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Diary

Ian Thomson: Assault on the Via Salaria, 14 April 2011

... Appia Nuova. I rang the bell and waited. Presently a bald, smiling face appeared. ‘Ah, Signor Thomson,’ he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand. Milza was a man of old-fashioned courtesies. He said he had retired from San Giovanni Hospital eight years ago. I showed him a copy of the surgical report he had written in January 1984. Removing his ...

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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... pleasure is in the struggle, in Rabelais’s ‘contradictions, unresolved and gaily accepted’. Ian Thomson tells us that Levi also loved Azio Corghi’s high Modernist opera based on Gargantua that had its premiere in 1984. The atonal music did not interest him, but the spectacular special effects (a giant jet of the protagonist’s urine drenched the ...

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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... to wait 35 years for the first pay-off from their investment, while in the meantime providing Ian Smith’s Rhodesia with two-thirds of its power supplies. Indeed, it was only after acrimonious argument that the Zambians prevented CAPCO fixing the water intakes nine feet higher on their side of the Zambezi than on the Rhodesian side, which would have made ...

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 ...

Speaking in Tongues

Robert Crawford, 8 February 1996

The Poetry of Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980 
edited and introduced by Roderick Watson.
Edinburgh, 752 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 7486 0607 6
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... frost subdu’d, / Gradual, resolves into a weeping thaw’, though Johnson’s admired James Thomson, author of these lines, came close to being Fergusson’s contemporary. That sense of linguistic jolting and, not infrequently, of cross-linguistic connections lends Watson’s anthology its revelatory potential. Ossianic translatorese, the Burns who ...

Come here, Botham

Paul Foot, 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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... book proves, however, Miller can quickly be rejected for second place. It goes, unquestionably, to Ian Botham. Indeed in one crucial respect, Botham beats even the great Sobers himself. Only 22 times in over a thousand Test matches has a player taken five wickets in an innings and scored a hundred in the same match. Frank Keating tells us: ‘Thirteen players ...

Maurice Thomson’s War

Perry Anderson, 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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... apart as chancers and innovators. Brenner picks out as the central figure among them one Maurice Thomson. His career makes an amazing story. Born in the Home Counties about 1600, the eldest of five brothers, Thomson emigrated to Virginia in his teens, where he soon became a ship’s captain, acquired land, and entered the ...

Richly-Wristed

Ian Aitken, 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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... a whiff of Mr Scott’s attempts to merge the Guardian with the Astor Times and later with the Thomson Times. It was long after the event that I learned how Richard Scott, Laurance’s cousin and the chairman of the Scott Trust, flew to London from Washington on what my old employers would have called a ‘mercy mission’ to save us from being sold into ...

Prince of Darkness

Ian Aitken, 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 ...

Knights of the King and Keys

Ian Aitken, 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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... editorial opinions reflect its owner’s views. Great Fleet Street magnates like the first Lord Thomson bought newspapers as if they were Mars Bars, yet never showed any discernible interest in what they said. As long as the balance-sheet looked healthy that was good enough for him, and justified his continued ownership. My sympathies are entirely with the ...

The Best Stuff

Ian Jack: David Astor, 2 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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... my staff are in debt?’ Money​ really began to matter when the Canadian newspaper publisher Roy Thomson bought the Sunday Times in 1959. Astor commissioned a profile of Thomson, which shocked him by its unfairness when he read it on holiday on Jura; he was always immensely proud of the Observer’s profiles and their ...

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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... the influence of his other great mentor and guide when a young man, the Australian priest Peter Thomson, who became Blair’s closest friend and confidant while he was an undergraduate at Oxford. When Thomson died earlier this year, Blair said at his funeral: ‘There are few people of whom you can say: he changed my ...

New Ground for the Book Trade

John Sutherland, 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 ...

Ramadhin and Valentine

J.R. Pole, 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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... an individual. When Sobers accepted an invitation to play in a double wicket competition in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia he was totally unprepared for the outcry of pain and rage. Manley insists that Sobers apologised. But a reading of the letter, drafted by the late Eric Barrow (then Prime Minister of Barbados), which Sobers signed and prints ...

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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... hustling their product up and down (but mainly down) the country. One of the several ways in which Ian Hamilton’s Fifty Poems looks deeply unfashionable is that for Hamilton 50 poems means not a selection of work written in the last few years but almost the entire canon of a quarter-century: the 33 poems in A Visit, reshuffled, occasionally tinkered ...

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