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Raving

Hari Kunzru, 22 May 1997

Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House 
by Matthew Collin and John Godfrey.
Serpent’s Tail, 314 pp., £18.99, April 1997, 1 85242 377 3
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Disco Biscuits 
edited by Jane Champion.
Sceptre, 300 pp., £6.99, February 1997, 0 340 68265 5
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... than a collection of ephemeral trends in music, fashion or the visual arts. Matthew Collin and John Godfrey have interviewed many of the key figures in Ecstasy’s journey from a Californian ‘penicillin for the soul’ to a black-market leisure industry. From this material and their own experiences, they have put together a fascinating ...

Diary

A.J.P. Taylor: An Unexpected Experience, 6 December 1984

... the 19th and 20th centuries. He wrote outstanding biographies of such Liberal leaders as Asquith, John Morley and Haldane, concluding with A.G. Gardiner, long-time editor of the Daily News. He then gave up political biography and wrote an enormous two-volume work on The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. It is difficult enough to write the ...

Family Romances

Anthony Thwaite, 2 February 1989

A Little Stranger 
by Candia McWilliam.
Bloomsbury, 135 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 9780747502791
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Running wild 
by J.G. Ballard.
Hutchinson, 72 pp., £5.95, November 1988, 0 09 173498 3
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Breathing Lessons 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 327 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7011 3391 0
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... stylistic exercise, like that of a very clever student who had been nourished on a forced diet of John Cleveland, George Barker (The Dead Seagull) and Craig Raine, and who had once heard the plot of a novel by Iris Murdoch. The novel’s characters were indeed Romantic, if by that one means fabulous, fanciful, whimsical, high-flown, etc, as under Roget ...

I Don’t Know Whats

Colin Burrow: Torquato Tasso, 22 February 2001

Jerusalem Delivered 
by Torquato Tasso, translated by Anthony Esolen.
Johns Hopkins, 490 pp., £50.50, November 2000, 0 8018 6322 8
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... Humiliation if they confessed they had not read Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. As his translator John Hoole put it in 1763, ‘Of all Authors, so familiarly known by name to the generality of English readers as Tasso, perhaps there is none whose works have been so little read.’ Hoole did much to change that: his translation – staid, Drydenical, but ...

Bad John

Alan Bennett: John Osborne, 3 December 1981

A Better Class of Person 
by John Osborne.
Faber, 285 pp., £7.95, November 1981, 0 571 11785 6
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... One of John Osborne’s Thoughts for 1954: ‘The urge to please above all. I don’t have it and can’t achieve it. A small thing but more or less mine own.’ This book does please and has pleased. It is immensely enjoyable, is written with great gusto and Osborne has had better notices for it than for any of his plays since Inadmissible Evidence ...

A Tall Stranger in Hoxton

John Bossy, 3 July 1997

The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 
by Antonia Fraser.
Weidenfeld, 347 pp., £20, August 1996, 9780297813484
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... settled that, they swore an oath of secrecy, and received communion at a Mass said by the Jesuit John Gerard, who was in the next room: they presumably understood this as turning their undertaking into a religious vow and conjoining them in sacred solidarity. The first part of the scheme went with absurd facility. The conspirators rented some lodgings which ...

Upper and Lower Cases

Tom Nairn, 24 August 1995

A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the Union of 1707 
edited by John Robertson.
Cambridge, 368 pp., £40, April 1995, 0 521 43113 1
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The Autonomy of Modern Scotland 
by Lindsay Paterson.
Edinburgh, 218 pp., £30, September 1994, 0 7486 0525 8
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... began by aborting Constitutional change and is ending in a state of Constitutional rigor mortis. John Major’s Government contemplates no political evolution whatever on the mainland, as distinct from in Ireland, and advertises this rigidity as ‘defence of the Union’. When it founders, however, such intransigence will be overtaken by long overdue ...

