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Letting it get out

Bernard Williams, 18 October 1984

Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation 
by Sissela Bok.
Oxford, 332 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 19 217733 8
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TheSecrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today 
edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel.
Heinemann, 166 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 9780435839390
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... As Sissela Bok’s book illustrates, it is a deep and nearly universal desire of those in power; Des Wilson’s collection of articles powerfully documents and eloquently attacks its special intensity in this country, the most officially secretive among democracies. Sissela Bok’s thoughtful book is not concerned only with official secrets, though they ...

Fear and Loathing in Limehouse

Richard Holme, 3 September 1987

Campaign! The Selling of the Prime Minister 
by Rodney Tyler.
Grafton, 251 pp., £6.95, July 1987, 0 246 13277 9
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Battle for Power 
by Des Wilson.
Sphere, 326 pp., £4.99, July 1987, 0 7221 9074 3
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David Owen: Personally Speaking 
by Kenneth Harris.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 297 79206 7
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... One Hundred and One Damnations demonstrated? In a racy account of the Alliance election campaign Des Wilson gives an excellent sense of what it must be like to be a hyperactive member of the crew of a plane which refuses to take off, waiting for the surge which never comes. The final section of his book, which is an election diary, has the merit of ...

Angela Carter on the latest thing

Angela Carter, 5 December 1985

Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity 
by Elizabeth Wilson.
Virago, 272 pp., £11.95, November 1985, 0 86068 552 7
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... The serious study of fashion​ has repeatedly had to justify itself,’ observes Elizabeth Wilson in the introduction to Adorned in Dreams, a study of fashion which, in itself, may help to render such justifications redundant; her book is the best I have read on the subject, bar none. Fashion is part of social practice: it is an industry whose demands have helped to shape modern history, and choosing our clothes is the nearest most of us will ever get to practical aesthetics ...

Tristram Rushdie

Pat Rogers, 15 September 1983

Shame 
by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 287 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 224 02952 5
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Scandal 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 233 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 241 11101 3
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Love and Glory 
by Melvyn Bragg.
Secker, 252 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 436 06716 1
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The Complete Knowledge of Sally Fry 
by Sylvia Murphy.
Gollancz, 172 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 575 03353 3
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... is, to start with, not abstract at all, since it refers to a kind of encyclopedia or dictionnaire des idées reçues. All of these titles point to something about the book in question, I suppose, but none quite hits its central merit or interest. And it does play into the hands of that slack critical cliché, where a work is always found to be (weak ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, 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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... Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview all the exes of Philip Rahv would be an undertaking from which the most committed Boswellian might recoil. (Though it’s fascinating to speculate what ...

Schlepping around the Flowers

James Meek: Bees, 4 November 2004

The Hive: The Story of the Honey-Bee and Us 
by Bee Wilson.
Murray, 308 pp., £14.99, September 2004, 0 7195 6409 3
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... spoke no English, and the great Belgian set to work on a screen version of his novel La Vie des Abeilles. When the script was translated Goldwyn read it with increasing consternation until he could no longer deny the evidence of his senses. ‘My God!’ he cried. ‘The hero is a bee!’ As Ian Hamilton tells it in Writers in Hollywood, Maeterlinck was ...

Who they think they are

Julian Symons, 8 November 1990

You’ve had your time 
by Anthony Burgess.
Heinemann, 391 pp., £17.50, October 1990, 0 434 09821 3
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An Immaculate Mistake: Scenes from Childhood and Beyond 
by Paul Bailey.
Bloomsbury, 167 pp., £14.99, October 1990, 0 7475 0630 2
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... Volume One of Anthony Burgess’s autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God, left our hero in January 1960 under sentence of death, no more than a few months to live. With one bound, or at least one letter from the Neurological Institute, he is free. ‘The protein content of my spinal liquor had gone down dramatically’: the death sentence is cancelled ...

What to do with the Kaiser?

Stephen Sedley: Charging the Kaiser, 11 October 2018

The Trial of the Kaiser 
by William A. Schabas.
Oxford, 432 pp., £24.99, October 2018, 978 0 19 883385 7
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... by the Allies, on the charge of being the criminal mainly responsible for the War’. Woodrow Wilson, informed of the decision as he embarked for France on 3 December, refused to commit the US to anything until he reached Paris. But although by the spring of 1920 it had become evident that neither an international trial in absentia nor a trial in Holland ...

