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Neal Ascherson: Organised Crime, 3 July 2008

McMafia: Crime without Frontiers 
by Misha Glenny.
Bodley Head, 432 pp., £20, April 2008, 978 0 224 07503 9
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... the Canadian forests. He talks to Mayor Larry Campbell of Vancouver, and also to the extraordinary David Soares, district attorney of Albany, who has set out to reverse New York State’s Rockefeller Laws, which impose ferocious penalties for possession of minute quantities of drugs. The point here is that Canada is inclined to decriminalise, while the US ...

Wolves in the Drawing Room

Neal Ascherson: The SNP, 2 June 2011

... supporting British liberty and strength. Now English people who notice it wonder what it was for. David Cameron says he will fight to prevent the break-up of Britain ‘with every single fibre’. But why? When Salmond rang him up after the election and read out a shopping list of demands, Cameron seems to have been oddly silent. Many London commentators made ...

Brown Goo like Marmite

Neal Ascherson: Memories of the Fog, 8 October 2015

London Fog: The Biography 
by Christine Corton.
Harvard, 408 pp., £22.95, November 2015, 978 0 674 08835 1
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... an 1827 cartoon by Michael Egerton (her selection of London fog illustrators, from Cruikshank to David Langdon, adds entertainment and insight all through the book.)Corton salutes Dickens’s mastery of ‘the use of fog as extended metaphor’. And of course no fog in literature approaches that introduction to Bleak House with ‘Fog everywhere. Fog up the ...

Secrets are like sex

Neal Ascherson, 2 April 2020

The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain 
by Richard Norton-Taylor.
I.B. Tauris, 352 pp., £20, March 2019, 978 1 78831 218 9
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... Inquiry which that trial provoked. He followed the Hutton Inquiry into the government scientist David Kelly’s suicide and the ‘sexed-up’ intelligence dossier on Saddam Hussein’s mythical weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq War. He dissected the grotesquely delayed Chilcot Report, which described how the Blair government blundered into that ...

Newspapers of the Consensus

Neal Ascherson, 21 February 1985

The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. II: The 20th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 718 pp., £25, March 1984, 0 241 11181 1
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Lies, Damned Lies and Some Exclusives 
by Henry Porter.
Chatto, 211 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2841 0
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Garvin of the ‘Observer’ 
by David Ayerst.
Croom Helm, 314 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 7099 0560 2
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The Beaverbrook I Knew 
edited by Logan Gourlay.
Quartet, 272 pp., £11.95, September 1984, 0 7043 2331 1
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... this press? Look what they do with the information they have already!’ Two works of biography, David Ayerst’s life of J.L. Garvin and Logan Gourlay’s collection of memoirs of Beaverbrook, serve to colour out the process which Stephen Koss describes – and the decline. Garvin, editor of the Observer from 1908 to 1942, was beyond challenge the greatest ...

Raging towards Utopia

Neal Ascherson: Koestler, 22 April 2010

Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual 
by Michael Scammell.
Faber, 689 pp., £25, February 2010, 978 0 571 13853 1
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... biographies in English already exist: Iain Hamilton’s Koestler: A Biography (1982) and David Cesarani’s Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind (1998). But Scammell has little time for either work. His bibliography dismisses Hamilton’s book as ‘superficial and ill-researched’, and Cesarani’s (the one which attacked Koestler as a ...

In which the Crocodile Snout-Butts the Glass

James Francken: David Mitchell, 7 June 2001

number9dream 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 418 pp., £10.99, March 2001, 0 340 73976 2
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... There are three false starts in David Mitchell’s slippery new novel. At the beginning of number9dream the narrator sits in a chaotic Tokyo café staring into an empty coffee cup. Eiji Miyake is a mousy young man who has come to the city to find his father, but he lacks the wherewithal to contact the lawyer who knows his address ...

Outfoxing Hangman

Thomas Jones: David Mitchell, 11 May 2006

Black Swan Green 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 371 pp., £16.99, May 2006, 0 340 82279 1
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... David Mitchell’s first book, Ghostwritten (1999), which describes itself as ‘a novel in nine parts’, is a collection of loosely interconnected stories. The protagonist of one will have a walk-on role in the next; a minor character from someone else’s story will later reappear as the narrator of their own. The first narrator is a member of a Japanese doomsday cult, the perpetrator of a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway, now on the run in Okinawa ...

