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Somewhat Divine

Simon Schaffer: Isaac Newton

16 November 2000
Isaac Newton: The ‘Principia’ Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy 
translated by I. Bernard Cohen.
California, 974 pp., £22, September 1999, 0 520 08817 4
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... Thisincomparable author having at length been prevailed upon to appear in public, has in this treatise given a most notable instance of the extent of the powers of the mind.’ Thisis how the very first review of the Principia began, in summer 1687: from the start, you were forced to admire Newton’s modesty, and his genius. The reviewer, the young astronomer Edmond Halley, knew ...
21 March 1985
The 2024 Report: A Concise History of the Future 1974-2024 
by Norman Macrae.
Sidgwick, 198 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 283 99113 5
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The Resourceful Earth: A Response to ‘Global 2000’ 
edited by Julian Simon and Herman Kahn.
Blackwell, 585 pp., £14.95, September 1984, 0 631 13467 0
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... For some years, 2000 has been rivalling 1984 as a golden number in the calendar of futurologists. It has now taken over. And while Europeans have been casting economic horoscopes for their continent at the dawn of the next millennium, nothing is good enough for their American cousins but a forecast ...
21 April 1988
Waldheim 
by Luc Rosenzweig and Bernard Cohen.
Robson, 192 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 86051 506 0
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WaldheimThe Missing Years 
by Robert Edwin​ Herzstein.
Grafton, 303 pp., £12.95, April​ 1988, 0 246 13381 3
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... A very disturbing thing has happened to journalism, to the writing of history, and even to justice. In anything to do with the Nazis, whose doings continue to preoccupy us 45 years on, any attempt at detachment is considered suspect, any degree of objectivity reprehensible. Somewhat obsessed with the ...

The kind of dog he likes

W.G. Runciman: Realistic​ Utopias

18 December 2014
Justice for Earthlings: Essays in​ Political Philosophy 
by David​ Miller.
Cambridge, 254 pp., £18.99, January 2013, 978 1 107 61375 1
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... Why ‘earthlings’​ ? David Miller isn’t drawing a contrast with justice for creatures from outer space. Nor is he taking issue directly with Ronald Dworkin’s ‘justice for hedgehogs’ in Dworkin’s book of 2011 with that title, although Miller does say in a footnote that he disagrees with him. He has in his sights the ‘neo-Augustinians’, as he calls them, like the late G.A ...
22 October 1992
Nuclear Ambiguity: The Vanunu Affair 
by Yoel Cohen.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 297 pp., £10.99, July 1992, 1 85619 150 8
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... Mordecai Vanunu is starting his seventh year in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail. He is convicted of treason and espionage and his sentence is 18 years. The few members of his family who are allowed to see him have doubts about whether his mind will last that long. Already there are signs that the remarkable coherence and determinatio...

‘Someone you had to be a bit​ careful with’

David​ Sylvester: Gallery Rogues

30 March 2000
Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser 
by Harriet Vyner.
Faber, 317 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 571 19627 6
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... a castle or two. They survive by outwitting some of the world’s most cunning and ruthless manipulators of wealth, and they also know how to charm the old rich, key sources of supply. When they deal in the work of living artists they shape the careers of some of the most charismatic and paranoidindividuals of their time. Their operations tend to sail dramatically close to the wind of commercia...
25 July 1991
Isaiah BerlinA Celebration 
by Edna Margalit and Avishai Margalit.
Hogarth, 224 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 7012 0925 9
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... There are writers and artists who dislike themselves – who attempt through their work to unearth, refine and then extrude something better than they are, something detached, pure and free-standing. I was put in mind of this recently while reading Ray Monk’s painful biography of Wittgenstein, who succeeded in creating a body of philosophical work so much finer and nobler than himself that for ...
25 January 1990
The Normal and the Pathological 
by Georges Canguilhem, translated by Carolyn Fawcett and Robert Cohen.
Zone, 327 pp., £21.95, June 1989, 0 942299 58 2
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... When is a disease not a disease? No quibbling academic riddle this, but a problem increasingly pressing upon medical practice and ethics alike. So many questions crowd in. Isit valid to talk of a person being ill without a disease, or having a disease without being sick? When and how do we draw dividing-lines between conditions, disabilities and abnormalities, on the one ...

