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Try It on the Natives

James C. Scott: Colonial Intelligence Agencies, 9 October 2008

Empires of Intelligence: Security 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. And still it lived ...

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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... renewed, but it turned out that the most resistant trees were the least productive. Ford called in James Weir, a specialist in tropical rubber who had worked for Goodyear in Sumatra. He proposed bud-grafting using South-East Asian plant material: taking a proven root-stock and grafting onto it a shoot from productive and resistant stock. This worked, but it ...

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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... Mycenaean kingdoms of the Mediterranean, the break-up of the Roman Empire in the fifth century ce, and contemporary Somalia. Scheidel’s analysis of the world wars and global depression of the first half of the 20th century forms a close parallel to Piketty’s account of how these catastrophes ‘compressed’ income distribution. In this period, where ...

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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... models. Anthropology can show us radically different and satisfying forms of human affiliation and co-operation that do not depend on the nuclear family or inherited wealth. History can show that the social and political arrangements we take for granted are the contingent result of a unique historical conjuncture. Jared Diamond, ornithologist, evolutionary ...

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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... in the Western academy can claim the credit for this: Clifford Geertz, Benedict Anderson and James C. Scott. Geertz, one of whose many talents was for the writing of superbly perfidious book reviews, was the master of the catchy phrase: he gave us ‘theatre state’, ‘agricultural involution’ and quite a few ...

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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... piles, pox and plague. Harington’s great innovation in domestic hygiene was so successful that James I is supposed to have brought him in as a troubleshooter to deal with the privies at Theobalds and Hampton Court. Harington was much more than a hygienist, however. Indeed, most of his works try to achieve rather too much at once. The Metamorphosis of Ajax ...

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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... serendipity. Apart from anything else, it is deeply unfair that it should. In Seeing like a State, James Scott is definitely in storytelling mode, though he seems unaware of the narrative biases that result. (It makes me curious to know what he’s like when he travels by air, which as an anthropologist he must do quite often.) He has two kinds of story ...

Diary

Max Hastings: Letters from the Front, 9 September 2015

... to infantry service: ‘I’ve got a certain amount of mechanical knowledge and I think my CO would recommend a transfer on the ground of being married.’ On 24 September he wrote: ‘We are in a bust-up tomorrow so I thought I’d let you know’ (this would become the British offensive at Loos). Then: The artillery starts today. I only told the ...

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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... the epoch in which humans have had a significant impact on the planet. In Against the Grain James Scott describes these early stages as a ‘“thin” Anthropocene’, but ever since, the Anthropocene has been getting thicker. New layers of human impact were added by the adoption of farming about ten thousand years ago, the invention of the steam ...

Burying Scott

Marilyn Butler, 7 September 1995

The Life of Walter ScottA 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. In its worldly wisdom it resembles the first of its kind, John Gibson Lockhart’s pioneering five-volume Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott (1837-8), though the drift of the two Lives is in opposite directions ...

A Palm Tree, a Colour and a Mythical Bird

Robert L. Cioffi: Ideas of Phoenicia, 3 January 2019

In Search of the Phoenicians 
by Josephine Quinn.
Princeton, 360 pp., £27, December 2017, 978 0 691 17527 0
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... epistolary novel The Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale, published in 1806. A century later, James Joyce drew attention to the supposed links between Ireland and the Phoenicians in a lecture entitled ‘Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages’. Speaking in Trieste, he said that the Irish language ‘is eastern in origin, and has been identified by many ...

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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... pulpit. It does contain subtleties, even in the brass section, but it’s seldom averse to a yell. James Hogg could sound polished when he felt like it, but he was thought noisy by the aspiring Edinburgh gentry. They were eager for lessons in belletristic politeness, and knew he could be vulgar and uncouth. He knew they knew it, too. Hogg was a ...

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 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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... Country, Dickens’s London, With Hardy in Dorset, Literary Bypaths of Old England, The Land of Scott. Academic libraries don’t cater for it, and academic critics have about as much regard for it as they have for Disney World or back numbers of Reader’s Digest. It’s been out of favour since at least the 1750s. The Reverend Francis Gastrell, who owned ...

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