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Diary

Ian Thomson: Assault on the Via Salaria

14 April 2011
... nurses. I cried in pain as a catheter was disconnected: ‘Madonna!’ Why had I sworn in Italian? For two weeks I lay in the neurosurgery ward. My head hurt like hell and my right arm had large blue-black bruises on it where the Sisters of Mercy injected painkillers. In the public ward with me were survivors of motorcycle crashes and victims of brain ...

Travelling in the Classic Style

Thomas Laqueur: Primo Levi

5 September 2002
Primo Levi’s Ordinary Virtues: From Testimony to Ethics 
by Robert Gordon.
Oxford, 316 pp., £45, October 2001, 0 19 815963 3
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Primo Levi 
by Ian Thomson.
Hutchinson, 624 pp., £25, March 2002, 0 09 178531 6
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The Double Bond: Primo Levi, a Biography 
by Carole Angier.
Viking, 898 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88333 6
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... than any other writer. The ‘drowned and the saved’, for example: that appallingly stark, Darwinian division between those who managed to secure a few extra grams of food for themselves, or respite from labour, or shelter from the cold, or friendship, and those who ended ‘on the bottom’, the ‘Muselmänner’, whom a pitiless system had reduced to the ...

Whose Body?

Charles Glass: ‘Operation Mincemeat’

22 July 2010
Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War Two 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 400 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 0 7475 9868 8
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... a cameo role as an air-force officer who questions the wisdom of the scheme. In the meantime, Ian Colvin, a journalist whose investigation into the wartime coup had prompted Montagu to come out first with his authorised version, published The Unknown Courier. So the tale has been told before, but Ben Macintyre has done a more thorough and readable job of ...

Poisoned Words

Ian Williams

5 May 1988
Indictment: Power and Politics In the Construction Industry 
by David Morrell.
Faber, 287 pp., £14.95, November 1987, 0 571 14985 5
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... of Zambia, was in fact designed to supply huge amounts of cheap electricity to the blockaded Rhodesian regime. ‘The foreign exchange component was being provided by the World Bank, guaranteed by Her Majesty’s Government for what was quite simply the product of sanctions-breaking on a massive scale.’ Somehow, elements in the British Government and the ...
9 October 1986
High, Wide and Handsome. Ian Botham: The Story of a Very Special Year 
by Frank Keating.
Collins, 218 pp., £10.95, June 1986, 0 00 218226 2
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... Chinaman, which he bowled better than anyone else in the world. After Sobers, who? Some Australians who grew up when I did argue with some force for Keith Miller. As Frank Keating’s book proves, however, Miller can quickly be rejected for second place. It goes, unquestionably, to Ian Botham. Indeed in one crucial ...
13 October 1988
A History of West Indies Cricket 
by Michael Manley.
Deutsch, 575 pp., £17.95, May 1988, 0 233 98259 0
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Sobers: Twenty Years at the Top 
by Garfield Sobers and Brian Scovell.
Macmillan, 204 pp., £11.95, June 1988, 0 333 37267 0
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... We sometimes have reason to be grateful for the periods politicians spend in opposition. Roy Jenkins’s Asquith, Anthony Crosland’s reflections on socialism, Richard Crossman’s Bagehot, would hardly have come out of Whitehall, and Michael Manley would not have found time to write a history of West Indian cricket which encompasses the social, economic and regional problems of the Caribbean if he had been engaged in trying to resolve them in their present manifestations ...
28 September 1989
... dismemberings. Methuen (which celebrates its centenary in 1989) was sold in 1987 to International Thomson, who broke it up, selling the general and children’s list to Paul Hamlyn’s Octopus, itself subsequently acquired by Reed International. Methuen’s academic books remained with Thomson, who now bring them out under ...
28 January 1993
Rupert Murdoch 
by William Shawcross.
Chatto, 616 pp., £18.99, September 1992, 0 7011 8451 5
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... Lord Beaverbrook seemed to me an infinitely preferable version of the genus than, say, Lord Thomson, who originally regarded owning newspapers and radio stations as no different from owning profitable toothpaste factories or fast-food chains. Though he altered that view later, it was not in the direction of greater interference with editorial ...

