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20 December 1990
From Early Life 
by William Cooper.
Macmillan, 180 pp., £13.95, August 1990, 0 333 52367 9
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Son of Adam 
by Denis Forman.
Deutsch, 201 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 9780233985930
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A Welsh Childhood 
by Alice Thomas Ellis and Patrick Sutherland.
Joseph, 186 pp., £15.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3292 0
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Alarms and Excursions: Thirty Years in Israel 
by Naomi Shepherd.
Collins, 220 pp., £16, August 1990, 0 00 215333 5
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Birds of Ill Omen 
by Marie Seurat, translated by Dorothy Blair.
Quartet, 168 pp., £10.95, September 1990, 0 7043 2694 9
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... Only one of these five memoirs can be fairly called secular – quite unconcerned with the consolations of religion, untroubled by the complications. This is From Early Life by the oldest of the five authors, the novelist and scientist ‘William Cooper’: he was born in 1910 and brought up (as Harry Hoff) in the town of Crewe in Cheshire. Seniors in his family were determined chapel-goers, but Cooper-Hoff ...


Andrew O’Hagan: A City of Prose

4 August 2005
... to ignore, both because of its ugliness and the minatory nature of his peaceableness – I reached for the answer. But the answer, of course, was there all along: more thought. More argument. For Blair to deny that the invasion of Iraq influenced the bombers is an insult to both language and morality. For Islamic extremists to pretend that their cause will not be set back in Britain by targeting ...

Two Spots and a Bubo

Hugh Pennington: Use soap and water

21 April 2005
Return of the Black Death: The World’s Greatest Serial Killer 
by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan.
Wiley, 310 pp., £16.99, May 2004, 0 470 09000 6
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The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year 
by Lloyd Moote and Dorothy​ Moote.
Johns Hopkins, 357 pp., £19.95, April 2004, 0 8018 7783 0
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Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease 
by Wendy Orent.
Free Press, 276 pp., £17.99, May 2004, 0 7432 3685 8
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... dismissed. The estimate of 98,000 post-invasion excess deaths in Iraq, made by Les Roberts and his colleagues and published in the Lancet last November, has come in for similar criticism. Tony Blair prefers figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health showing that 3853 civilians were killed between April and October 2004, and his government refers with statistical approval to the Iraqi Body Count ...

Life at the Pastry Board

Stefan Collini: V.S. Pritchett

4 November 2004
V.S. Pritchett: A Working Life 
by Jeremy Treglown.
Chatto, 308 pp., £25, October 2004, 9780701173227
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... criticism by saying ‘it would be nice if Sir Victor lived for ever.’ Pritchett did his best: he was born in 1900, when Victoria was still queen, and he died little more than a month before Tony Blair became prime minister. Pritchett’s family bumped along on that uneasy late Victorian border between the respectable artisans and the aspiring lower middle class. His father, a man with a limitless ...

Nate of the Station

Nick Richardson: Jonathan Coe

3 March 2016
Number 11 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 351 pp., £16.99, November 2015, 978 0 670 92379 3
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... On 18 July​ 2003, the body of the weapons inspector David Kelly was found in the woods on Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire, two months after he’d revealed that the Blair administration had exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Rachel Wells, the central character in Number 11 and the narrator of the first of its five overlapping stories, was ten when Kelly ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s

18 July 2013
Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... to have since taken the country by storm: but the validation of Young, the plain-spoken, inventive politician and social thinker, is now likely to find many sympathisers. One of them used to be Tony Blair, who thought well of The Rise of the Meritocracy, while misreading it. He was all for the meritocracy, and the author was not. Current themes and anxieties were in ample evidence in 1957-59. The two ...
4 August 1994
A Way in the World 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Heinemann, 369 pp., £14.99, May 1994, 0 434 51029 7
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... Enigma of Arrival, Naipaul’s last book, burrowed back, through an intensely detailed reading of a small corner of Wiltshire life, into a late 18th-century space imbued with the spirit of Cowper, Dorothy Wordsworth, Gilbert White. A Way in the World, despite its wide historical sweep, captures a less elegiac mood, and with its political concerns, put me in mind of Hobbes. I also kept thinking of ...

Tell us, Solly

Tim Radford: Solly Zuckerman

20 September 2001
Solly Zuckerman: A Scientist out of the Ordinary 
by John Peyton.
Murray, 252 pp., £22.50, May 2001, 9780719562839
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... reputations were made in the war, but Zuckerman had started inventing the character of Solly Zuckerman a decade earlier. In New York, Peyton writes, he fell in with the Gershwins. He met Dorothy Parker and got to know Tallulah Bankhead well enough to pick up the friendship again in London. During the Blitz, in between mapping the impact of bombs, he dined at the Savoy with Alfred Hitchcock ...

Unpranked Lyre

John Mullan: The Laziness of Thomas Gray

13 December 2001
Thomas Gray: A Life 
by Robert Mack.
Yale, 718 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 300 08499 4
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... Gray’s own ‘passionate outcry of a soul in pain’. He was taking ‘imaginative revenge’ on his father, Philip Gray, a violent man who seems regularly to have beaten Gray’s beloved mother, Dorothy. Ugolino is found in hell gnawing on the skull of his enemy Ruggieri, so Mack wonders whether ‘Gray was inflicting within his mind a suitable vengeance on the emotional cannibalism in which he felt ...
4 July 2013
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by Sarah Churchwell.
Virago, 306 pp., £16.99, June 2013, 978 1 84408 766 2
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The Great Gatsby 
directed by Baz Luhrmann.
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... suck the reader under. Whom did Fitzgerald have in mind when he included the name ‘Mary’ in the fifth entry of the list in the back of his copy of Man’s Hope? Was it Mary Hay the actress? Mary Blair who married Wilson? Mary Armstrong who married Ben Hecht, who wrote a book about the screenwriter Charlie MacArthur, who almost made a mother of Dorothy Parker, who wrote a poem about Fitzgerald and ...


Alan Bennett: Bennett’s Dissection

1 January 2009
... of Canterbury has made about Sharia law. They’re perfectly sensible; the only thing for which he can be blamed is his underestimating the stupidity of the nation and its press. It’s proof, as Dorothy Wellesley wrote, that as ‘foreigners, especially the French, tell us, we have never acquired the adult mind.’ 18 February. Ned Sherrin’s memorial service at St Paul’s, Covent Garden. A ...

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