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Human Wishes

Irvin Ehrenpreis, 20 December 1984

Samuel Johnson 
by Walter Jackson Bate.
Hogarth, 646 pp., £6.95, July 1984, 0 7012 0562 8
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A Preliminary Handlist of Copies of Books Associated with Dr Samuel Johnson 
by J.D. Fleeman.
Oxford Bibliographical Society, 101 pp., £5, March 1984, 0 901420 41 7
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Samuel Johnson 1709-84: A Bicentenary Exhibition 
edited by K.K. Yung.
Arts Council/Herbert Press, 144 pp., £9.95, July 1984, 9780906969458
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Samuel Johnson 
by Donald Greene.
Oxford, 872 pp., £15, June 1984, 9780192541796
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... decades that Boswell makes an unreliable guide to the mind of his mentor. They say that one tastes Johnson’s profundity not in his conversation but in his writing, and above all in the essays on morality. In those works, says W.J. Bate, ‘we have the essence of Johnson.’ A careful reader of the life by Boswell must ...

A to Z

Ian Hamilton: Schmidt’s List, 4 March 1999

Lives of the Poets 
by Michael Schmidt.
Weidenfeld, 960 pp., £22, October 1998, 0 297 84014 2
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A Critical Difference: T.S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism, 1919-28 
by David Goldie.
Oxford, 232 pp., £35, October 1998, 0 19 812379 5
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... Fenton (Elijah) and Hughes (John): where are you now? Ten of the 52 poets represented in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets fail to make an appearance in the Oxford Companion to English Literature. On its own, of course, this doesn’t prove a thing. At the same time I would guess that these poets are known about today – if they are known about ...

Too early or too late?

David Runciman, 2 April 2020

... the actions of the mayor from Jaws as a model of crisis management, and it isn’t Trump. Boris Johnson used to tease audiences by suggesting that ‘the real hero of Jaws was the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all his constituents and he decides to keep the beaches open.’ Usually Johnson would ...

What are they after?

William Davies: How Could the Tories?, 8 March 2018

... range of Brexit options at a Tory Conference fringe event in October, the former Brexit minister David Jones concluded: ‘If necessary, as Churchill once said, very well then, alone.’ This is the sort of nostalgia Stuart Hall warned against as early as the 1970s, and which Peter Ammon, the outgoing German ambassador in London, identified recently when he ...

Self-Hugging

Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell, 5 October 2000

Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel JohnsonThe Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... when the single-minded Becky Sharp, high in a coach bound for Russell Square, flings a copy of Johnson’s Dictionary out of the window to land on the grass at the feet of her former teacher, a sworn disciple of the Great Lexicographer. ‘So much for the Dictionary,’ says Becky Sharp as the carriage pulls away, ‘and, thank God, I’m out of ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean, 3 July 2008

... A recent Italian book on the films of David Lean is called Colour and Dust, and with an amplification or two the phrase offers a pretty good description of his later work. The colour is mainly orange, and a lot of the dust is sand, especially in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). More generally, of course, the phrase evokes the director of swirling epics, a sort of Cecil B ...

Who’s in charge?

Chalmers Johnson: The Addiction to Secrecy, 6 February 2003

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers 
by Daniel Ellsberg.
Viking, 498 pp., $29.95, October 2002, 0 670 03030 9
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... warned the Government that things would only go from bad to worse.* But Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were interested above all in the effects the war would have on the elections of 1964, 1968 and 1972 respectively. The source of the revelations was not a long-haired anti-war radical but one of us: a Marine officer, an insider’s insider, who ...

‘I’m coming, my Tetsie!’

Freya Johnston: Samuel Johnson’s Shoes, 9 May 2019

Samuel Johnson 
edited by David Womersley.
Oxford, 1344 pp., £95, May 2018, 978 0 19 960951 2
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... The first time​ Tetty Porter met her future husband, Samuel Johnson, she told her daughter, Lucy, that she had never encountered a more ‘sensible’ man. Most readers assume she was praising Johnson’s sober, rational side; Leslie Stephen, writing in 1878, went so far as to commend Tetty’s penetrative ‘good sense’ for discerning the same quality in Johnson, despite his ‘grotesque appearance ...

Who was David Peterley?

Michael Holroyd, 15 November 1984

... David Peterley’s Peterley Harvest was first published on 24 October 1960. The book had a curious history and, shortly before publication, stories began to appear in the press declaring it to be an elaborate hoax. The jacket of the book contained the information that David Peterley was the only son of an old Quaker family that had ‘lived in the Chilterns and been neighbours of Milton and the Penns ...

Incandescences

Richard Poirier, 20 December 1979

The Powers that Be 
by David Halberstam.
Chatto, 771 pp., £9.95
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... the disastrous appearance of Nixon in the first of the televised debates), and finally Presidents Johnson and Nixon, both of whom were severely damaged, as was Senator Joe McCarthy, by the dramatisations on TV of such horror shows as Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and the Army-McCarthy hearings. Truman gets treated very scantily in the book for the reason, I ...

Eden without the Serpent

Eric Foner, 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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... Paul Johnson is one of the most indefatigable writers on either side of the Atlantic. In the past twenty years, the former editor of the New Statesman turned ardent Thatcherite has produced, among other books, The Birth of the Modern (weighing in at more than a thousand pages), Modern Times, a massive chronicle of the 20th century, and lengthy histories of Christianity and Judaism ...

Conspire Slowly, Act Quickly

David Runciman: Thatcher Undone, 2 January 2020

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography Vol. III: Herself Alone 
by Charles Moore.
Allen Lane, 1072 pp., £35, October 2019, 978 0 241 32474 5
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... having lived long enough to see another Conservative enter Downing Street. That prime minister, David Cameron, wanted to give her a full state funeral, putting her on the same level as Churchill. She vetoed the idea. So she was given a full ceremonial funeral instead, which placed her on a par with the Queen Mother and Princess Diana, though she received ...

Mental Processes

Christopher Longuet-Higgins, 4 August 1988

The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science 
by P.N. Johnson-Laird.
Harvard/Fontana, 444 pp., £23.50, May 1988, 0 674 15615 3
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... curable by a healthy dose of realism and clear thought? In The Computer and the Mind Philip Johnson-Laird, one of our leading cognitive psychologists, escorts the educated layman through the fantastic landscape of ‘cognitive science’ – the modern science of the mind, and of possible minds. The idea that there might be laws of thought transcending ...

The Positions He Takes

John Barrell: Hitchens on Paine, 30 November 2006

Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 128 pp., £9.99, July 2006, 1 84354 513 6
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... and Paine was manhandled. According to Hitchens, Part Two was produced partly to explain to Dr Johnson the need for a written constitution, and partly to endorse Ricardo’s views on commerce and free trade, but when it was written Johnson had been dead for seven years and Ricardo, not yet 20, had published no views that ...

The Politics of Now

David Runciman: The Last World Cup, 21 June 2018

The Fall of the House of Fifa 
by David Conn.
Yellow Jersey, 336 pp., £9.99, June 2017, 978 0 224 10045 8
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... power, some moments now look like straws in the wind. In late November 2010 the English FA sent David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham to Fifa headquarters in Zurich to lobby on its behalf before the vote for the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Two old Etonians and an alumnus of Chingford County High ...

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