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Think​ like a neutron

Steven Shapin:​ Fermi’s Paradoxes

24 May 2018
The Last Man Who Knew EverythingThe Life and​ Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age 
by David N. Schwartz.
Basic, 448 pp., £26.99, December 2017, 978 0 465 07292 7
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... are admired, though with qualifications: the ‘know-it-all’ is an intellectual bully or a bore, and one thing it’s useful to know is when not to tell everyone that you know everything. It’s no great surprise that there doesnt seem ever to have been a ‘woman who knew everything’ – while there are several books about women who ‘knew too much’. It’s often said that some quite ...

The Browse Function

John Sutherland

27 November 1997
Webonomics: Nine​ Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web 
by Evan Schwartz.
Penguin,​ 244 pp., £11.99, October 1997, 9780140264067
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... owning founder (now chief executive officer), Jeff (now Jeffrey) Bezos, was just 30. Apparently, in the early days, he would drive down to the local post office to dispatch orders by hand. Bezos is no tweedy ‘bookman. He originally had 20 product categories in mind, but settled on books as the most appropriate for web-merchandising. It was an astute choice. If they are to attract customers ...

None​ of it is your material

Madeleine Schwartz: What Zelda Did

18 April 2019
Save Me the Waltz 
by Zelda Fitzgerald.
Handheld Press, 268 pp., £12.99, January 2019, 978 1 9998280 4 2
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... moved into in the early 1930s, is one example among many: Mr Fitzgerald: If you want to write modest things, you may be able to turn out one collection of short stories … [but] there is just no comparison. I am a professional writer, with a huge following. I am the highest paid short story writer in the world. I have at various times dominated – Mrs Fitzgerald: It seems to me you are ...

Eskapizm

Michael Wood: Oblomov

6 August 2009
Oblomov 
by Ivan Goncharov, translated by Marian Schwartz.
Seven Stories, 553 pp., £15.99, January 2009, 978 1 58322 840 1
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... us tired, setting us up for a largely (although not entirely) disreputable identification with the book’s slothful hero. Other translations describe his favourite posture as lying down, but Marian Schwartz boldly goes for ‘recumbence’, with its suggestion of ornate Latin repose: For Ilya Ilich, recumbence was neither a necessity, as it would be for an ill or sleepy man,nor an occasiona...

Not Just the Money

Mattathias Schwartz: Cybermafia

5 July 2012
DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia 
by Misha Glenny.
Vintage, 432 pp., £8.95, July 2012, 978 0 09 954655 9
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... The carders’ style of loose co-operation has something in common with the battlefield as imagined in Swarming and the Future of Conflict (2000) by the RAND Corporations John Arquilla andDavid Ronfeldt. Technology, Arquilla and Ronfeldt argue, will soon make it possible for small clusters of loosely organised military units to conduct brief and co-ordinated strikes, then disperse. Message ...

Superficially Pally

Jenny​ Turner: Richard Sennett

22 March 2012
Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and​ Politics of Co-Operation 
by Richard Sennett.
Allen Lane, 323 pp., £25, February 2012, 978 0 7139 9874 0
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... A shift from private to public-sector employment, the use of redundant finance and media workers in ‘care and mentoring’ jobs: all of this sounds great, andnecessary and sensible, except that no one’s going to make it policy any time soon. What, then, of the ‘new creative or green economies’ we keep hearing so much about? ‘A fantasy,’ Sennett says, in his new book, Together: The ...

More than a Million Names

Mattathias Schwartz: American Intelligence

15 June 2016
Playing​ to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror 
by Michael Hayden.
Penguin,​ 464 pp., £21.99, February 2016, 978 1 59420 656 6
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... a black site in Afghanistan. He told his American captors the same thing he’d told the Macedonians: he was an innocent man, a German citizen on vacation. He made a living selling cars. He had no connections to al-Qaida or any other jihadis. After el-Masri had spent 149 days in captivity, the CIA realised he was telling the truth. The man they had arrested was not Khaled el-Masri the jihadist ...

