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A Mystery to Itself

Rivka Galchen: What is a brain?, 22 April 2021

The Idea of the Brain 
by Matthew Cobb.
Profile, 470 pp., £12.99, March, 978 1 78125 590 2
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The Future of Brain Repair: A Realist’s Guide to Stem Cell Therapy 
by Jack Price.
MIT, 270 pp., £25, April 2020, 978 0 262 04375 5
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Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain 
by David Eagleman.
Canongate, 316 pp., £20, August 2020, 978 1 83885 096 8
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... Parkinson’s and prevent ageing. In The Future of Brain Repair, the developmental neurobiologist Jack Price tells a modified conversion story, from confident sceptic to measured optimist, even as he offers his work as a counterpoint to overhopeful news stories. He notes that very few therapies for brain disorders have appeared in the past ...

Jack in the Belfry

Terry Eagleton, 8 September 2016

The Trials of the King of Hampshire: Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England 
by Elizabeth Foyster.
Oneworld, 368 pp., £20, September 2016, 978 1 78074 960 0
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... of his pew and dash up to the belfry, where he would strip to the waist and demand to be called Jack. His campanological skills were not of the finest. He did not understand the idea of ringing in a peal, so someone had to stand beside him in order to catch the rope and hand it to him when it was his turn. There were times when he took the fun a little too ...

The Kennedy Boys

R.W. Johnson, 28 January 1993

JFK: Life and Death of an American President. Vol. I: Reckless Youth 
by Nigel Hamilton.
Century, 898 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 7126 2571 2
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... Later, the girl told my wife she had missed her period, then learned she was expecting. I told Jack. ‘Oh shit!’ was all he said. He didn’t care a damn about the girl – it was just the inconvenience that bothered him. In that sense he was a pretty selfish guy. This story sums up in a few lines all the major themes of Nigel Hamilton’s book – the ...


Ian Jack: Class 1H, 15 July 2021

... of thousands of children defined as “failures” at eleven years of age. They paid a high price for the illusion of meritocracy.’ And, she might have added, Britain’s still industrial economy paid that high ...

‘Très vrai!’

Leah Price, 18 October 2001

Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books 
by H.J. Jackson.
Yale, 324 pp., £19.95, April 2001, 0 300 08816 7
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... Reader bears the inscription: ‘Steal not this book for fear of life for the owner has a big jack-knife.’ Jackson’s sharpest insight is that annotations buttonhole not only the author of the printed book, but future readers of the marked-up copy, who can respond by preserving (Southey traced over Coleridge’s pencil jottings in ink) or destroying (a ...

Poor George

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 7 March 1991

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power 
by Daniel Yergin.
Simon and Schuster, 877 pp., £20, January 1991, 0 671 50248 4
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... On 3 April 1986, at his filling-station in north Dallas, Billy Jack Mason was protesting about the fall in the price of oil. Cars came from as far as Waco, and by breakfast, the queue was six miles long. He was offering unleaded at zero cents a gallon. Reporters sought Billy’s opinion on the future ...

The Price

Dan Jacobson: The concluding part of Dan Jacobson’s interview with Ian Hamilton, 21 February 2002

... This is the second part of a two-part interview. Part 2: ‘The Price’. I want to ask you about Robert Lowell: as an influence on your work, that is, and only then as what he later became – a ‘Life’, the subject of your first full-length biography. You did and do admire him greatly as a poet, yet in his poetic practice didn’t he trample all over the distinctions, the reticences and borderlines, you set so much store by in your own verse? Yes ...

Why did we not know?

Ian Jack: Who is hoarding the land?, 23 May 2019

The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain 
by Brett Christophers.
Verso, 394 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 78663 158 9
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... that is, for all kinds of housing – land now accounts for 70 per cent of a house’s sale price. In the 1930s it was 2 per cent.) When Thatcher entered Downing Street in May 1979, more land was owned by the state than ever before: 20 per cent of Britain’s total area. Today the figure is 10.5 per cent. The disposals include council ...

