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14 May 1992
The Mind’s Sky 
by Timothy Ferris.
Bantam, 281 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 593 02644 6
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... for travelogues. An alien Attenborough, up to its third thoracic joint in red slime on a Betelgeusian moon, waiting for the mating-dance of the giant carnivorous fungi ... Better still, go there yourself: not in a spaceship – after all, who heads off to New Guinea after a programme by our own Attenborough? – but in ...
18 March 1999
Life’s Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World 
by Ian Stewart.
Penguin, 320 pp., £20, June 1998, 0 7139 9161 5
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... they might think that Thompson’s tentative answers are the quaint curiosities of a bygone age. Ian Stewart thinks that such dismissals are wrong, the product of an obsession with biochemical detail that can become myopic. Life’s Other Secret is intended to display the many possibilities for the mathematical analysis of nature, and pays homage to ...


Ian Stewart

4 November 1993
The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier 
by Bruce Sterling.
Viking, 328 pp., £16.99, January 1993, 0 670 84900 6
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The New Hacker’s Dictionary 
edited by Eric Raymond.
MIT, 516 pp., £11.75, October 1992, 0 262 68079 3
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Approaching Zero: Data Crime and the Computer Underworld 
by Bryan Clough and Paul Mungo.
Faber, 256 pp., £4.99, March 1993, 0 571 16813 2
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... On 29 June 1989, a security manager for the US telephone company Indiana Bell received an anonymous telephone call. In a menacing tone a young man’s voice informed him that he had planted bombs in several switching systems known as 5ESSs. ‘They’re set to blow on a national holiday. They could be anywhere in the country – it’s a sort of competition, a security test ...

Forget the Klingons

James Hamilton-Paterson: Is there anybody out there?

6 March 2003
Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life 
by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart.
Ebury, 369 pp., £17.99, September 2002, 0 09 187927 2
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XTL: Extraterrestrial Life and How to Find It 
by Simon Goodwin and John Gribbin.
Weidenfeld, 191 pp., £12.99, August 2002, 1 84188 193 7
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... their words as improved sampling technology retrieved abundant evidence that, in cheerful defiance of human preconceptions, even the deepest abyss was teeming with life. A cautionary tale, one might think, for scientists of the early 21st century engaged in planning space missions to find extraterrestrial life. Expressly shunning an anthropic ...
10 January 1991
Stone Alone 
by Bill Wyman and Ray Coleman.
Viking, 594 pp., £15.99, October 1990, 0 670 82894 7
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Blown away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties 
by A.E. Hotchner.
Simon and Schuster, 377 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 671 69316 6
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Are you experienced? The Inside Story of the Jimi Hendrix Experience 
by Noel Redding and Carol Appleby.
Fourth Estate, 256 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 1 872180 36 1
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I was a teenage Sex Pistol 
by Glen Matlock and Pete Silverton.
Omnibus, 192 pp., £12.95, September 1990, 0 7119 2491 0
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by George Michael and Tony Parsons.
Joseph, 242 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3435 4
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... who is most important. ‘No group is any better than its drummer,’ the Rolling Stones’ late piano player Ian Stewart tells A.E. Hotchner. ‘Drummers are the heart of a group,’ confirms Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience: ‘a good one is worth his weight in gold.’ And here is the Sex Pistols’ Glen ...
8 June 1995
Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend 
Chicago, 192 pp., £18.25, June 1995, 0 226 24531 4Show More
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... finger simply to show that he heard you. Unfortunately, Cratylus was one of the few anti-knowledgians in history to abide by his own teachings. Some 2500 years later, in 1975, the philosopher Peter Unger published a book called Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism, in which, at the stupendous length of 323 pages, he argued that no one knows anything, ever ...


Ian Buruma

13 May 1993
Gower: The Autobiography 
by David Gower and Martin Johnson.
Collins Willow, 256 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 00 218413 3
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... the handsome knight sacrificed by knaves. But good news is at hand: the hero has announced a brilliant season full of runs. In the tradition of General MacArthur, David Gower has announced his return. I hope he succeeds. But success is not the only thing that makes a hero. I have a nagging suspicion – no more than that – that his current popularity has ...

Hooked Trout

Geoffrey Best: Appeasement please

2 June 2005
Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and Britain’s Road to War 
by Ian Kershaw.
Allen Lane, 488 pp., £20, October 2004, 0 7139 9717 6
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... Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the seventh Marquess of Londonderry, who died in 1949, will not be moved up the scale of historical significance even by so accomplished a book as this. Its author is unlikely to be disappointed. Ian Kershaw’s purpose has not been to write a full biography, or to rehabilitate a politician he considers to have been unjustly neglected ...
20 October 1994
Major Major: Memories of an Older Brother 
by Terry Major-Ball.
Duckworth, 167 pp., £12.95, August 1994, 0 7156 2631 0
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... and so on. On this reading, Major could be presented as a drearier-than-either cross between James Stewart and J. Alfred Prufrock. He was prime minister by accident, or for-a-day. He’d won the premiership in a raffle, or had it laid on for him by Jim’ll Fix It. There was of course a brutal snobbishness in this approach, as there had been in all the sneers ...

I met murder on the way

Colin Kidd: Castlereagh

24 May 2012
Castlereagh: Enlightenment, War and Tyranny 
by John Bew.
Quercus, 722 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 0 85738 186 6
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... was imagined as depicting the cannibalistic practices of rank and file Ulster Unionists. In a variant on the traditional Ulster fry-up – and Swift’s Modest Proposal – Wharton described Dreadberg’s cameras secretly filming the sautéeing of children, their screams muffled by the sinister beat of Lambeg drums. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in ...


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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... Highlands remained no longer an object to be encouraged beyond that point,’ and here the Smithian jargon sounds like a sentence of death, ‘which was required for the necessary demands of labour of the estate, or to realise a money rent.’ Unlike the early Scots economists, Adam Smith had rather a dull life. Smith spent most of his life in the lap of ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances

7 March 2019
The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... nuzzles her hand. Low cloud obscures the hilltops in the background. In the words of the art historian Robin Nicholson, ‘this is an image of complete hopelessness, of lassitude and despair and, in the case of the shepherd, an element of stoic indifference.’ People leave places for different reasons. In Ramsay’s poem, a young man is leaving both his West ...

Browning Versions

J.I.M. Stewart

5 July 1984
Oscar Browning: A Biography 
by Ian Anstruther.
Murray, 209 pp., £12.50, October 1983, 9780719540783
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... describe him, friend and enemy alike were apt to produce a mere jumble of adjectives. ‘Falstaffian, shameless, affectionate, egoistic, generous, snobbish, democratic, witty, lazy, dull, worldly, academic’ is Dickinson’s list, which Forster records with his own additions: ‘a bully and a liar’. Better balanced, if more merciless, was ...


Ian Hamilton: The World Cup

30 July 1998
...  ...

Dykes, Drongs, Sarns, Snickets

David Craig: Walking England

20 December 2012
The English Lakes: A History 
by Ian Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £16.99, March 2012, 978 1 4088 0958 7
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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp., £20, June 2012, 978 0 241 14381 0
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... a gap in a solid crag; the slowly vanishing wake left by a liner among the flying fish of the Arabian Sea. These books are preoccupied with the highly conscious enjoyment of wild country, although both writers know that the aesthetic savouring of the land – the ‘landscape’ – must overlap with more workmanlike uses of it. ...

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