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What’s our line?

Henry Gee, 27 January 1994

The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind 
by Eric Trinkaus and Pat Shipman.
Cape, 454 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 224 03648 3
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In Search of the Neanderthals: Solving the Puzzle of Human Origins 
by Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble.
Thames and Hudson, 247 pp., £18.95, May 1993, 0 500 05070 8
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Self-Made Man and His Undoing 
by Jonathan Kingdon.
Simon and Schuster, 369 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 671 71140 7
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... Up until the mid-19th century, humanity and the animal world were separated by an unbridgeable morphological void – there was no coherent body of evidence to suggest anything other than the standard Biblical story of human origins. Everything changed, however, in 1856, when the first Neanderthal fossils to be recognised as such were unearthed – just three years before the publication of The Origin of Species ...

Was it hayfever?

Henry Gee, 3 July 1997

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom 
by Walter Alvarez.
Princeton, 236 pp., £18.95, May 1997, 0 691 01630 5
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... After the origins of humanity, the question people most like to ask about the distant past is: what killed the dinosaurs? By the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago, they had all gone. Their disappearance has long been recognised as abrupt, at least by the leisurely standards of geological time. Nowadays, their extinction inspires and sells books and movies by the dozen ...
African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity 
by Chris Stringer and Robin McKie.
Cape, 267 pp., £18.99, March 1996, 0 224 03771 4
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Humans before Humanity 
by Robert Foley.
Blackwell, 238 pp., £25, December 1995, 0 631 17087 1
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The Day before Yesterday: Five Million Years of Human History 
by Colin Tudge.
Cape, 390 pp., £18.99, January 1996, 0 224 03772 2
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The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins 
by Alan Walker and Pat Shipman.
Weidenfeld, 270 pp., £18.99, April 1996, 0 297 81670 5
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The Neanderthal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins 
by James Shreeve.
Viking, 369 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 670 86638 5
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... Humanity is fissile: everywhere it goes, it forms clans, Yoruba and Yanomamo, Mods and Rockers; so powerful is the urge to diverge, even shared ethnicity is optional. No wonder humanity is so hard to define. Taxonomy, designed to resolve such issues, is helpless where it matters most. Every species of animal and plant is uniquely defined as such on the basis of an objective description of its form and habits ...

No Such Thing as a Fish

Richard Fortey: Cladistics, 6 July 2000

Deep Time: Cladistics, the Revolution in Evolution 
by Henry Gee.
Fourth Estate, 262 pp., £20, April 2000, 1 85702 986 0
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... more and more converts were won over to this new method of understanding biological relationships. Henry Gee was one of those who hung around the Cranley Arms in South Kensington (‘The Cladist’s Arms’), where the leaders of the ‘British school’ supped more pints of Courage Director’s Bitter than was good for them and rubbished the reputations ...

Make your own monster

Adrian Woolfson: In search of the secrets of biological form, 6 January 2005

Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body 
by Armand Marie Leroi.
HarperCollins, 431 pp., £20, May 2004, 0 00 257113 7
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Jacob’s Ladder: The History of the Human Genome 
by Henry Gee.
Fourth Estate, 272 pp., £20, March 2004, 1 84115 734 1
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... can itself be traced back to antiquity. In his immensely enjoyable new book, Jacob’s Ladder, Henry Gee concerns himself with the forces ‘that take a formless speck and shape it into what is recognisable as a human being’. It is Gee’s contention that the ‘history of biology can be retold as the story of the ...

A Duck Folded in Half

Armand Marie Leroi, 19 June 1997

Before the Backbone: Views on the Origins of the Vertebrates 
by Henry Gee.
Chapman and Hall, 346 pp., £35, August 1996, 0 412 48300 9
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... hit on the answer: it is just that he has been unable to convince all his colleagues of it. Henry Gee has written an excellent book explaining why this is so. To begin with, the problem of animal relationships is a tough one. The major animal phyla, including the vertebrates, are very ancient: at least 545 million years old – the beginning of the ...

