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And what did she see?

Graham Robb: The Bête du Gévaudan

19 May 2011
Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast 
by Jay Smith.
Harvard, 378 pp., £25.95, March 2011, 978 0 674 04716 7
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... In the summer of 2007, JaySmith, who teaches history at the University of North Carolina, was in Paris collecting information for a book about a mysterious beast that terrorised the remote French province of the Gévaudan between ...

The Unpredictable Cactus

Emily Witt: Mescaline

22 December 2019
Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic 
by Mike Jay.
Yale, 297 pp., £18.99, May 2019, 978 0 300 23107 6
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... into a brew and ingested, it activates an alternative experience of consciousness.‘No mind-altering substance has been described more thoroughly and from such a variety of perspectives,’ Mike Jay writes in his new history, Mescaline. Its use in the Americas dates back thousands of years. It was the first psychedelic analysed by Western scientists, and in the early decades of the 20th century ...

The People Must Be Paid

Paul Smith: Capital cities in World War I

7 May 1998
Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919 
edited by Jay​ Winter and Jean-Louis Robert.
Cambridge, 622 pp., £60, March 1997, 0 521 57171 5
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... satisfaction which they were able to maintain among their populations. Satisfaction is not to be equated with simple quantitative measures of material provision. In a very good introductory chapter, Jay Winter bases the book’s concept of well-being on Amartya Sen’s idea of ‘capabilities’ and ‘functionings’, a functioning being, in Sen’s words, ‘an achievement, whereas a capability is ...
18 May 1989
Games, Sex and Evolution 
by John Maynard Smith.
Harvester, 264 pp., £14.95, August 1988, 0 7108 1216 7
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... we take it so much for granted, that only a child, or an evolutionary biologist, would think of asking the question. And it turns out that sex is a very big problem for biologists, as John Maynard Smith explains in one of the most readable essays of this book, an essay that he has simply entitled, ‘Why sex?’. Maynard Smith is an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Sussex and the ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith

17 September 1981
The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen Jay​ Gould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... Pandas are peculiar bears, which spend most of their days munching bamboo. To do this, they strip off the bamboo leaves by passing the stalks between their flexible thumb and the remaining fingers. But how can a panda have an opposable thumb, when in bears the thumb lies parallel to the fingers, and inseparable from them? In fact, the panda does not have a proper thumb at all: it has five parallel ...

Did Darwin get it right?

John Maynard Smith

18 June 1981
... embody this notion of hierarchy and stress a variety of themes either ignored or explicitly rejected by the modern synthesis. These quotations come from a recent paper in Palaeobiology by Stephen Jay Gould. What is the new theory? Is it indeed likely to replace the currently orthodox ‘neo-Darwinian’ view? Proponents of the new view make a minimum and a maximum claim. The minimum claim is an ...

Why so cross?

Thomas Nagel: Natural selection

1 April 1999
Unweaving the Rainbow 
by Richard Dawkins.
Penguin, 350 pp., £20, October 1998, 9780713992144
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The Pattern of Evolution 
by Niles Eldredge.
Freeman, 225 pp., £17.95, February 1999, 0 7167 3046 4
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... books have a string of popular works behind them. They also have a history of disagreement, with Dawkins on one side and Eldredge on the other. Eldredge is associated in this controversy with Stephen Jay Gould, his long-term research collaborator.* The disagreement, and the heat that it generates, are difficult for an outsider to understand, but they appear to have something to do with the way in ...