Treating the tiger

Ian Jack, 18 February 1988

Tales from Two Cities: Travel of Another Sort 
by Dervla Murphy.
Murray, 310 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 7195 4435 1
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... point to three professional anti-racists, who scorn her. ‘We don’t want racial harmony at your price,’ says Mahomet. ‘We’re naming the price nowadays ... you’re trying to coerce blacks into lying down under racism forever.’ A friend at the table apologises for her: ‘She’s always been wet, and I think ...


Christopher Hadley: The Lake Taupo Stamp, 18 September 1997

... Service. For more than twenty-five years, the fate of the Lake Taupo was unclear. Then, in 1930, Jack Dennet, a farmer and amateur philatelist in Lincolnshire, discovered it in one of his old albums. Times were hard for English agriculture and Dennet was in trouble, having bought stock the previous year which was now depreciating at an alarming rate. Much ...

Literary Guy

Ian Jack, 19 June 1986

A North Sea Journey 
by A. Alvarez.
Hodder, 191 pp., £9.95, May 1986, 0 340 37347 4
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... best forgotten. Oil wells were sunk in the North Sea because technology made them feasible and the price of oil made them profitable. Men work there because the money is good and Methil and Greenock no longer provide jobs. Sometimes the work is dangerous, but the men eat well and sleep comfortably. No women or alcohol are allowed, but the men spend every ...

How to vanish

Michael Dibdin, 23 April 1987

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis 
by Humberto Costantini, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Fontana, 193 pp., £3.50, January 1987, 0 00 654180 1
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Requiem for a Woman’s Soul 
by Omar Rivabella, translated by Paul Riviera.
Penguin, 116 pp., £2.95, February 1987, 0 14 009773 2
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Words in Commotion, and Other Stories 
by Tommaso Landolfi, translated by Ring Jordan and Lydia Jordan.
Viking, 273 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 80518 1
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The Literature Machine 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh.
Secker, 341 pp., £16, April 1987, 0 436 08276 4
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The St Veronica Gig Stories 
by Jack Pulaski.
Zephyr, 170 pp., £10.95, December 1986, 0 939010 09 7
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Kate Vaiden 
by Reynolds Price.
Chatto, 306 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7011 3203 5
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... to which Marco replies: ‘What else do you think I’ve been talking about all this time?’ Jack Pulaski’s stories are set in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in the Fifties. ‘It is a catastrophe that comes from living in a fucking cosmopolitan place,’ one character remarks, and much the same could be said of almost everything that happens in the ...

Little Grey Cells

J. Robert Lennon: More Marple than Poirot, 5 March 2020

Big Sky 
by Kate Atkinson.
Black Swan, 356 pp., £8.99, January, 978 0 552 77666 0
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... in the hotel industry, with the help of what they believe is an employment agency called Anderson Price Associates. ‘They weren’t stupid,’ we’re assured, ‘they knew about trafficking, about people who tricked girls into thinking they were going to good jobs, proper jobs, who then ended up drugged, trapped in some filthy hole of a room having sex ...

National Treasure

Christopher Hitchens, 14 November 1996

Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir 
by John Davis.
Wiley, 256 pp., £14.99, October 1996, 0 471 12945 3
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... lost in the praises of those intimidated by their positions.When she sat in that limousine with Jack Kennedy’s brains in her hand, her life crossed a line into blues territory that few of the privileged or the destitute ever know ... Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy had reached across a century to take the hand of Mary Todd Lincoln, to experience the gangster ...

Phattbookia Stupenda

Nicholas Spice, 18 April 1985

by Peter Carey.
Faber, 600 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 571 13207 3
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... normally a fat book reader, you mustn’t be outfaced by the fatness of Illywhacker, nor by the price, which is hardly a fat book price, especially when the fat book is as comely as this one. Indeed, all the signs are that this is a book the publishers believe in. They’ve put their production values where their blurb ...

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