A House and its Heads

Christopher Ricks, 7 August 1980

Setting the World on Fire 
by Angus Wilson.
Secker, 296 pp., £6.50, July 1980, 9780436576041
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... do more harm than it has to. This is a painful matter, especially for anyone who admires Angus Wilson’s novels very much, and who believes that it is with the best of intentions that he plotted and plaited what turns out to be a nouement. But the road to this particular Hell Fire Club is paved with good intentions, and the primrose path is made no less ...

Parcelled Out

Ferdinand Mount: The League of Nations, 21 October 2015

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire 
by Susan Pedersen.
Oxford, 571 pp., £22.99, June 2015, 978 0 19 957048 5
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... in favour of its passing. To be fair to them, they voted No on the instructions of Woodrow Wilson, who could not bear that his beloved treaty should be sullied by any amendment, so the own goal must be credited to him. In popular memory, the defeat of the treaty has been blamed on the bloc of isolationist senators led by Henry Cabot Lodge of ...

Why the Tortoise Lost

John Sturrock, 18 September 1997

Bergson: Biographie 
by Philippe Soulez and Frédéric Worms.
Flammarion, 386 pp., frs 140, April 1997, 9782080666697
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... where he stood now his country was at war, declaring in his presidential address to the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques that ‘the struggle on which we are engaged against Germany is the struggle of civilisation itself against barbarism’ and that, in its ‘brutality and cynicism’, the enemy had ‘regressed to the savage state’. This ...

A Betting Man

Colin Kidd: John Law, 12 September 2019

John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the 18th Century 
by James Buchan.
MacLehose, 513 pp., £14.99, August 2019, 978 1 84866 608 5
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... Knowles, were not entirely voluntary. In 1694 he killed a well-connected gentleman called Edward Wilson in a quarrel in London, and, although he managed to escape from England after a period in jail, he remained for much of his life an outlaw in that jurisdiction. The Europe in which he travelled was scarred by two decades of major warfare, the War of the ...

Über-Tony

Ben Pimlott: Anthony Crosland, 3 September 1998

Crosland’s Future: Opportunity and Outcome 
by David Reisman.
Macmillan, 237 pp., £47.50, October 1997, 0 333 65963 5
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... calculating machines’. Attlee regarded theory as stuff and nonsense and Harold Wilson doused his food with HP Sauce to project a plain-man image. It was the people’s dominatrix who caused a turnaround. Pragmatic to the core, she took up philosophers she agreed with and allowed her instincts to be dignified as an ideology. Since ...

A Flat in Neuilly

Douglas Johnson, 3 February 1983

Ideology and Experience: Anti-Semitism in France at the time of the Dreyfus Affair 
by Stephen Wilson.
Associated University Presses, 812 pp., £30, August 1982, 0 8386 3037 5
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Cinq Années de ma Vie 
by Alfred Dreyfus.
Maspéro, 263 pp., frs 15
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La Républic et les Juifs après Copernic 
by Schmuel Trigano.
Les Presses d’Aujourd’hui, 272 pp., frs 75, April 1982, 2 901386 03 2
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... during the summer of 1982, culminating in the shoot-up at Jo Goldenburg’s restaurant in the Rue des Rosiers, with its six deaths, have urgently raised the question, ‘La France: estelle anti-sémite?’ The fact that Léon Blum was the object of violent hostility because he was Jewish, the realisation that under Vichy there were many Frenchmen who were ...

Quarrelling

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 29 October 1987

Tears before Bedtime 
by Barbara Skelton.
Hamish Hamilton, 205 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 241 12326 7
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In the Pink 
by Caroline Blackwood.
Bloomsbury, 164 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 7475 0050 9
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... she were rich or a good housekeeper or the mother of his children.’ The following year Edmund Wilson asked Connolly, now two years into his divorce, why he didn’t get someone else. ‘I’m still on the flypaper,’ Connolly replied. ‘I’ve got most of my legs loose, but I haven’t yet quite got off.’ A few months later Skelton married her next ...

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