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First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... was that Griffith was the embodiment of that magnificent new art: he was to cinema what Henry Ford was to industrial production. Griffith introduced narrative suspense and emotional identification to the movies. He began making two-reel films in 1907, and after turning out hundreds of them he had learned how to use editing to create dramatic tension, by ...


Peter Campbell, 4 August 1988

Who got Einstein’s office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study 
by Ed Regis.
Simon and Schuster, 316 pp., £12.95, April 1988, 0 671 69923 7
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by James Gleick.
Heinemann, 354 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 9780434295548
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The School of Genius 
by Anthony Storr.
Deutsch, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 233 98010 5
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... the imagination of students at Caltech. Here was the Sane Scientist – the heir of Benjamin Franklin. Feynman appears several times in Ed Regis’s wonderful book about the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (the members of which often appear in the Mad Scientist mode) as an advocate of worldly engagement. His words head an epilogue which asks ...
Mason & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... historical celebrities. They have barely set foot in Philadelphia before they bump into Benjamin Franklin, posing around in ‘Spectacles of his own Invention, for moderating the Glare of the Sun’. And then of course they are asked round for tea by Col. George Washington, you know, the land-surveyor and real-estate speculator, eager for his own reasons to ...

Donald Davie and the English

Christopher Ricks, 22 May 1980

Trying to Explain 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 85635 343 4
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... his prentices. The renegade or maverick Englishmen with whom they allied themselves – Ford, and at another level A.R. Orage – shared this un-English conviction and habit.’ Yet it does not seem from this book that any of these writers did convert this conviction into a habit. Where did the studios flourish, who were the masters and who the ...


Michael Rogin, 20 August 1998

Celebrity Caricature in America 
by Wendy Wick Reaves.
Yale, 320 pp., £29.95, April 1998, 0 300 07463 8
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... dinner but itself became the new social élite. Idols of production like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford appear rarely here, and the old family New Yorkers found early in the century give way by the Twenties to idols of consumption from show business and journalism. Taking root in the informal Algonquin club of writers, in Vanity Fair and in the new (in ...

First Pitch

Frank Kermode: Marianne Moore, 16 April 1998

The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore 
edited by Bonnie Costello and Celeste Goodridge et al.
Faber, 597 pp., £30, April 1998, 0 571 19354 4
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... dined with Cassius Clay, as he then was, and was hired, unavailingly, to give a name to a new Ford car. On the whole people think rather little of the poems she wrote after about 1936, although she published many more before her death in 1972. What the letters tell about her is that however one divides her long life into periods there is from the outset ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... offshoots – or contracts for organisations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Ford Foundation, which seemed at first to exist for scarcely any purpose other than to further US foreign policy and provide cover for the CIA’s machinations. Ford’s present reputation and munificence in Asia, Africa and ...

Dialling for Dollars

Deborah Friedell: Corruption in America, 19 March 2015

Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United 
by Zephyr Teachout.
Harvard, 376 pp., £22.95, October 2014, 978 0 674 05040 2
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... embraced a ‘particularly demanding notion of corruption’. The diamond snuffbox that Benjamin Franklin brought back from France, a present from Louis XVI, troubled Congress: a gift wasn’t necessarily a bribe, but it could become one. Laws governing how much money individuals and organisations could give to politicians were prophylactics, designed ...

Destined to Disappear

Susan Pedersen: ‘Race Studies’, 20 October 2016

White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations 
by Robert Vitalis.
Cornell, 272 pp., $29.95, November 2015, 978 0 8014 5397 7
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... Merze Tate (PhD Radcliffe 1941) – though he also notes the contributions of the historians E. Franklin Frazier (PhD Chicago 1931) and Eric Williams (PhD Oxford 1938), who taught at Howard before returning to Trinidad in the late 1940s. Of the main four, all but Tate – the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in this field – are today ...

In a Frozen Crouch

Colin Kidd: Democracy’s Ends, 13 September 2018

How Democracy Ends 
by David Runciman.
Profile, 249 pp., £14.99, May 2018, 978 1 78125 974 0
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Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth – And How to Fix It 
by Dambisa Moyo.
Little, Brown, 296 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 4087 1089 0
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How Democracies Die 
by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.
Viking, 311 pp., £16.99, January 2018, 978 0 241 31798 3
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Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy 
by William Galston.
Yale, 158 pp., £25, June 2018, 978 0 300 22892 2
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... 1976 had taken place in the shadow of Watergate, presided over by an unelected president, Gerald Ford, brought in first to replace a besmirched vice president, Spiro Agnew, and then a disgraced President Nixon. Commentators discussed whether democracy was compatible with what was now being termed an ‘imperial presidency’ (the title of an influential book ...


Patricia Lockwood: America is a baby, 3 December 2020

... is very, very boring, but at least no one raps in it, though you get the sense that Ben Franklin might have tried – in French. However, there are two scenes that flare to life. The first comes during ‘Momma Look Sharp’, which is sung by a 15-year-old boy, slain by the British, who lies in the killing fields and who will not rise again after ...


Fredric Jameson, 8 November 2018

My Struggle: Book 6. The End 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Martin Aitken and Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 1153 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 1 84655 829 0
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... always did whenever I read biographies. Because of course they all die. Thomas Alva Edison. Henry Ford. Benjamin Franklin. Marie Curie. Florence Nightingale. Winston Churchill. Louis Armstrong. Theodore Roosevelt.’ ‘You read Theodore Roosevelt’s biography when you were a kid?’ ‘I did, yes. There was a ...


Jonathan Lethem: My Marvel Years, 15 April 2004

... he himself had innovated. It’s as though Picasso had, after 1950, become Adolf Wölfli, or John Ford had ended up as John Cassavetes. Or if Robert Crumb had turned into his obsessive mad-genius brother, Charles Crumb. If thisweredrawn byKirby inthe 1970sit wouldbe a massivegleaminghystericallyhyperarticulatedpsychedelicedifice ...

Moderation or Death

Christopher Hitchens: Isaiah Berlin, 26 November 1998

Isaiah Berlin: A Life 
by Michael Ignatieff.
Chatto, 386 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 7011 6325 9
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The Guest from the Future: Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin 
by György Dalos.
Murray, 250 pp., £17.95, September 2002, 0 7195 5476 4
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... the pleadings of Alsop to Mac Bundy did succeed in getting the latter to release a huge tranche of Ford Foundation money to endow Wolfson College, Oxford, the foundation of which was Berlin’s noblest enterprise. So perhaps he was on to something when he expatiated about ethical ‘trade-offs’ between contrasting or alternative positions: the one ...

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