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The View from the Top

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Upland Anarchists

2 December 2010
The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland South-East Asia 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 442 pp., £16.99, January 2011, 978 0 300 16917 1
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... The researcher starts out with fieldwork data from a village or set of villages, or material from a set of archives, or even a set of conversations between friends in a pub, and then proceeds to weave these into a convincing set of hypotheses which with luck will stand the test, either of a vertical transformation in scale or a horizontal movement in space (some economists like to call such generalisations ‘stylised fact...

Duas Cervejas

James C. Scott: Ford’s Utopia

8 October 2009
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City 
by Greg Grandin.
Metropolitan, 416 pp., $27.50, June 2009, 978 0 8050 8236 4
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... It was clear that Henry Ford’s audacious attempt to establish a vast rubber plantation in Amazonia had failed long before the first shipment of latex from Singapore arrived in Brazil in 1951. When the plantation, which was larger than the state of New Jersey, was set up in 1928, the Washington Post’s headline had boasted that it was expected to provide the latex for two million cars a year streaming off the assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan ...

Try It on the Natives

James C. Scott: Colonial Intelligence Agencies

9 October 2008
Empires of IntelligenceSecurity Services and Colonial Disorder after 1914 
by Martin Thomas.
California, 428 pp., £29.95, October 2007, 978 0 520 25117 5
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... At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, the American Communist Party was a pale shadow of what it had been two decades earlier. Thanks to the FBI, the McCarthy hearings in the Senate and the Un-American Activities Committee in the House of Representatives, blacklists, firings and generalised fear, the Party’s ranks had been radically thinned ...

Take your pick

James C. Scott: Cataclysm v. Capitalism

18 October 2017
The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century 
by Walter Scheidel.
Princeton, 504 pp., £27.95, February 2017, 978 0 691 16502 8
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... It is​ by now common knowledge that income inequality has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of the neoliberal policies of the past half-century. The United States is a case in point – eight hyper-rich Americans today own as much as the entire bottom half of the nation’s households – but it is not an anomaly ...

A Joke Too Far

Colin Burrow: My Favourite Elizabethan

22 August 2002
Sir John Harington and the Book as Gift 
by Jason Scott-Warren.
Oxford, 273 pp., £45, August 2001, 0 19 924445 6
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... Reader, where are you sitting? Perhaps sunk in a sunlounger by the pool, or perched on a joggling seat on the Tube. Should anyone be reading this on a hard, cold seat in the privy, then they ought to be profoundly grateful to Elizabeth I’s godson Sir John Harington, who in his extraordinary pamphlet The Metamorphosis of Ajax (or ‘A Jakes’ – get it?) invented the flushing water closet ...

The Aestheticising Vice

Paul Seabright: Systematic knowledge

27 May 1999
Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 464 pp., £25, May 1998, 0 300 07016 0
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... In the Languedoc there is a vineyard that teaches us an important lesson about textbook learning and its application to the world. In the early Seventies it was bought by a wealthy couple, who consulted professors Emile Peynaud and Henri Enjalbert, the world’s leading academic oenologist and oenological geologist respectively ...

Why did we start farming?

Steven Mithen: Hunter-Gatherers Were Right

30 November 2017
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 336 pp., £20, September 2017, 978 0 300 18291 0
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... When​ our ancestors began to control fire, most likely somewhere in Africa around 400,000 years ago, the planet was set on a new course. We have little idea and even less evidence of how early humans made fire; perhaps they carried around smouldering bundles of leaves from forest fires, or captured the sparks thrown off when chipping stone or rubbing sticks together ...

Diary

Max Hastings: Letters from the Front

9 September 2015
... Next month​ I shall raise a glass to the memory of a relation whom I never knew – a great-uncle called Aubrey Hastings, who was killed at the Battle of Loos a century ago, on 5 October 1915. In that era of large families, he was one of five of my close forebears who fought in France during the First World War ...

Tyranny of the Ladle

James C. Scott: Mao’s Great Famine

6 December 2012
Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine 
by Yang Jisheng, translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian.
Allen Lane, 629 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 1 84614 518 6
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Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 
by Frank Dikötter.
Bloomsbury, 420 pp., £9.99, May 2011, 978 1 4088 1003 3
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The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past 
by Gail Hershatter.
California, 455 pp., £37.95, August 2011, 978 0 520 26770 1
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... There is no doubt that the Great Leap Famine in China more than half a century ago was the worst man-made calamity of modern times. Between early 1958 and the spring of 1961, somewhere between 30 and 45 million people died. The more cautious figure is five million more than the population of Scandinavia, the higher one the current population of Spain ...

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott: Ancestor Worship

21 November 2013
The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 
by Jared Diamond.
Penguin, 498 pp., £8.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 102448 6
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... It’s a good bet a culture is in trouble when its best-known intellectuals start ransacking the cultural inventory of its ancestors and its contemporary inferiors for tips on how to live ...

Burying Scott

Marilyn Butler

7 September 1995
The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography 
by John Sutherland.
Blackwell, 386 pp., £19.99, January 1995, 1 55786 231 1
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... John Sutherland’s pithy, cynical Life of Scott is very much a biography of our time: irreverent, streetwise, set foursquare in a ‘real world’ in which careers achieve money and power and character is at least 51 per cent image ...

Northern Laughter

Karl Miller: Macrone on Scott

9 October 2013
The Life of Sir Walter Scott 
by John Macrone, edited by Daniel Grader.
Edinburgh, 156 pp., £65, February 2013, 978 0 7486 6991 2
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... Students of the life and works of Walter Scott and class="highlight-term">James Hogg may have glimpsed the shadowy, not to say meteoric, not to say dubious presence of the publisher John Macrone, and learned of his prompt desire, after Scott’s death in September 1832, to write his Life, basing it to a large extent on rural informants ...

Shopping for Soap, Fudge and Biscuit Tins

John Pemble: Literary Tourists

7 June 2007
The Literary Tourist 
by Nicola J. Watson.
Palgrave, 244 pp., £45, October 2006, 1 4039 9992 9
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... Literary tourism is naff. It means coach parties, blue plaques, monuments, the National Trust, Friends of this and that. It buys from Oxfam books like The Brontë Country, Dickens’s London, With Hardy in Dorset, Literary Bypaths of Old England, The Land of Scott ...

Bad Shepherd

Robert Crawford: James Hogg

5 April 2001
The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. VIII: The ‘Spy’ 
edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 641 pp., £60, March 2000, 9780748613656
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... For those brought up to associate Scottishness with silence, exile and cunning, much Scots verse sounds megaphonically noisy ...

The Thing

Michael Wood: Versions of Proust

6 January 2005
In Search of Lost Time: Vol. I: The Way by Swann’s 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 496 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118031 5
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol.II: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by James Grieve.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118032 3
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. III: The Guermantes Way 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Mark Treharne.
Penguin, 640 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118033 1
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. IV: Sodom and Gomorrah 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by John Sturrock.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 9780141180342
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. V: ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Fugitive’ 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Carol Clark and Peter Collier.
Penguin, 720 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118035 8
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. VI: Finding Time Again 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Ian Patterson.
Penguin, 400 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118036 6
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The Proust Project 
edited by André Aciman.
Farrar, Straus, 224 pp., $25, November 2004, 0 374 23832 4
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... it isn’t paradise until it’s lost? That paradise is a name for a favourite form of loss? He can plausibly be read as saying any of these things, and perhaps more than one at once. But the propositions are not identical, and it’s not easy to ...

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