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The Common Touch

Paul Foot, 10 November 1994

Hanson: A Biography 
by Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £20, September 1994, 1 85702 189 4
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... for ‘swashbuckling’ entrepreneurs, especially ones with Northern accents. When she first met James Hanson, his gentle Yorkshire lilt fascinated her almost as much as his millions. She assumed, as Harold Wilson had several years previously, that Hanson was typical of the self-made man, the hard-working puritan who ...

Chronicities

Christopher Ricks, 21 November 1985

Gentlemen in England 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 02 411165 1
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... A.N. Wilson is something of an anachronism, and it was timely of him to make anachronism the nub of his new novel about the old days, Gentlemen in England. The title itself, in the England of 1985 where the new right spits even more zealously than the old left on the grave of the gentlemanly ideal, pushes anachronism and dislocation to the point of oxymoron ...

Short Cuts

James Francken: The Booker Prize shortlist, 2 November 2000

... has given up trying to struggle in the pulpit with the discoveries of science. At first, the Rev. Wilson writes a lengthy pamphlet against the ‘poisonous assault on the good name of the Scriptures’. But is has little effect and Wilson decides that to prove his point he must leave behind the numbing regularity of his ...

Labour and the Bouncers

Paul Foot, 4 June 1987

Prime Minister: The Conduct of Policy under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan 
by Bernard Donoughue.
Cape, 198 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 224 02450 7
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Time and Chance 
by James Callaghan.
Collins, 584 pp., £15.95, April 1987, 0 00 216515 5
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... Bernard Donoughue records something said by James Callaghan, then Prime Minister, just before the 1979 General Election, as the two men were driving home to Downing Street in the official Rover: You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do ...

Questionably Virtuous

Stuart Middleton: Harold Wilson, 8 September 2016

Harold WilsonThe Unprincipled Prime Minister? Reappraising Harold Wilson 
edited by Andrew Crines and Kevin Hickson.
Biteback, 319 pp., £20, March 2016, 978 1 78590 031 0
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... There has​ never been a bad time to reappraise Harold Wilson. He was a politician so enigmatic, so elusive even to his own associates, that he seemed to demand near continuous reappraisal throughout his career. On the verge of office in 1964, he appeared to more than one observer as a latter-day Lloyd George, a radical tribune sprung from provincial nonconformity to drive the nation before him with wit and moral exhortation ...

A Conversation with Gore Vidal

Thomas Powers: Meeting Gore Vidal, 31 July 2014

... but not the last volume. He’s rewriting his own history. Apparently he didn’t even know Edmund Wilson all that well, and I don’t think Wilson much liked him.’ He said he’d read Wilson’s letters straight through, liked them very much, but still didn’t know why ...

Life in the Colonies

Steven Rose, 20 July 1995

Naturalist 
by Edward O.Wilson.
Allen Lane, 380 pp., £20, August 1995, 0 7139 9141 0
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Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration 
by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O.Wilson.
Harvard, 228 pp., £19.95, November 1994, 0 674 48525 4
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... Vindaloo. Something of the same determinedly trivial desire to prove himself is revealed in Edward Wilson’s Naturalist. The great myrmecologist’s memoir is filled with references to scaling the highest mountains, collecting the most species, and above all to standing where no (white) man had ever stood before, finding organisms hitherto ‘unknown to ...

