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Worst President in History

Eric Foner: Impeaching Andrew Johnson, 24 September 2020

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation 
by Brenda Wineapple.
Ballantine, 592 pp., £12.99, May, 978 0 8129 8791 1
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... contrast to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, which arose from a sexual escapade, that of Andrew Johnson 130 years earlier involved some of the most intractable problems in American history. How should the nation be reunited after the Civil War? Who is entitled to American citizenship and the right to vote? What should be the status of the four ...

A Topic Best Avoided

Nicholas Guyatt: Abraham Lincoln, 1 December 2011

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery 
by Eric Foner.
Norton, 426 pp., £21, February 2011, 978 0 393 06618 0
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... On the evening of 11 April 1865, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd in Washington about black suffrage. The Civil War had been over for a week. Lincoln had already walked the streets of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, taking in the devastation at first hand. ‘The only people who showed themselves were negroes,’ the radical senator Charles Sumner noted ...

You Have A Mother Don’t You?

Andrew O’Hagan: Cowboy Simplicities, 11 September 2003

Searching for John Ford: A Life 
by Joseph McBride.
Faber, 838 pp., £25, May 2003, 0 571 20075 3
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... It’s odd to think that Abraham Lincoln was killed by an actor, because most of the memorable American Presidents to follow him were actors in their blood. Eisenhower excelled in the part of the sturdy veteran who’d come home to tidy the porch, and Nixon was every part in The Godfather rolled into one. But it took Ronald Reagan to drive the matter past the point of absurdity: president of the Screen Actors’ Guild as well as star of Bedtime for Bonzo ...

Forty Acres and a Mule

Amanda Claybaugh: E.L. Doctorow, 26 January 2006

The March: A Novel 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Little, Brown, 367 pp., £11.99, January 2006, 0 316 73198 6
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... almost certainly have required the Union to rescind its emancipation of the slaves. President Lincoln was not willing to sacrifice the slaves to secure peace, but the opposition party, led by one of his former generals, was eager to do so. And so were the voters, worn down by three years of casualties and drafts. ...

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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... and moral righteousness to make the world safe for democracy. Like Ferguson, Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton begin with the premise that the US has always been an empire. But in contrast to Ferguson’s brief, sanitised account of US history, which leaves the impression that the country’s territorial expansion on the North American continent took place ...

Racist Litter

Randall Kennedy: The Lessons of Reconstruction, 30 July 2020

The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution 
by Eric Foner.
Norton, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2019, 978 0 393 65257 4
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... array of reforms undertaken between 1863 and 1877 to refashion a fractured nation.In 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves then resident in jurisdictions involved in the rebellion against the federal government. Until this point, Lincoln had gone out of his way to make clear that ...

Who’s sorry now?

Andrew O’Hagan: Michael Finkel gets lucky, 2 June 2005

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa 
by Michael Finkel.
Chatto, 312 pp., £15.99, May 2005, 0 7011 7688 1
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Burning Down My Master’s House 
by Jayson Blair.
New Millennium, 288 pp., $24.95, March 2004, 9781932407266
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The Journalist and the Murderer 
by Janet Malcolm.
Granta, 163 pp., £8.99, January 2004, 1 86207 637 5
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... deceit. ‘I don’t know how I can demonstrate my remorse,’ Glass is reported to have said to Andrew Sullivan, the editor who hired him. Sullivan pointed out, not in so many words, that taking a giant book advance and allowing a film to be made from the story of your misdemeanours might not be the subtlest demonstration of remorse. Next came Jayson Blair ...

The Nominee

Andrew O’Hagan: With the Democrats, 19 August 2004

... that no American president is ever as much a man of principle as legend would hope. Abraham Lincoln was the very thing Kerry is accused of being by his opponents, a ‘flip-flopper’, someone who moved his emphasis, or changed his description of what he was doing, or just plain changed his position, according to how the wind was blowing. ‘I will ...

Gaol Fever

David Saunders-Wilson, 24 July 1986

Prisons and the Process of Justice 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Oxford, 217 pp., £5.95, June 1986, 0 19 281932 1
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Growing out of Crime: Society and Young People in Trouble 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Penguin, 189 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 022383 5
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... period for parole, aimed at decreasing it. Some local prisons such as Oxford, Bedford and Lincoln are vastly overcrowded, holding in Oxford’s case more than double the number of prisoners it should. The Home Office itself believed that the prison population wouldn’t reach 48,000 until 1991, but continues to hope that the current building ...