Theory with a Wife

Michael Wood, 3 October 1985

Mr Palomar 
by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 118 pp., £8.50, September 1985, 0 436 08275 6
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Parrot’s Perch 
by Michel Rio, translated by Leigh Hafrey.
Dent, 88 pp., £7.95, September 1985, 0 460 04669 1
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Light Years 
by Maggie Gee.
Faber, 350 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 571 13604 4
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... and it haunts the books under review. A fact is what won’t go away, what we cannot not know, as Henry James remarked of the real. Yet when we bring one closer, stare at it, test our loyalty to it, it begins to shimmer with complication. Without becoming less factual, it floats off into myth. Italo Calvino’s Mr Palomar looks at the sky, his lawn, the ...

Rise and Fall of Radio Features

Marilyn Butler, 7 August 1980

Louis MacNeice in the BBC 
by Barbara Coulton.
Faber, 215 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 571 11537 3
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Best Radio Plays of 1979 
Eyre Methuen/BBC, 192 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 413 47130 6Show More
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... actor and a voice as well as a writer. A guest list for a Features party planned in 1951 included Henry Reed, Lawrence Durrell. Christopher Fry, C. Day Lewis, Lennox Berkeley, Michael Tippett, William Walton, Laurie Lee and Stevie Smith. Until the early Fifties the BBC appeared to get a good return from its policy of patronising highbrow talent. From the ...

Naderland

Jackson Lears: Ralph Nader’s novel, 8 April 2010

Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 
by Ralph Nader.
Seven Stories, 733 pp., $27.50, September 2009, 978 1 58322 903 3
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... good against the excesses of private gain. His ancestors include such muckraking journalists as Henry Demarest Lloyd, whose Wealth against Commonwealth told the sordid tale of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, as well as politicians such as William Jennings Bryan, Robert La Follette and even (for a while) Woodrow Wilson, whose New Freedom campaign of ...

Nixon’s Greatest Moments

R.W. Johnson, 13 May 1993

Nixon: A Life 
by Jonathan Aitken.
Weidenfeld, 633 pp., £25, January 1993, 0 297 81259 9
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... an element of danger about him. Seymour Hersh, in his biography of Kissinger, tells how Nixon and Henry decided at the outset that the way to play the Chinese was to put it about that Nixon was mad, that he might order a nuclear strike at any time: this was, after all, how the West saw the Chinese and it led to a certain exaggerated respect. It’s worth ...

I, Lowborn Cur

Colin Burrow: Literary Names, 22 November 2012

Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 283 pp., £19.99, September 2012, 978 0 19 959222 7
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... turn out to exemplify general tendencies. For some realist writers the best names are invisible. Henry James was a great fretter over names, as you might expect from someone who had the same names as his father, both of which could be interchangeably a surname or a first name. He wanted his characters’ names to have a tang of truth but not too much overt ...

Diary

Iain Sinclair: The Peruvian Corporation of London, 10 October 2019

... go’ was his repeated mantra. I was travelling with my daughter, Farne, and the filmmaker Grant Gee. Farne had copies of Arthur Sinclair’s original contract with the Peruvian Corporation and the document by which the government in Lima, having defaulted on the repayments of loans taken out for the construction of the railway, and still recovering from the ...

That’s what Wystan says

Seamus Perry, 10 May 2018

Early Auden, Later Auden: A Critical Biography 
by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 912 pp., £27.95, May 2017, 978 0 691 17249 1
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... of Feliks Topolski naturally found him a good subject, as did the heroic sculptural instincts of Henry Moore, who drew Auden’s skin from memory on hearing of his death – ‘the monumental ruggedness of his face, its deep furrows like plough marks crossing a field’. Probably the most beautiful and attentive drawing had been done five years earlier by ...

Putting Religion in Its Place

Colm Tóibín: Marilynne Robinson, 22 October 2014

Lila 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Virago, 261 pp., £16.99, October 2014, 978 1 84408 880 5
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... as Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Chinua Achebe, Georges Bernanos, Kate O’Brien, Maurice Gee, Brian Moore and Andrew O’Hagan, have made a big effort. Others, such as James Joyce, have managed to weave religion into a larger fabric, with all the sheer drama of faith and doubt, and have managed also to include the comic possibilities of dogma and ...

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