How bad can it get?

LRB Contributors, 15 August 2019

... Neal Ascherson, Mary Beard, Jonathan Coe, Tom Crewe, William Davies, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Lorna Finlayson, Daniel Finn, Katrina Forrester, Jeremy Harding, Daisy Hildyard, Colin Kidd, James Meek, Ferdinand Mount, Jan-Werner Müller, Jonathan Parry, David RuncimanNeal Ascherson‘On​ 17 June poor France fell ...

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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... can be tolerated, and might even be enjoyed, as piano-players in the funhouse of letters. Early in David Plante’s diaries, we find him tinkling away, dropping names in basso profundo, as if knowing people and knowing what they do in private can be the thing that makes one special. He is 28 years old when he comes to London from the US (a little younger than ...

Into the Net

Neal Ascherson: Records of the Spanish Civil War, 15 December 2016

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 
by Adam Hochschild.
Macmillan, 438 pp., £25, April 2016, 978 1 5098 1054 3
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¡No Pasarán! Writings from the Spanish Civil War 
edited by Pete Ayrton.
Serpent’s Tail, 393 pp., £20, April 2016, 978 1 84668 997 0
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The Last Days of the Spanish Republic 
by Paul Preston.
William Collins, 390 pp., £25, February 2016, 978 0 00 816340 2
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A Distant Heartbeat: A War, a Disappearance and a Family’s Secrets 
by Eunice Lipton.
New Mexico, 165 pp., £18.50, April 2016, 978 0 8263 5658 1
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... Eunice Lipton was one of those who came back, but representing the dead. Her uncle David was killed on Hill 666, in the Ebro offensive; her book is a memoir about her search for him. He came from just that New York Jewish working-class background which Hochschild mourns. It was a hotly disputatious family, in which Lipton’s brash ...

The money’s still out there

Neal Ascherson: The Scottish Empire, 6 October 2011

To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £25, August 2011, 978 0 7139 9744 6
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The Inner Life of Empires: An 18th-Century History 
by Emma Rothschild.
Princeton, 483 pp., £24.95, June 2011, 978 0 691 14895 3
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... Slessor’s good works on the Upper Niger still earn her an image on Scottish banknotes, while David Livingstone became the world’s best-known Scotsman. They did not save many souls. After 50 years’ work in India, the missions could show only 3359 converts. But their influence on empire was deep and paradoxical, at once the advance guard of colonialism ...

Liquidator

Neal Ascherson: Hugh Trevor-Roper, 19 August 2010

Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Weidenfeld, 598 pp., £25, July 2010, 978 0 297 85214 8
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... among them the Nazi-nostalgic François Genoud, Himmler’s masseur Felix Kersten and the young David Irving – to whom he initially gave more trust than they deserved. As Colin Kidd has suggested, Trevor-Roper had a curious weakness for con men. He found them fascinating. But he overestimated his own ability to see through them, and underestimated the ...

As the toffs began to retreat

Neal Ascherson: Declinism, 22 November 2018

What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain 
by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Head of Zeus, 360 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 1 78497 235 6
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The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A 20th-Century History 
by David Edgerton.
Allen Lane, 681 pp., £30, June 2018, 978 1 84614 775 3
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... its failure to maintain the extraordinary industrial and scientific leadership it once attained. David Edgerton’s book, the more academic of the two, is a brilliant and often very aggressive challenge to a set of assumptions about the recent past. James Hamilton-Paterson, still one of England’s most skilled and alluring prose writers in or out of ...

Knights of the Road

Tom Clark: The Beat generation, 6 July 2000

This is the Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris 
by James Campbell.
Vintage, 320 pp., £7.99, May 2000, 0 09 928269 0
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... road romance throughout the Beat legend. Tangled up in the story, as usual, is the Beat Lancelot, Neal Cassady. ‘The new American hero ... delinquent and hungry for a purpose’, Cassady shows up here in 1947, a beguiling apparition, naked with an erection in a tenement doorway, waiting to be ‘miraculously crafted’ into a figure of romance. For ...

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