Customising Biography

Iain Sinclair, 22 February 1996

Blake 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 399 pp., £20, September 1995, 1 85619 278 4
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol I: Jerusalem 
editor David Bindman, edited by Morton D. Paley.
Tate Gallery, 304 pp., £48, August 1991, 1 85437 066 9
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. II: Songs of Innocence and Experience 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Andrew Lincoln.
Tate Gallery, 210 pp., £39.50, August 1991, 1 85437 068 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol III: The Early Illuminated Books 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Morris Eaves, Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 288 pp., £48, August 1993, 1 85437 119 3
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. IV: The Continental Prophecies: America, Europe, The Song of Los 
editor David Bindman, edited by D.W. Dörbecker.
Tate Gallery, 368 pp., £50, May 1995, 1 85437 154 1
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. V: Milton, a Poem 
series editor David Bindman, edited by Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.
Tate Gallery, 224 pp., £48, November 1993, 1 85437 121 5
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Collected Edition of William Blake’s Illuminated Books: Vol. VI: The Urizen Books 
 editor David Bindman, edited by David Worrall.
Tate Gallery, 232 pp., £39.50, May 1995, 9781854371553
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... A recent episode in a jobbing writer’s life found me interviewing Carolyn Cassady (author of Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg) in her comprehensively occupied Belsize Park flat. The unreality of this situation – talking, shoulder to shoulder, with one of the Beat Generation’s best-preserved icons – was ameliorated by the fact that our paths had crossed a number of times over the last fifteen years ...

Cool Brains

Nicholas Guyatt: Demythologising the antebellum South, 2 June 2005

Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South 
by Michael O’Brien.
North Carolina, 1354 pp., £64.95, March 2004, 0 8078 2800 9
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... the single-term administrations of John Adams and his son John Quincy. Conversely, 24 years after Andrew Jackson of Tennessee left the White House in 1837, the next generation of Southerners led 11 states out of the Union, founding a Southern Confederacy to preserve the institution of slavery from the meddling of Abraham ...

Kitty still pines for his dearest Dub

Andrew O’Hagan: Gossip, 6 February 2014

Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
by David Plante.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 1 4088 3975 1
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The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 
edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 481 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7011 8678 4
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... bit of fluff to being a noted contributor to the annals of international gossip, falling out with Lincoln Kirstein and Cecil Beaton almost as fast as others, recently arrived in these worlds within the world, were befriending them. I’m not sure which of them is worse, or better. But Isherwood could outdo them all for gossip. He gossiped his way from one end ...

The Greatest Person then Living

Andrew Bacevich: Presidents v. Generals, 27 July 2017

The General v. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War 
by H.W. Brands.
Anchor, 438 pp., £21, November 2016, 978 0 385 54057 5
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... name the greatest figure in world history’, they had ranked him fifth, after Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jesus Christ and Washington. Endorsing his appointment, the New York Times described MacArthur as ‘a superb strategist and an inspired leader; a man of infinite patience and quiet stability under adverse pressure; a man equally capable of bold and ...

Diary

David Bromwich: The Establishment President, 13 May 2010

... sign of the South returning. Political control of the region has reverted to the party of Abraham Lincoln; and that party in 2010 is heavily involved in the celebration of Confederate History Month. The new orthodoxy of the Republican South holds that the Civil War was not about slavery so much as ‘economic disagreements’. This extrusion from the ideology ...

What difference did she make?

Eric Hobsbawm, 23 May 1991

A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Thatcher 
by Peter Clarke.
Hamish Hamilton, 334 pp., £17.99, April 1991, 0 241 13005 0
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The Quiet Rise of John Major 
by Edward Pearce.
Weidenfeld, 177 pp., £14.99, April 1991, 0 297 81208 4
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... of state has sailed on as though it made very little difference that the man on the bridge was Andrew Johnson and not Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and not McKinley, Mrs Wilson and not Woodrow Wilson, Truman and not Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and not Kennedy, Ford and not Nixon, or even that there was nobody in the White ...

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