Year of the Viking

Patrick Wormald, 17 July 1980

The Vikings 
by James Graham-Campbell and D. Kidd.
British Museum, 192 pp., £8.95, February 1980, 0 7141 1352 2
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The Viking World 
edited by James Graham-Campbell.
Weidenfeld, 220 pp., £11.95, March 1980, 0 906459 04 4
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The Northern World 
edited by David Wilson.
Thames and Hudson, 248 pp., £15, February 1980, 0 500 25070 7
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Vikings! 
by Magnus Magnusson.
Bodley Head, 320 pp., £10, May 1980, 0 370 30272 9
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The Vikings 
by Johannes Bronsted.
Penguin, 347 pp., £1.95, April 1980, 0 14 020459 8
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Viking Age Sculpture 
by Richard Bailey.
Collins, 288 pp., £10.95, February 1980, 0 00 216228 8
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The Viking Age in Denmark 
by Klaus Randsborg.
Duckworth, 206 pp., £7.95, February 1980, 0 7156 1466 5
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... and its impact on Europe, largely, though not entirely, through the work of archaeologists. David Wilson, Director of the British Museum, is among the most distinguished of these, and the exhibition which he and his pupils have mounted there (until 20 July) quite properly commemorates their achievement and that of their Scandinavian colleagues. This, in ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Who’s Afraid of the Library of America?, 19 June 2008

... A plop on the doormat and Volume 177 in the Library of America is in the house: Edmund Wilson’s writings from the 1930s and 1940s, including Classics and Commercials, The Triple Thinkers and The Wound and the Bow. There is something appropriate and even – without wanting to be corny about it – moving about seeing Wilson take his place in the Library of America ...

Mohocks

Liam McIlvanney: The House of Blackwood, 5 June 2003

The House of Blackwood: Author-Publisher Relations in the Victorian Era 
by David Finkelstein.
Pennsylvania State, 199 pp., £44.95, April 2002, 0 271 02179 9
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... the hanging judge would have sat comfortably in a tradition of Scottish eccentricity that includes James Hogg’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, John Galt’s ‘theoretical histories’ and Margaret Oliphant’s tales of terror. It’s common to think of Blackwood’s as a stolid redoubt of middlebrow English respectability, the kind of torpid organ invoked by ...

1966 and all that

Michael Stewart, 20 December 1984

The Castle Diaries. Vol. II: 1964-70 
by Barbara Castle.
Weidenfeld, 848 pp., £20, October 1984, 0 297 78374 2
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... 1974 to 13 April 1976, the latter date being five days after her old enemy and new Prime Minister James Callaghan unceremoniously sacked her. Those two years and 104 days took over four hundred thousand words to chronicle – an average of around five hundred words a day; but since some days apparently only merited a few lines and others none at all, this ...

Whitehall Farce

Paul Foot, 12 October 1989

The Intelligence Game: Illusions and Delusions of International Espionage 
by James Rusbridger.
Bodley Head, 320 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 370 31242 2
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The Truth about Hollis 
by W.J. West.
Duckworth, 230 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 7156 2286 2
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... a week goes by without the enemies of official secrecy having good cause to sing the praises of James Rusbridger. From his Cornish retreat he sprays the correspondence columns of newspapers with volleys of good sense and good humour. This bluff, meticulous man spent much of his youth as a British businessman in Europe, where he worked in a dilatory sort of ...

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 (1937-; cited ...

Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...

Send them to Eton!

Linda Colley, 19 August 1993

The End of the House of Windsor: Birth of a British Republic 
by Stephen Haseler.
Tauris, 208 pp., £14.95, June 1993, 1 85043 735 1
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The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor 
by A.N. Wilson.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 211 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 1 85619 354 3
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Royal Throne: The Future of the Monarchy 
by Elizabeth Longford.
Hodder, 189 pp., £16.99, April 1993, 0 340 58587 0
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Diana v. Charles 
by James Whitaker.
Signet, 237 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 670 85245 7
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The Tarnished Crown 
by Anthony Holden.
Bantam, 400 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 0 593 02472 9
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Inheritance: A Psychological History of the Royal Family 
by Dennis Friedman.
Sidgwick, 212 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 283 06124 3
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Raine and Johnnie: The Spencers and the Scandal of Althorp 
by Angela Levin.
Weidenfeld, 297 pp., £17.99, July 1993, 0 297 81325 0
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... may not). Even worse, as far as the present Queen is concerned, most Britons don’t care. As A.N. Wilson cruelly remarks, ‘it is possible that the Queen is the only person in the British Isles who is interested in the British Commonwealth. Most of her subjects have some difficulty in remembering what, exactly, it is.’ Britons are therefore conspicuously ...

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