Diary

Christopher Hitchens: Reagan and​ Rambo

3 October 1985
... The Changing World of New York Intellectuals’. This rather shallow piece appeared in the New York Times magazine, and took us over the usual jumps. Gone are the days of Partisan Review, Delmore Schwartz, Dwight Mac Donald etc etc. No longer the tempest of debate over Trotsky, The Waste Land, Orwell, blah, blah. Today the assimilation of the Jewish American, the rise of rents in midtown Manhattan, ...

Performing​ Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd

10 August 2000
PartisansMarriage, Politics and​ Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David​ Laskin.
Simon and​ Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... obscured by the fog of booze, of their interpersonal ‘doings and undoings’ (expression of Mr Norman Podhoretz). Queenie Leavis of course became an official widow, and it is les veuves on whom David Laskin relies most heavily in this relatively orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; ...

The Unstoppable Upward

James Wolcott: ‘The Life of Saul Bellow’

24 January 2019
The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and​ Strife, 1965-2005 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 864 pp., £35, November 2018, 978 0 224 10188 2
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... literary event of the season, a crowning glory for author and subject. Bellow: A Biography was Atlas’s highly anticipated successor to his wunderkind biography of the brilliant, bedevilled Delmore Schwartz, whose combustible presence served as the inspiration for Von Humboldt Fleisher in Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winningnovel Humboldt’s Gift. With Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet ...
6 February 1986
... stubbornly above that which the Government wishes to see. Meanwhile unemployment, which was only expected to rise temporarily, has been stuck at pre-war levels for four years or more, and shows no real sign of falling. Moreover measures of the money supply – supposed indicators of the monetary stance of the Government – are all over the place. Some over-predict the inflation rate; some ...

Bad Character

Andrew O’Hagan:​ Saul Bellow

20 May 2015
The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and​ Fortune, 1915-64 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 812 pp., £35, May 2015, 978 0 224 08467 3
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... of expression and a new kind of American. The hell with people’s complaints, you might say, and that’s what Bellow and his admirers do say. ‘The number of people hurt by Bellow is probably no more than can be counted on two hands,’ James Wood wrote, ‘yet he has delighted and consoled and altered the lives of thousands of readers.’ Leader quotes this early in the book and goes on to ...

Like a Mosquito

Mattathias Schwartz: Drones

4 July 2013
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield 
by Jeremy Scahill.
Serpent’s Tail, 642 pp., £15.99, May 2013, 978 1 84668 850 8
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... Feinstein) to the low hundreds (New America Foundation) to nearly a thousand (Bureau of Investigative Journalism) to more than 90 per cent of all the deaths in drone strikes (the ex-military officers David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum). In March 2012, the New York Times reported that all military-age males, armed or unarmed, are considered to be combatants unless there is posthumous evidenc...

Sad Stories

Adam Begley

5 January 1989
Capote: A Biography 
by Gerald Clarke.
Hamish Hamilton,​ 632 pp., £16.95, July 1988, 0 241 12549 9
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Jean Stafford: A Biography 
by David​ Roberts.
Chatto, 494 pp., £16.95, August 1988, 0 7011 3010 5
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... which were to plague Capote in his unhappy middle age. Irked by the effeminate behaviour of her son, she tried to bully him into becoming an ‘ordinary, masculine boy’. Capote himself saw no reason for concern: ‘I always had a marked homosexual preference ... and I never had any guilt about it at all. As time goes on, you finally settle down on one side or another, homosexual or ...

On the Thunder Run

Ed Harriman:​ What Happened at al-Hilla

1 April 2004
A Time of Our ChoosingAmerica’s War in Iraq 
by Todd Purdom.
Times, 319 pp., $25, November 2003, 0 8050 7562 3
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... how he made up his mind whether or not it was permissible to use cluster munitions. ‘The hard part is how many casualties we will take. It’s a gut level, fly by the seat of your pants. There’s no standard that says one US life equals X civilian lives.’ And what about the possibility that children will be hit? ‘I was hoping kids were hunkered down, hoping with artillery fire they were no...

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