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack: David Astor

1 June 2016
David Astor: A Life in Print 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Cape, 400 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 0 224 09090 2
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... the village newsagent – and its claustrophobic worldview formed fifty years before in Presbyterian Dundee. Where the Observer’s wider and obviously more up-to-date perspective came from I had no idea; the kind of smart remark that said it was a paper ‘written by Central European Jews for Central African blacks’ would have flown straight over my ...
4 November 1993
Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London’s Overseas Traders 1550-1653 
by Robert Brenner.
Cambridge, 734 pp., £40, March 1993, 0 521 37319 0
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TheNature of the English Revolution 
by John Morrill.
Longman, 466 pp., £32, June 1993, 0 582 08941 7
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... the revisionism that has dominated each side of the Channel in recent years. Where the French variant, personified by François Furet, has been fashioned as a polemic against what it has identified as a single historiographic tradition, a Jacobin-Leninist continuum running from Mathiez through Lefebvre to Soboul, the English school has developed as an ...

Preacher on a Tank

David Runciman: Blair Drills Down

7 October 2010
A Journey 
by Tony Blair.
Hutchinson, 718 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 09 192555 0
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... in political imagination and creativity. Blair would have us believe that he was a smarter politician, a deeper thinker and a better man than his rival. Yet still he did not dare touch him. Why? The answer is that digging down was Blair’s weakness, not his strength. He was always on the lookout for the key that would unlock a political problem, and make all ...

Every three years

Blake Morrison

3 March 1988
Fifty Poems 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 51 pp., £4.95, January 1988, 0 571 14920 0
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A Various Art 
edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville.
Carcanet, 377 pp., £12.95, December 1987, 0 85635 698 0
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Between Leaps: Poems 1972-1985 
by Brad Leithauser.
Oxford, 81 pp., £5.95, September 1987, 0 19 282089 3
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Eldorado 
by William Scammell.
Peterloo, 71 pp., £4.50, October 1987, 0 905291 88 3
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Disbelief 
by John Ash.
Carcanet, 127 pp., £6.95, September 1987, 0 85635 695 6
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The Automatic Oracle 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 72 pp., £4.95, November 1987, 0 19 282088 5
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Voice-over 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 64 pp., £5.95, February 1988, 0 7011 3313 9
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... two years after The Berlin Wall Café contains 48 poems; Peter Redgrove’s In the Hall of the Saurians, one year after its predecessor, has 34; Norman MacCaig’s Voice-over, three years on from his Collected Poems, has 58; Cat’s Whisker by Philip Gross (three years on) 41; Jouissance by William Scammell (two years) 38; Disbelief by John Ash (three ...
13 May 1993
Changing Faces: The History of the ‘Guardian’, 1956-88 
by Geoffrey Taylor.
Fourth Estate, 352 pp., £20, March 1993, 1 85702 100 2
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... The best thing I ever did in my professional life was to move from the Daily Express to the Guardian just before the 1964 General Election, and then to stay there. It seemed a good idea at the time, and nearly thirty years later I have no reason to change that judgment. On the contrary, the more I reflect on it the more grateful I am to my own relatively youthful prescience, and even more so to the gambler’s instinct of Alastair Hetherington, the then editor of the Guardian, in taking me on ...
7 March 1991
A Dubious Codicil: An Autobiography by 
by Michael Wharton.
Chatto, 261 pp., £15.99, December 1990, 0 7011 3064 4
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The House the Berrys built 
by Duff Hart-Davis.
Hodder, 299 pp., £16.95, April 1990, 3 405 92526 6
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Lords of Fleet Street: The Harmsworth Dynasty 
by Richard Bourne.
Unwin Hyman, 258 pp., £16.95, October 1990, 0 04 440450 6
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... Only one journalist was allowed into this bar, along with his guests. He was Mr Arthur Christiansen, the legendary editor of the Daily Express. To be asked to join him there was the ultimate accolade for an Expressman. The long, narrow bit was reserved for ordinary workaday hacks from both the Express and the Telegraph. But the surprising thing was that ...

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