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On Darwin’s Trouble with the Finches

Andrew Berry: The genius of Charles Darwin, 7 March 2002

Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands 
by Edward Larson.
Penguin, 320 pp., £8.99, February 2002, 0 14 100503 3
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... spot’. The islands’ blasted aspect, however, made them unpopular with visitors. Herman Melville, who visited in 1841, had the usual reaction: ‘Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in an outsize city lot, imagine some of them magnified into mountains, and the vacant lot the sea; and you will have a fit idea of the ...

Dear boy, I’d rather see you in your coffin

Jon Day: Paid to Race, 16 July 2020

To Hell and Back: An Autobiography 
by Niki Lauda.
Ebury, 314 pp., £16.99, February, 978 1 5291 0679 4
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A Race with Love and Death: The Story of Britain’s First Great Grand Prix Driver, Richard Seaman 
by Richard Williams.
Simon and Schuster, 388 pp., £20, March, 978 1 4711 7935 8
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... Roger Williamson was burned to death at Zandvoort in 1973, while his friend and fellow driver David Purley tried desperately to beat out the flames as millions of TV viewers watched, Lauda was asked by the press why he hadn’t stopped to help. ‘I’m paid to race,’ he said, ‘not to stop.’ The ‘formula’ of F1 refers to the various rules ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... a triple-decker steak sandwich washed down with bourbon’. Lunch, ‘inhaled’ (this is David Thomson’s word) while rehearsing The Shoemaker’s Holiday, soon to be Welles’s second hit for the Mercury Players, was comparably stupefying. Callow depicts Welles perched at a table in the stalls, ‘roaring out instructions and mock abuse as he ...

Hare’s Blood

Peter Wollen: John Berger, 4 April 2002

The Selected Essays of John Berger 
edited by Geoff Dyer.
Bloomsbury, 599 pp., £25, November 2001, 0 7475 5419 6
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... read many of the same books, from the same canon of French revolutionary literature. He respected David as a painter because of his ‘revolutionary classicism’ and, in his book on The Success and Failure of Picasso, he cites Bakunin’s typically anarchist dictum that ‘the urge to destroy is also a creative urge,’ comparing it to Picasso’s ...

Captain Swing

Eric Hobsbawm, 24 November 1994

The Duke Ellington Reader 
edited by Mark Tucker.
Oxford, 536 pp., £19.95, February 1994, 0 19 505410 5
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Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America 
by David Stowe.
Harvard, 299 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 0 674 85825 5
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... about the links between the political and cultural histories of the USA during this period, but David Stowe, who teaches American Thought and Language at Michigan State University, is, to my knowledge, the first writer to have attempted a systematic history of the relationship between jazz and New Deal America. The most immediate impact of Roosevelt’s ...

Leave them weeping

Colin Grant: Frederick Douglass, 1 August 2019

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom 
by David Blight.
Simon and Schuster, 892 pp., £30, November 2018, 978 1 4165 9031 6
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... talent for making viscerally real what was for many readers the abstraction of slavery. As David Blight puts it in his excellent new biography, he ‘learned how to leave them weeping’.But the Narrative’s publication also threatened Douglass’s safety. He was still a slave who could legally be recaptured – easily, since the book identified him ...

Diary

Kevin Kopelson: Confessions of a Plagiarist, 22 May 2008

... shove it into my own prose regardless of how tiresome that is. Take my last book, on the satirist David Sedaris. Not only do you get more Proust than you’d ever care for, you get an awful lot of Sedaris – pure, unadulterated Sedaris. It’s not that I’m lazy. Or rather, it’s not just that I’m lazy. I do much more in Sedaris than quote Sedaris, much ...
Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction 
by Philip Fisher.
Harvard, 290 pp., £18.50, May 1999, 0 674 83859 9
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... and CDs. Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, three of the ‘Four Brothers’ of the Woody Herman band, did not try or want to purge the older idiom from their playing as they broke into smaller groups for the recording sessions of the 1950s, and on any album by the avant-garde generations of Parker, Davis and Coltrane there was likely to be a bigband ...

Beyond the Cringe

John Barrell: British Art, 2 June 2016

Art in Britain 1660-1815 
by David Solkin.
Yale, 367 pp., £55, October 2015, 978 0 300 21556 4
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... David Solkin​ ’s new book is designed to replace Painting in Britain 1530-1790, a volume of the Pelican history of art by Ellis Waterhouse, which was first published in 1953 and appeared in five separate editions, the last in 1994, nine years after Waterhouse’s death. Waterhouse’s history was quickly recognised as a classic ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

Stevie 
by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Heinemann, 378 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 434 44105 8
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... on doing so. These fictions have the elliptical urgency of notes to an intimate; they can also, as David Garnett complained in a letter quoted by Barbera and McBrien, become ‘an impenetrable dossier of private day-dreams’. Some of the incidents and arguments of her novels are treated more cogently in poems. Some of them might have been better not treated ...

Clothes were everything to me

Lisa Cohen: Bill Cunningham, 25 October 2018

Fashion Climbing: A New York Life 
by Bill Cunningham.
Chatto, 256 pp., £16.99, October 2018, 978 1 78474 281 2
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... like Rose Cumming, of the purple hair and magnificent display windows; ‘the fascinating Mr [Herman Patrick] Tappé’, another ‘truly original designer’; and Nona Park and Sophie Shonnard of Chez Ninon, the discreet seller of approved reproductions (and modifications) of Paris couture to US society women, who took Cunningham under their ...

Magnifico

David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... it: ‘In a less confused world, his glory would be greater than his guilt.’ In a similar mood, David Thomson published a biography in which every chapter ends with a dialogue of self-examination by the critic, and in which Welles’s best-known innovation is side-swiped and helped to its feet all in the course of a sentence: ‘In truth, there was more ...

‘What is your nation if I may ask?’

Colm Tóibín: Jews in Ireland, 30 September 1999

Jews in 20th-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust 
by Dermot Keogh.
Cork, 336 pp., £45, March 1998, 9781859181492
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... as further telegrams, even more alarming, came from Herzog. In 1944, the US envoy in Dublin, David Gray, discussed President Roosevelt’s War Refugee Board with the Irish Government and expressed the US Administration’s delight when the Irish Government agreed in principle to take 500 Jewish refugee children. When there was a question of accepting ...

Issues of Truth and Invention

Colm Tóibín: Francis Stuart’s wartime broadcasts, 4 January 2001

The Wartime Broadcasts of Francis Stuart 
edited by Brendan Barrington.
Lilliput, 192 pp., £25, September 2000, 1 901866 54 8
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... who heard me. I don’t think anyone really listened.’ Fisk also wrote about the Goertz affair. Herman Goertz was a German agent selected for a mission to Ireland. He ‘was given two objectives in Ireland; to gain the IRA’s help during a possible German invasion of Britain and their assistance in cutting off Eire’s connections with the United ...

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