We came, we saw, he died

Jackson Lears: Clinton’s Creed

5 February 2015
Hard Choices 
by Hillary Clinton.
Simon and Schuster, 635 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 1 4711 3150 9
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HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton 
by Jonathan Allen and Amie​ Parnes.
Hutchinson, 440 pp., £20, February 2014, 978 0 09 195448 2
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... The rise​ of identity politics in America was a tragic necessity. No one can deny the legitimacy or urgency of the need felt by women and minorities to have equality on their own terms, to reject the assumption that full ...

Quiet Sinners

Bernard​ Porter: Imperial Spooks

21 March 2013
Empire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire 
by Calder Walton.
Harper, 411 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 0 00 745796 0
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... It’s pretty obvious why British governments have been anxious to keep the history of their secret service secret for so long. In the case of decolonisation, which is the subject of Calder Walton’s book, revelations about dirty tricks even after fifty years might do irreparable damage to the myth carefully cultivated at the time: which was that for Britain ...
18 September 1980
The Private Diaries of Sir​ H. Rider Haggard, 1914-1925 
edited by D.S. Higgins.
Cassell, 299 pp., £14.95, May 1980, 0 304 30611 8
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... The large university library I use contains few books which the undergraduates have read virtually to pulp. One is Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, published 95 years ago. Its pages are falling out and its binding has been worn to threads and cardboard. Clearly students told off to go and read ...

Capital Folly

Avi Shlaim: The Jerusalem Syndrome

21 March 2002
Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy City 
by Bernard​ Wasserstein.
Profile, 420 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 1 86197 333 0
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... More than any other capital city, Jerusalem demonstrates the power of symbols ininternational politics. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the most bitter and protracted of modern times, and the Jerusalem question, a compound of religious zealotry and secular jingoism, lies at its heart. The Oslo Accords, which launched the ...

Is​ everybody’s life like this?

Ruth Bernard​ Yeazell: Amy Levy

16 November 2000
Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters 
by Linda Hunt Beckman.
Ohio, 331 pp., £49, May 2000, 0 8214 1329 5
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... had a remarkably sunny childhood. The second of seven children born to an upper-middle-class family of assimilated Jews whose English roots went back to the 18th century, she appears to have grown up in an atmosphere of intellectual tolerance and playfulness. Beckman has been able to discover little about the Levys’ religious practices, but the evidence suggests that they were not particularly ...

Nobbled or Not

Bernard​ Porter: The Central African Federation

25 May 2006
British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part I:​ Closer Association 1945-58 
by Philip​ Murphy.
Stationery Office, 448 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290586 2
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British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part II:​ Crisis and Dissolution 1959-65 
by Philip​ Murphy.
Stationery Office, 602 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290587 0
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... The Central African Federation was one of the most bizarre creations of late British imperialism. Formed controversially in 1953 out of the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (today Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi), it never looked like succeeding, and spluttered to an ignominious death ten years later ...
7 June 2001
One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate 
by Tom Segev, translated by Haim​ Watzman.
Little, Brown, 612 pp., £25, January 2001, 0 316 64859 0
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Ploughing Sand: British Rule in​ Palestine 1917-48 
by Naomi Shepherd.
Murray, 290 pp., £12.99, September 2000, 0 7195 6322 4
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... The British Army occupied Jerusalem on Sunday, 9 December 1917, and withdrew on 14 May 1948. During its brief imperium in the Promised Land, Britain kept the promise made in 1917 by its Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, in the Declaration that bears his name, ‘to favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. While nurturin...

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