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Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... is: who reads these books and what purpose do they serve? I can imagine looking up a name in James Hart’s fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to American Literature. Updated to include ‘authors not yet born when this book was first begun’, it offers abbreviated commentaries on such newly arrived figures on the scene as Diane Wakoski ...

The Unstoppable Upward

James Wolcott: ‘The Life of Saul Bellow’, 24 January 2019

The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965-2005 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 864 pp., £35, November 2018, 978 0 224 10188 2
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... In​ autumn 2000, the critic, memoirist and biographer James Atlas brought forth a Life of Saul Bellow that augured to be the literary event of the season, a crowning glory for author and subject. Bellow: A Biography was Atlas’s highly anticipated successor to his wunderkind biography of the brilliant, bedevilled Delmore Schwartz, whose combustible presence served as the inspiration for Von Humboldt Fleisher in Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Humboldt’s Gift ...

Poets and Pretenders

John Sutherland, 2 April 1987

The Great Pretender 
by James Atlas.
Viking, 239 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 9780670814619
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The Position of the Body 
by Richard Stern.
Northwestern, 207 pp., $21.95, November 1986, 0 8101 0730 9
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The Setting Sun and the Rolling World 
by Charles Mungoshi.
Heinemann, 202 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 434 48166 1
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Conversations with Lord Byron on Perversion, 162 Years after his Lordship’s Death 
by Amanda Prantera.
Cape, 174 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 9780224024235
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... James Atlas’s The Great Pretender is a first novel. But Atlas has some prior fame as the author of a powerful biography of Delmore Schwartz, America’s poète maudit who died tragically unfulfilled in 1966, having lived out the truth of one of his best essays: ‘The Isolation of the Modern Poet ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography, 2 November 2000

Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... the first to receive his co-operation over the complete, ten-year span of its writing. The author, James Atlas, whose biography of Delmore Schwartz appeared in 1977 and who is the general editor of the Penguin Lives Series, was given full access to Bellow’s letters and unpublished manuscripts and final permission to quote all the passages he ...

Diary

Christopher Hitchens: Reagan and Rambo, 3 October 1985

... The best that can be said is that this is pluralism of a kind. And I wonder, therefore, how James Atlas can have been so indulgent in his recent essay ‘The Changing World of New York Intellectuals’. This rather shallow piece appeared in the New York Times magazine, and took us over the usual jumps. Gone are the days of Partisan Review, Delmore ...

Tired of Giving in

Eric Foner: Rosa Parks, 10 May 2001

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Life of Rosa Parks 
by Douglas Brinkley.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £12.99, January 2001, 0 297 60708 1
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... match between subject and author make the series distinctive. The ‘concept’, as its editor James Atlas explained to me a few years ago, is to produce books that airline passengers can read on a flight from New York to San Francisco and finish before they reach the Golden Gate. Given the entertainment options available at 35,000 feet this is not an ...

Outfoxing Hangman

Thomas Jones: David Mitchell, 11 May 2006

Black Swan Green 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 371 pp., £16.99, May 2006, 0 340 82279 1
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... rhymes and puns, seem the work of a writer struggling to fulfil his self-imposed schema. Cloud Atlas (2004), Mitchell’s third novel, has the most elaborate schema of all: six narratives embedded one within another, like a set of Russian dolls. The journal of an American notary crossing the Pacific in the 1850s is interrupted midway through, and ...

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini

Clive James, 17 September 1987

... agreed that there can be no doubt About Martina Navratilova: Since she lent her body to Charles Atlas The definition of the veins on her right forearm Looks like the Mississippi river system Photographed from a satellite, And though she may unleash a charming smile When crouching to dance at the ball with Ivan Lendl, I have always found to admire her yet ...

By the Width of a Street

Christopher Prendergast: Literary geography, 29 October 1998

An Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 
by Franco Moretti.
Verso, 206 pp., £16, August 1998, 1 85984 883 4
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... Somewhere around the middle of An Atlas of the European Novel, in a discussion of images of London in the 19th-century novel, Franco Moretti throws in a parenthetical aside on the whereabouts of his publisher (‘in a rather bleak part of Soho’). It’s a sort of joke, consistent with the laidback tone that Moretti seems able to combine effortlessly with high intellectual endeavour ...

A Smaller Island

Matthew Reynolds: David Mitchell, 10 June 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet 
by David Mitchell.
Sceptre, 469 pp., £18.99, May 2010, 978 0 340 92156 2
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... coming from a writer who made his name – in Ghostwritten (1999), number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004) – as a globetrotter of the mind, effortlessly linking cultures from Belgium to Mongolia, channel-hopping genres from epistolary to sci-fi while soaring into the future and back again via a narrative continuum where reality blends with dream. This ...

Eye-Catchers

Peter Campbell, 4 December 1986

Survey of London: Vol. XLII. Southern Kensington: Kensington to Earls Court 
Athlone, 502 pp., £55, May 1986, 0 485 48242 8Show More
Follies: A National Trust Guide 
by Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp.
Cape, 564 pp., £15, June 1986, 0 224 02105 2
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The Botanists 
by David Elliston Allen.
St Paul’s Bibliographies, 232 pp., £15, May 1986, 0 906795 36 2
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British Art since 1900 
by Frances Spalding.
Thames and Hudson, 252 pp., £10.50, April 1986, 0 500 23457 4
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Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900 
by Richard Altick.
Ohio State, 527 pp., £55, March 1986, 0 8142 0380 9
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History of the British Pig 
by John Wiseman.
Duckworth, 118 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 9780715619872
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... smallest police station (a plinth in Trafalgar Square), its first Greek Revival building (James Stuart’s Doric temple of 1758 at Hagley Park) and Temple Bar (in its present situation in a Hertfordshire wood) are all follies by Headley’s and Meulencamp’s definition. The first, like many of their eye-catchers and shams, is not quite what it ...

The Last Hundred Days

Peter Wollen: Kassel’s Mega-Exhibition, 3 October 2002

Documenta 11 
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... of documentary reportage, investigative journalism and idiosyncratic record-keeping. Take the Atlas Group, an imaginary foundation set up ‘to research and document the contemporary history of the Lebanon’. The group is devoted to creating an archive comprising both ‘authored’ and ‘found’ documents and files. One project concerned the activity ...

The Conversation

D.J. Enright, 25 March 1993

On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored 
by Adam Phillips.
Faber, 165 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 571 16925 2
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... barbaric and limited repertoire? Discussing phobias, Phillips makes fruitful reference to William James, a man who seems to grow in stature the more one reads him. James found the name ‘agoraphobia’ rather absurd; Phillips defends it neatly: the agora was ‘that ancient place where words and goods and money were ...

Planes, Trains and SUVs

Jonathan Raban: James Meek, 7 February 2008

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent 
by James Meek.
Canongate, 295 pp., £16.99, February 2008, 978 1 84195 988 7
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... James Meek’s last, bestselling novel, The People’s Act of Love, published in 2005 to great critical acclaim, was set in 1919, in ‘that part of Siberia lying between Omsk and Krasnoyarsk’. Anglophone readers who can locate ‘that’ part of Siberia without a good atlas deserve spot prizes ...

They never married

Ian Hamilton, 10 May 1990

The Dictionary of National Biography: 1981-1985 
edited by Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 518 pp., £40, March 1990, 0 19 865210 0
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... it might have been: Ned Sherrin on Caryl Brahms, for example, or Hugh Johnson on his publisher, James Mitchell: ‘The World Atlas of Wines,’ Johnson writes, ‘became the most discussed and most imitated reference book of the Seventies among rival publishers. By the end of the decade it had sold one million ...

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