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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 ...

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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... on whether the Union should fight to achieve total victory or seek a negotiated peace, which would 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 ...

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 ...

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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... has risen by over 3000, despite the introduction of measures, such as the reduction of the minimum qualifying 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 ...

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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... by Southern presidents for 40 of its first 48 years, a period of dominance interrupted only by 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 ...

The Nominee

Andrew​ O’Hagan: With the Democrats

19 August 2004
... know that a man of principle is unlikely to be elected president of the United States now, and further, 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 ...

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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... of European powers. Woodrow Wilson insisted that only the US possessed the combination of military power 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 ...
22 February 1996
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 ...


David Bromwich: The Establishment President

13 May 2010
... 1964: ‘We have lost the South for a generation.’ It has been two generations now, and there is no 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 ...

The Greatest Person then Living

Andrew​ Bacevich: Presidents v. Generals

26 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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... approval. In a Gallup poll, Americans had dubbed MacArthur the ‘greatest person then living’. Asked ‘to 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 ...
11 December 1997
A History of the American People 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 925 pp., £25, October 1997, 0 297 81569 5
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... history’. As for the Revolution and the Civil War they were not simply influenced by religious belief but actual ‘religious events’. In fact, many of the founding fathers, as well as Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator himself, were indifferent churchgoers. Their religion was deism rather than devout Christianity. Johnson has a hard time explaining why a nation ‘founded primarily for ...

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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... concealed character called Stephen Glass, who invented email addresses and whole companies to hide his 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 ...


Terence Hawkes

22 February 1990
Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe 
by Andrew​ Gurr and John Orrell.
Weidenfeld, 197 pp., £15.95, April 1989, 0 297 79346 2
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Shakespeare and the Popular Voice 
by Annabel Patterson.
Blackwell, 195 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 631 16873 7
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Re-Inventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present 
by Gary Taylor.
Hogarth, 461 pp., £18, January 1990, 0 7012 0888 0
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Shakespeare’s America, America’s Shakespeare 
by Michael Bristol.
Routledge, 237 pp., £30, January 1990, 0 415 01538 3
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... spectacle of famous actors and actresses praying over heaps of bricks and mortar, lighting candles, and tying paper flowers to the wire fencing around the Rose and the Globe, had a familiar whiff. Andrew Gurr and John Orrell’s Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe concerns a project conceived well before the recent discoveries. But its primary aim – to present the case for a ‘reconstruction’ of ...
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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... usually been chosen for every reason other than their leadership potential. And yet the great US ship 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 ...


Andrew​ O’Hagan

14 December 1995
Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery 
by Norman Mailer.
Little, Brown, 791 pp., £25, September 1995, 0 316 87620 8
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... down the far end of the sixth floor, you can hear the funeral march as recorded in Washington. As I turn, I see everything is dark. There are flickering pictures on a TV screen of the President’s Lincoln turning into Elm Street, and running past the front of the building I’m standing in myself. I see him lurch in his seat, and feel it might all be happening now, outside, on this sunny day. This ...

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