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Easy-Going Procrastinators

Ferdinand Mount: Margot Asquith’s War, 8 January 2015

Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-16: The View from Downing Street 
edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock, selected by Eleanor Brock.
Oxford, 566 pp., £30, June 2014, 978 0 19 822977 3
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Margot at War: Love And Betrayal In Downing Street, 1912-16 
by Anne de Courcy.
Weidenfeld, 376 pp., £20, November 2014, 978 0 297 86983 2
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The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush To War, 1914 
by Douglas Newton.
Verso, 386 pp., £20, July 2014, 978 1 78168 350 7
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... A for Britain. ‘The truth is that Churchill succumbed to a temptation to frogmarch events,’ Douglas Newton declares in The Darkest Days. Newton’s close-focus examination of events in Britain over the week leading up to war has an overt polemical intent: ‘This book is meant to unsettle. It attacks the ...

Lost in Beauty

Michael Newton: Montgomery Clift, 7 October 2010

The Passion of Montgomery Clift 
by Amy Lawrence.
California, 333 pp., £16.95, May 2010, 978 0 520 26047 4
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... nor amused enough for Billy Wilder, but it still rankles that he never had a chance to work with Douglas Sirk, though in Lawrence’s view of things, directors are not the issue, except when they turn into bullies. Her anti-directorial stance is at its strongest when it comes to the admittedly ghastly Huston; if his Freud (1962) is as good as she believes it ...

Where am I in all this?

Michael Newton: Pola Negri, 19 February 2015

Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale 
by Mariusz Kotowski.
Kentucky, 322 pp., £29.95, April 2014, 978 0 8131 4488 7
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... as the publicity department’s dream come true, an exotic counterpart to the solid partnership of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Then, on 23 August 1926, Valentino died from peritonitis following an appendectomy. If the public demanded heightened life and artifice on the screen, at a burial they required strict naturalism. At his funeral, Negri ...

Who Will Lose?

David Edgar, 25 September 2008

Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future 
by Newton Minow and Craig LaMay.
Chicago, 219 pp., £11.50, April 2008, 978 0 226 53041 3
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... October in New York – is being seen as the decisive factor. Contrary to the publishers’ blurb, Newton Minow and Craig LaMay’s book is not the first account of the history of the debates (Alan Schroeder’s Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV, first published in 2001, has just been updated and reissued). But Minow, as former head of the ...


James Buchan, 14 December 1995

The Life of Adam Smith 
by Ian Simpson Ross.
Oxford, 495 pp., £25, October 1995, 0 19 828821 2
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... tenderness. Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in 1723, the son of a formidable mother, Margaret Douglas, and a dead customs officer, also named Adam Smith. At the age of 14, he went up to Glasgow University which seems, from Ross’s description, to have been in a tumult of religious zeal, a sort of Calvinist University of Cairo; but there he came under the ...

Strange Loops

James Lighthill, 24 January 1980

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 
by Douglas Hofstadter.
Harvester, 777 pp., £10.50, August 1980, 0 85527 757 2
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... imaginative invention. On the other hand, many of the greatest mathematicians such as Archimedes, Newton and Gauss have combined with these artistic gifts a very different type of genius: one enabling them to use mathematics to solve practical problems in the physical world, and to carry further the massive growth in knowledge of the physical sciences. These ...

From Soixante-Huit to Soixante-Neuf

Glen Newey: Slack-Sphinctered Pachyderm, 29 April 1999

Collected Papers: Technology, War and Fascism 
by Herbert Marcuse, edited by Douglas Kellner.
Routledge, 278 pp., £25, March 1998, 0 415 13780 2
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The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust 
by Norman Geras.
Verso, 181 pp., £15, June 1998, 1 85984 868 0
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... War. Technology, War and Fascism assembles a few Marcusan parerga from these years of service. Douglas Kellner has edited some Nachlass jottings from the Forties, and promises that, at annual intervals, further collections from the archives will be published, which will show the ‘persisting importance of Marcuse’s thought as we prepare’, so it ...

‘Bye Bye Baghdad’

Paul Foot, 7 February 1991

... buffer who once dealt expertly with press relations for the Tory government under Sir Alec Douglas Home, tells his readers on deadline day that for every yellow-bellied Guardian reader ‘a score will find their pulses quicken, when, as Kipling put it in his poem, “the drums begin to roll.” ’ The drums of death and mass destruction do something ...
The Dancing Wu Li Masters 
by Gary Zukav.
Hutchinson, 352 pp., £4.50, October 1979, 0 09 139401 5
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... and experimental validity is now accepted with almost the same confidence among physicists as Newton’s Laws of motion and Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism amongst mechanical and electrical engineers. It must be emphasised that this apparent movement of physics from hard-nosed realism to a much more open and imaginative stance has occurred in ...

Singing the Blues

Noël Annan, 22 April 1993

A History of Cambridge University. Vol. IV: 1870-1990 
by Christopher Brooke.
Cambridge, 652 pp., £50, December 1992, 9780521343503
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... Trinity gave to science by using her great wealth to found the Science Park and the Isaac Newton Institute, and make Cambridge a scientific city as well as a university. Brooke replies that he is writing the history of the university not the colleges. Winstanley wrote his history of later Victorian Cambridge by minutely analysing institutional ...

The Wives of Herr Bear

Julia Briggs: Jane Harrison, 21 September 2000

The Invention of Jane Harrison 
by Mary Beard.
Harvard, 229 pp., £23.50, July 2000, 0 674 00212 1
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... set herself to master their systems of representation as if learning a new language. In Charles Newton, Keeper of Classical Antiquities at the British Museum, she found an experienced archaeologist to work with, and she familiarised herself with the results of recent excavations (including those of Schliemann at Troy and Evans in Crete). She began to give ...

How Shall We Repaint the Kitchen?

Ian Hacking: The Colour Red, 1 November 2007

Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind 
by G.E.R. Lloyd.
Oxford, 201 pp., £27.50, April 2007, 978 0 19 921461 7
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... for the cultural universals urged by anthropologists as different as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Mary Douglas. Cultures – a word that has long been overused, and which I try to avoid – are entities that exist because children are nurtured into systems of practices and reactions that define the collective lives of individuals. Nurture, as Galton meant ...

Libel on the Human Race

Steven Shapin: Malthus, 5 June 2014

Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet 
by Robert Mayhew.
Harvard, 284 pp., £20, April 2014, 978 0 674 72871 4
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... all the greatest and noblest efforts of intellect. To this constancy we owe the immortal mind of a Newton. So if you really want to bring about whatever progress is attainable, then you can’t rail against human need and misery and attempt to fix them through charity or paying labour more than the market rate. It’s been said that the optimist believes we ...
Mason & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... 20th-century non-linear-dynamical point of view. It’s a funny book, Time Bandits crossed with Douglas Adams. It’s an enormous, systematic study of order and disorder, which moves to the strange, slow rhythms of what historians call the longue durée. Although the bulk of its action seems to happen in North America, it is also about 18th-century ...

Cute, My Arse

Seamus Perry: Geoffrey Hill, 12 September 2019

The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 148 pp., £20, April 2019, 978 0 19 882952 2
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... artistic figures he reveres are mostly the fallen – Swift, Blake, Clare, Isaac Rosenberg, Keith Douglas, Alun Lewis, Robert Desnos, Charles Péguy, Paul Celan, as well as people who are defined by their outsiderness, such as the young Berkeley and the mathematician Alan Turing – whose integrity is interwoven with their ruin. The poem is full of short ...

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