Snug

John Bayley, 9 September 1993

The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... espionage worlds, and subsequently in business journalism. Unlike Fleming’s previous biographer John Pearson, Donald McCormick makes no attempt to psychologise his subject – or to reproduce the fluency which made Pearson’s book read as easily as a James Bond thriller. His justification is to produce, among much that is already familiar, some new ...

Poor Stephen

James Fox, 23 July 1987

An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen Ward 
by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy.
Cape, 268 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 224 02347 0
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Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward 
by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 297 79122 2
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... to place on record their sense of admiration for the dignity and courage displayed by Mr and Mrs John Profumo and their family in the quarter-century since the episode occurred. ‘This letter,’ they continued, ‘also records our feelings that it is now appropriate to consign the episode to history.’ It was an odd letter and I would be surprised if Lord ...

Beyond the Cringe

John Barrell: British Art, 2 June 2016

Art in Britain 1660-1815 
by David Solkin.
Yale, 367 pp., £55, October 2015, 978 0 300 21556 4
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... for its ‘gentleness and refinement’. On the other hand, the fact that so many portraits by John Opie ‘are thoroughly dull, if not frankly bad’, was owed to the fact that as the son of a carpenter ‘he had no elegance in his make-up, but was commissioned to do portraits of fashionable persons.’ Remarkable for its range as Waterhouse’s book ...

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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... in the land. My father deplored Howard Johnson’s and the House of Pancakes, Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey, Leon Uris and Herman Wouk. When Dwight Macdonald’s famous essay ‘Masscult and Midcult’ was published in Partisan Review, he was ecstatic, chuckling over Macdonald’s assault on the pretensions of those contemptible middlebrows Thornton Wilder and ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... Adolf Grünbaum in Pittsburgh, to Richard Swinburne in Oxford, to David Deutsch in Headington, to John Leslie in Canada, to Derek Parfit, again in Oxford. He meets Roger Penrose in New York, has phone conversations with Steven Weinberg and John Updike. These conversations become a way of evoking possibilities as much as ...

Torday’s Scorpion

Basil Davidson, 9 April 1992

The African Experience 
by Roland Oliver.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £19.99, August 1991, 0 297 82022 2
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A Thousand Years of East Africa 
by John Sutton.
British Institute in Eastern Africa, 111 pp., £8, November 1990, 1 872566 00 6
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When the grass is gone 
edited by P.W.T. Baxter.
Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 215 pp., December 1991, 91 7106 318 8
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The Scramble for Africa 
by Thomas Pakenham.
Weidenfeld, 738 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 297 81130 4
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... to a wider public, and in this respect can be seen at its best in a lucid account by its director, John Sutton, of many-handed research over the past twenty years in the vast region which lies between the Indian Ocean and the eastern periphery of the Congo Basin. What has been here at stake is partly the history of the coast and offshore islands, and partly ...

Bond in Torment

John Lanchester: James Bond, 5 September 2002

From Russia with Love, Dr No and Goldfinger 
by Ian Fleming.
Penguin, 640 pp., £10.99, April 2002, 0 14 118680 1
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... many others, he was rescued from himself by the war. Fleming wangled a job working for Admiral Godfrey in Naval Intelligence, and was good at it – cunning, inventive, industrious. He made a particular success of his time as a liaison officer in Washington. After the war he had another go at journalism, this time as an executive for the Sunday Times, and ...

Every Club in the Bag

R.W. Johnson: Whitehall and Moscow, 8 August 2002

The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War 
by Peter Hennessy.
Allen Lane, 234 pp., £16.99, March 2002, 0 7139 9626 9
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Know Your Enemy: How the Joint Intelligence Committee Saw the World 
by Percy Cradock.
Murray, 351 pp., £25, March 2002, 0 7195 6048 9
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... become his chief of Intelligence; and the formidable Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear-Admiral Godfrey, and his assistant Ian Fleming. Their meetings must have been fun. Godfrey, brilliant but acerbic, called the RAF the Royal Advertisement Service, and dismissed the Army as the ‘evacuees’, the people the Navy had ...

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