0 8109 6929 7
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... Vegas (1972), the principal manifesto of Post-Modern architecture. There, in a famous opposition, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown distinguished Modernist design, in which ‘space, structure and programme’ are subsumed in ‘an overall symbolic form’, which they called the ‘duck’, from Post-Modern design, in which ‘space and structure are ...

The Frisson

Will Self, 23 January 2014

The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes 
by Patrick Keiller.
Verso, 218 pp., £14.99, November 2013, 978 1 78168 140 4
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... own talents with those of the human geographer Doreen Massey and the cultural historian Patrick Wright, but there’s no real evidence of an evolved collaboration; rather Massey and Wright were co-opted to lend their own contributions to a project that has been ongoing since Keiller lectured in architecture in the early ...

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