Tick-Tock

Malcolm Bull: Three Cheers for Apocalypse

9 December 1999
Conversations about the End of Time 
by Umberto Eco and Stephen Jay​ Gould.
Allen Lane, 228 pp., £14.99, September 1999, 0 7139 9363 4
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Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs throughout the Ages 
by Eugen Weber.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £18.99, July 1999, 0 09 180134 6
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Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium 
by Richard Popkin and David Katz.
Allen Lane, 303 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 7139 9383 9
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... why does everybody have a bomb?’) and it seemed quite possible that we might wake up one morning and find that we were ‘out of time’. But now? Well, ‘it’s here and I like it,’ as Will Smith says in his greeting card to the new year ‘Will 2K’. There isn’t much anxiety in this song, it’s time to celebrate. What exactly? The ‘Willennium’, he helpfully suggests, ‘the party of ...
6 March 1986
Ancient History: Evidence and Models 
by M.I. Finley.
Chatto, 131 pp., £12.95, September 1985, 0 7011 3003 2
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... has been relatively cool compared to that in France, and it was not really until the publication of his book on ancient Sicily in 1968, part of a three-volume history initiated by Denis Mack Smith, that he attracted much attention and won the support of the publishing house of Laterza. Finley was one of the first English-speaking historians to be aware of the importance of the works of Ettore ...

How was it for you?

David Blackbourn

30 October 1997
Man Without a Face: The Memoirs of a Spymaster 
by Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy.
Cape, 367 pp., £17.99, June 1997, 0 224 04498 2
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The File: A Personal History 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
HarperCollins, 227 pp., £12.99, July 1997, 0 00 255823 8
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... of 15 years thanks to busy IM reports. Garton Ash identifies the informers – someone at the Humboldt University, a lecturer in English literature, a British national who took the code-name ‘Smith’. The most interesting is ‘Michaela’, who worked in a state art-dealer’s and reported for years on subordinates, acquaintances, friends, even her daughter’s boyfriend – out of a residual ...
22 November 1979
Goldenballs 
by Richard Ingrams.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 144 pp., £4.25
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... like an arrogant bully using his money to break the spirit of the independent press. Private Eye’s ‘Goldenballs’ Fund had an impressive range of supporters, including ‘All the staff at W.H. Smith, Kingsway (except the manager)’. Lord Goodman effectively blocked Goldsmith’s chances of buying the Observer in the autumn of 1976, but the Eye case had already generated considerable resistance ...
5 January 2017
Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare 
by Łukasz Kamieński.
Hurst, 381 pp., £25, March 2016, 978 1 84904 551 3
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Blitzed: Drugs In Nazi Germany 
by Norman Ohler.
Allen Lane, 360 pp., £20, October 2016, 978 0 241 25699 2
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... in 1916. During​ the 1930s a new class of stimulants emerged from the laboratory, cheap to produce, longer-acting and allegedly less addictive. Amphetamine was first brought to market in the US by Smith, Kline and French in 1934 in the form of a bronchial inhaler, Benzedrine, but its stimulant properties were soon recognised and it was made available in tablet form as a remedy for narcolepsy and a ...

I sizzle to see you

John Lahr: Cole Porter’s secret songs

19 November 2019
The Letters of Cole Porter 
edited by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh.
Yale, 672 pp., £25, October, 978 0 300 21927 2
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... Les coleporteurs’, star turns on the Continental social merry-go-round. The marriage lasted until Linda died of emphysema in 1954. Porter, ‘a homosexual who had never seen the closet’, as Alan Jay Lerner put it, was always true to Linda in his fashion. After she had parted ways with her philandering first husband, who was reported to have had sadistic conjugal tastes, Linda ‘had had enough ...
5 June 1997
...  achieved by the simple, but effective, technique of failing to inform the Ministry of Defence in advance. Then there was the cancellation of the deportation order against the adopted Nepalese, Jay Khadka, by – of all people – Jack Straw. Within a few days, hospital closures had been suspended, as had the privatisation of High Street post offices. None of it earth-shattering, much of it ...

Suppose the Archduke had ducked

Andrew Berry: Game theory and human evolution

7 September 2000
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny 
by Robert Wright.
Little, Brown, 435 pp., £22.50, March 2000, 0 316 64485 4
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... favour among evolutionary biologists, who now hold that we are merely one of evolution’s multifarious products, and not in any general sense ‘better’ than even the lowliest bacterium. Stephen Jay Gould, in particular, has insisted that the anthropocentric Victorian perspective was fuelled more by theology than by sound biology. Like his pet theme, Spencer’s reputation, too, has been ...

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