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Will to Literature

David Trotter: Modernism plc

13 May 1999
Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture 
by Lawrence Rainey.
Yale, 227 pp., £16.95, January 1999, 0 300 07050 0
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Modernism, Technology and the Body: A Cultural Study 
by Tim Armstrong.
Cambridge, 309 pp., £14.95, March 1998, 0 521 59997 0
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Body Ascendant: Modernism and the Physical Imperative 
by Harold Segel.
Johns Hopkins, 282 pp., £30, September 1998, 0 8018 5821 6
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Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production 
by Douglas Mao.
Princeton, 308 pp., £32.50, November 1998, 0 691 05926 8
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... and Saint-Exupéry omits to indicate whether any (or some, or all) of these gentlemen should be thought to have renewed literature by his choice of blood-thirst, and if so why. Like Rainey, DouglasMao is a consolidator. The ‘solid objects’ he has in mind are those reflected on (and with) by a quartet of eminences: Virginia Woolf, from whose short story the book takes its title, Wyndham Lewis ...

Longing for Mao

Hugo Young: Edward Heath

26 November 1998
The Curse of My Life: My Autobiography 
by Edward Heath.
Hodder, 767 pp., £25, October 1998, 0 340 70852 2
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... spends some time recounting. At bottom, Heath remains what he has always been, an insatiable attender on the upper echelons of global power. He longs for the world of Tito, Churchill and Mao Zedong, at whose feet he sat. He says whose side he’s still unfailingly on, by sucking up to Iran’s leaders and explaining that Salman Rushdie had no right to cause offence to the Muslim world ...

Thunderstruck

Arthur Gavshon

6 June 1985
The Falklands War: Lessons for Strategy, Diplomacy and International Law 
edited by Alberto Coll and Anthony Arend.
Allen and Unwin, 252 pp., £18, May 1985, 0 04 327075 1
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... Edgar Snow, the famous American foreign correspondent, once asked Mao Tse-tung for his appraisal of the social implications of the French Revolution. Mao reflected a while and then, shaking his head, said: ‘I think it’s still a bit too early to tell.’ The late Chinese leader’s caution might seem excessive even to the most obsessive historians ...

Why the bastards wouldn’t stand and fight

Murray Sayle: Mao​ in Vietnam

21 February 2002
China and the Vietnam Wars 1950-75 
by Qiang Zhai.
North Carolina, 304 pp., $49.95, April 2000, 0 8078 4842 5
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None so Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam 
by George Allen.
Ivan Dee, 296 pp., $27.50, October 2001, 1 56663 387 7
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No Peace, No Honour: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam 
by Larry Berman.
Free Press, 334 pp., $27.50, November 2001, 0 684 84968 2
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... no satisfactory account of what transpired there has yet appeared. Missing pieces of the puzzle, long hidden in the US archives, are now being declassified. Even more to the point, the key role of Mao’s China in arming and guiding the thirty-year struggle has only now been clarified by the researches of Qiang Zhai, a China-born American scholar, in the archives of provincial branches of the ...

Because It’s Ugly

Jonathan Rosen: Double-Crested Cormorants

8 October 2014
The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah 
by Linda Wires.
Yale, 349 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 0 300 18711 3
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... spectrum, see something very different when they look at one another. Wires may be right to invoke the biblical notion of uncleanness, though not for the reason she gives. In Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas identifies ‘unclean’ creatures as those that inhabit multiple realms and live between categories. That’s the source of their ‘danger’. The cormorant – which nests on the ground as well as ...

Tired of Giving in

Eric Foner: Rosa Parks

10 May 2001
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Life of Rosa Parks 
by Douglas​ Brinkley.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £12.99, January 2001, 0 297 60708 1
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... city fathers opened the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, complete with a sculpture of Parks in her bus seat with space for visitors to have their pictures taken sitting alongside her bronze replica. Douglas Brinkley’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is the first serious biography of Parks. It is also part of a new series of brief lives of famous individuals written by authors not previously known for ...

Pure Vibe

Christopher Tayler: Don DeLillo

4 May 2016
Zero K 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 274 pp., £16.99, May 2016, 978 1 5098 2285 0
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... attempting to channel the animating spirits of the culture. (‘Give us this day our daily dread … forever and never, oh man.’) ‘I’m not a great big visionary,’ a reclusive novelist says in Mao II (1991): ‘I’m a sentence-maker, like a donut-maker only slower.’ All the same, it’s understood that sentence-making has more in its sights than doughnuts: ‘Every sentence has a truth ...
16 February 1989
The Permanent Revolution: The French Revolution and its Legacy 1789-1989 
edited by Geoffrey Best.
Fontana, 241 pp., £4.95, November 1988, 0 00 686056 7
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... to sheer bad taste the French, on their day, have few equals. It’s not just a matter of fireworks, tightrope-walkers and waiters in Phrygian caps, though we shall have all of these in abundance. Douglas Johnson, in a customarily masterful essay, mentions two rather finer examples. An immense tower will be built to desecrate the Place de la Bastille, and the entire population of Paris will then be ...

