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Whip, Spur and Lash

John Ray: The Epic of Gilgamesh, 2 September 1999

The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation 
by Andrew George.
Allen Lane, 225 pp., £20, March 1999, 0 7139 9196 8
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... BC, but its later role was similar to that of Latin in the Middle Ages. A school text quoted by Andrew George in his new translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh makes a sardonic point about Sumerian and its importance: The door monitor said, ‘Why did you go out             without my say-so?’ and he beat me. The water monitor ...

Short Cuts

Marina Warner: The Flood, 6 March 2014

... I face More of the epic would be discovered under the sand as time went on. In 1990 Stephanie Dalley added more lines to her edition from newly recovered pieces, but most of what’s left has probably been smashed in the course of the Iraq wars. It seems proper that a place of fire and dust, its skin scarred by warfare, should be the origin of the story of the Flood today: devastation in negative, flood and drought bound together ...

Snubs

E.S. Turner, 19 August 1993

The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules and the Victorians 
by Andrew St George.
Chatto, 330 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 7011 3623 5
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... of good behaviour. The ‘Christless code’ of pistols at dawn does not rate a mention in Andrew St George’s The Descent of Manners, a study of ‘the subtle binding codes that ruled all aspects of 19th-century life’. His concern is only with the middle classes, who had their own sense of honour but were ...

His Little Game

Andrew Boyle, 27 July 1989

The Blake Escape: How we freed George Blake – and why 
by Michael Randle and Pat Pottle.
Harrap, 298 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 245 54781 9
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... 1936 – a bad period not only in England but throughout Europe – he left a widow and the young George in somewhat reduced circumstances. The change of name from Behar to Blake was understandable enough. However, there were further complications which did not help the boy, then rising twelve: one of the Behar sisters had married a banker, Henri Curiel, who ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Dr Macgregor’s Diagnosis, 3 March 2011

... common decency. British politicians don’t talk that way any more, even when it matters. Take Andrew Lansley, the secretary of state for health and once the principal private secretary to Norman Tebbit. Like so many of his cabinet colleagues, and so many of those student politicians in the shadow cabinet, he appears to grasp the bullet points of an ...

Stepchildren

Elspeth Barker, 9 April 1992

Stepsons 
by Robert Liddell.
Peter Owen, 228 pp., £14.95, February 1992, 0 7206 0853 8
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Farewell Sidonia 
by Erich Hackl.
Cape, 135 pp., £5.99, February 1992, 0 224 02901 0
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... took place despite the potent opposition of Oswald’s sisters-in-law, who were caring for Andrew and Stephen. Elsa insisted on being called ‘mummy’. ‘Never call that German woman what you called your own mother,’ an aunt had insisted. Guilt and treachery thus informed the children’s first dealings with their stepmother, complicated by ...

The Man Who Stood Behind the Man Who Won the War

E.H.H. Green: Andrew Bonar Law, 16 September 1999

Bonar Law 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 458 pp., £25, April 1999, 0 7195 5422 5
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... Can William Hague draw any comfort from the experience of his similarly beleaguered predecessor AndrewBonar Law, a scarcely visible figure in the pantheon of Tory leaders? What is best known about him is that he is ‘unknown’. Lord Blake’s celebrated biography, The Unknown Prime Minister (1955), took its cue from Asquith’s perhaps apocryphal ...

Valet of the Dolls

Andrew O’Hagan: Sinatra, 24 July 2003

Mr S.: The Last Word on Frank Sinatra 
by George Jacobs and William Stadiem.
Sidgwick, 261 pp., £16.99, June 2003, 0 283 07370 5
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... finding instant and compelling evidence to prove he was a complete nightmare. Yet this book by George Jacobs, who was Sinatra’s valet for 15 years, might be understood to be wired in a whole new way: it is perhaps the ultimate diatribe by the disgruntled ex-staffer; a new high point (or low point) in a super-readable genre that should surely be given its ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: A journey to citizenship, 16 November 2006

... have had first to mug up on the fact that Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend is called Minnie and that George Washington used to gad about wearing wooden teeth. The British requirements for citizenship are no less strenuous. The point, the book tells us, is to help immigrants ‘to integrate’, and it might seem churlish of me to have requested from the Home ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’, 12 September 2013

... by drink basis it had also created a life of physical and moral disintegration and despair.’ George Best once said that the greatest disaster of his life was that everybody he met wanted to buy him a drink. You might say, in defence of a well-meaning public, that the disaster was compounded by Best’s inability to refuse. But drinking is in many ways a ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Valets, 10 September 2009

... rivals. If you were looking for a rival almost in his exact class, you’d have to mention George Jacobs, valet to Frank Sinatra, who made his name, and unmade Frank’s to a small degree, by detailing his boss’s general dexterity when it came to smashing up a hotel room. Another rival would be Ernest A. Forssgren, Proust’s Swedish valet, a dapper ...

Thomas’s Four Hats

Patricia Beer, 2 April 1981

The Poetry of Edward Thomas 
by Andrew Motion.
Routledge, 193 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 7100 0471 0
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... diffident ones would nowadays turn to something briefer and more selective, such as either of R. George Thomas’s introductions to the Collected Works, and preferably the one in paperback that came out earlier this year*; or Vernon Scannell’s pamphlet written for the British Council in 1963. In any case, one always wonders about the readership of a work ...

Nasty Lucky Genes

Andrew O’Hagan: Fathers and Sons, 21 September 2006

The Arms of the Infinite 
by Christopher Barker.
Pomona, 329 pp., £9.99, August 2006, 1 904590 04 7
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... she stood, deciding by the last page that the author was the man she was put on earth to marry. George Barker. His name seems almost seedy now, redolent of multiple fatherings and free drinks and Benzedrine, a low-rent Catholic visionary forever caught in some personal smog of Latinate rhetoric and English ambition. But at the time of Elizabeth Smart’s ...

Private Thomas

Andrew Motion, 19 December 1985

Edward Thomas: A Portrait 
by R. George Thomas.
Oxford, 331 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 19 818527 8
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... R. George Thomas is a cautious man. His life of Edward Thomas (no relation) is ‘a portrait’ not ‘a biography’. Maybe this is just as well. The poet was a cautious man too. He was also a scrupulous one, and when we read in the first few pages that research for this book began ‘in the early 1960s’, we are encouraged to feel that author and subject are kindred spirits ...

The Lie that Empire Tells Itself

Eric Foner: America’s bad wars, 19 May 2005

The Dominion of War: Empire and conflict in North America 1500-2000 
by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton.
Atlantic, 520 pp., £19.99, July 2005, 1 903809 73 8
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... has seemed distasteful, a relic of a less enlightened era of international relations. America, George W. Bush insisted during the 2000 election campaign, had ‘never been an empire’ and had no intention of becoming one. Politicians still shy away from the term. But since the attacks of 11 September 2001, the term ‘empire’ has been used without ...

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