To the End of the Line

Ferdinand Mount: The Red Dean

26 April 2012
The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson 
by John Butler.
Scala, 292 pp., £16.95, September 2011, 978 1 85759 736 3
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... what he saw with a superb angry eloquence. But there is no doubt that Johnson was gullible. Butler does not mention the period in the 1930s when he strode up and down the country preaching that Major Douglas and Social Credit were destined to ‘win the world’, until he discovered that Douglas had come out for Franco. Like many egomaniacs, he was extremely interested in his own health, and always ready ...

Lunch

Jon Halliday

2 June 1983
In the Service of the Peacock Throne: The Diaries of the Shah’s Last Ambassador to London 
by Parviz Radji.
Hamish Hamilton, 343 pp., £12.50, April 1983, 0 241 10960 4
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... off to do a biography of Ashraf! And this after an earlier proposal by Weidenfeld for ‘a kind of Star over China that would put his [the Shah’s] point of view across as Snow’s book had done for Mao’. Admirers of Snow’s book might have a little trouble recognising the title, for where would it be without the word Red? Probably just about where Weidenfeld’s idiotic idea finished up – ...

Last Exit

Murray Sayle

27 November 1997
The Last Governor: Chris Patten and the Handover of Hong Kong 
by Jonathan Dimbleby.
Little, Brown, 461 pp., £22.50, July 1997, 0 316 64018 2
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In Pursuit of British Interests: Reflections on Foreign Policy under Margaret Thatcher and John Major 
by Percy Cradock.
Murray, 228 pp., £18.99, September 1997, 0 7195 5464 0
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Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule: The Economic and Political Implications of Reversion 
edited by Warren Cohen and Li Zhao.
Cambridge, 255 pp., £45, August 1997, 0 521 62158 5
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The Hong Kong Advantage 
by Michael Enright, Edith Scott and David Dodwell.
Oxford, 369 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 19 590322 6
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... 1911, when the first Chinese Republic was proclaimed, and 1 October 1949, when China’s new five-starred red flag was hoisted on Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, and Chairman Mao exulted: ‘China has stood up!’ Now, for the first time in 156 years, no alien flag, no foreign soldier, no uninvited official defiles any part of the Chinese motherland, with the exception of ...

Her face was avant-garde

Christian Lorentzen: DeLillo’s Stories

9 February 2012
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 211 pp., £16.99, November 2011, 978 1 4472 0757 3
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... to 1994, present various public menaces, a constant theme in DeLillo’s novels, but central to those of this period: the airborne toxic event in White Noise; assassination in Libra; terrorism in Mao II; and highway shootings, among other crimes, in Underworld. Which is to say, things get serious, and there’s less levity, much less humour. In ‘The Runner’ the abduction of a child from a ...
5 March 2015
The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia 
by Christopher Frayling.
Thames and Hudson, 360 pp., £24.95, October 2014, 978 0 500 25207 9
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... North Korea is famous for. If the FBI is right, however, there’s a chance that this ‘reclusive nation’ (copyright all news outlets) has another damaging cyber-trick or two up the sleeves of its Mao-era tunic. Given that US hegemony depends on the continuous reassertion of scientific and technological supremacy, the heavyweight political response to mounting evidence of Chinese and North Korean ...

Corncob Caesar

Murray Sayle

6 February 1997
Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas​ MacArthur 
by Geoffrey Perret.
Deutsch, 663 pp., £20, October 1996, 9780233990026
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... visit his tacky, Napoleon-sized mausoleum in Norfolk, Virginia, built as part of a murky property deal by a crooked mayor who was later murdered. We still don’t know what to think about General Douglas MacArthur; almost all of us, it seems, would rather forget him. Except writers. There have been more than a dozen biographies of MacArthur. Part of the fascination is his contradictoriness: could the ...

A Revision of Expectations

Richard Horton: Notes on the NHS

2 July 1998
The National Health Service: A Political History 
by Charles Webster.
Oxford, 233 pp., £9.99, April 1998, 0 19 289296 7
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... to disguise feelings of mutual loathing between doctors and government during the Thatcher years. It began straight away, when Patrick Jenkin, her first Health Minister, rejected the report of Douglas Black, Chief Scientist at the DHSS, on inequalities in health. Black provided a radical analysis of what the NHS had to do to restore the notion of a universal and comprehensive service distributed ...

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