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Descending Sloth

John Maynard Smith, 1 April 1982

The Mammalian Radiations: An Analysis of Trends in Evolution, Adaptation and Behaviour 
by John Eisenberg.
Athlone, 610 pp., £32, December 1981, 0 485 30008 7
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... actually do and to ask questions about how and why they do it, and in part to men like Lack and MacArthur, who related the observed behaviour of particular species to their ecology, and to the selective forces acting on them. It is a striking fact that all these four men, and many of their immediate followers, worked primarily on birds (for the sake of my ...

Something Fine and Powerful

Thomas Laqueur: Pearl Harbor Redux, 25 August 2011

Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq 
by John Dower.
Norton/The New Press, 596 pp., £22, October 2010, 978 0 393 06150 5
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... In June 2001, John Dower, a historian of Japan, wrote a comment piece in the New York Times about the blockbuster movie Pearl Harbor. The problem with it, he thought, was not its predictable romantic digressions or historical errors but its moral obtuseness. Like earlier films on the subject, it was ‘a paean to patriotic ardour and an imagined American innocence … sanitised to an attractive level of virtual violence ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Synecdoche, New York’, 11 June 2009

Synecdoche, New York 
directed by Charlie Kaufman.
April 2009
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... that is. He knows what every character in a Charlie Kaufman movie knows, whether it’s Being John Malkovich, Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He knows that reality puts up scarcely any resistance to fear or fantasy, and that inside every head is a cast of thousands ready to misrepresent the owner. This is essentially a comic idea ...

How Dirty Harry beat the Ringo Kid

Michael Rogin, 9 May 1996

John Wayne: American 
by Randy Roberts and James Olson.
Free Press, 738 pp., £17.99, March 1996, 0 02 923837 4
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... of passers-by, welcoming travellers to Orange County. He used to straddle the entrance to the John Wayne International Airport; now, so as not to suffer the weatherbeaten fate of the original, the cowboy statue has sought protection from the elements and taken shelter indoors. Florence has David, also transferred from open to inner space; Orange County ...

All Together Now

Richard Jenkyns, 11 December 1997

Abide with Me: The World of Victorian Hymns 
by Ian Bradley.
SCM, 299 pp., £30, June 1997, 9780334026921
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The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study 
by J.R. Watson.
Oxford, 552 pp., £65, July 1997, 0 19 826762 2
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... with ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ (Phillips Brooks) and ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ (John Greenleaf Whittier) as runners-up. Among the works of the canonical English poets, the lines known to most people are probably those beginning Blake’s Milton, ‘And did those feet in ancient time ...’, which Parry set to music and turned into the hymn ...

Artovsky Millensky

Andrew O’Hagan: The Misfit, 1 January 2009

Arthur Miller, 1915-62 
by Christopher Bigsby.
Weidenfeld, 739 pp., £30, November 2008, 978 0 297 85441 8
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... House, who kept telling us . . . that the system was perfectly sound, who sent General Douglas MacArthur to burn the camp of the unemployed war veterans who had come to appeal to Washington, we wondered about the survival of representative American institutions; and we became more and more impressed by the achievements of the Soviet Union. National ...

Keep slogging

Andrew Bacevich: The Trouble with Generals, 21 July 2005

Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-18 
edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne.
Weidenfeld, 550 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 297 84702 3
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... and far costlier conflict emerged. He turned out to be less like Patton and more like the MacArthur of November 1950 who, believing his own press clippings, had foolishly promised to have the troops home from Korea by Christmas. As Nato’s supreme commander, Wesley Clark faced an altogether different adversary: Slobodan Milosevic, the president of ...

Perseverate My Doxa

Emily Witt: What's up, Maggie Nelson?, 16 December 2021

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint 
by Maggie Nelson.
Jonathan Cape, 288 pp., £20, September 2021, 978 1 78733 269 0
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... other books – Meghan Daum’s The Problem with Everything; Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances; John McWhorter’s Woke Racism – but Nelson is unusual in wanting to be read as a good-faith actor. She signals her allegiance to the etiquette of political correctness and believes in its values, but she thinks we should find a middle way, one that doesn’t ...

A Pie Every Night

Deborah Friedell: Schizophrenia in the Family, 18 February 2021

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family 
by Robert Kolker.
Quercus, 377 pp., £25, April 2020, 978 0 385 54376 7
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... Oxford and Yale, is a tenured law professor at the University of Southern California and has won a MacArthur genius grant. She ends the book with an account of her wedding, full of gratitude for her ‘wonderful … rich life’. Now that’s comforting. Or if the years pass, and the psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, healers and ...


Alan Bennett: Finding My Métier, 4 January 2018

... friend of Patrick’s, he talked mostly to him, but Princess Margaret didn’t confine herself to John Gielgud and Paul Eddington but to her credit wanted to meet the boys in the play, which she did, though I suspect most of them had no idea who she was. In 1984 Snowdon took pictures of me for (I think) the Sunday Times after the shooting of A Private ...

Just Had To

R.W. Johnson: LBJ, 20 March 2003

The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Vol III: Master of the Senate 
by Robert A. Caro.
Cape, 1102 pp., £30, August 2002, 0 394 52836 0
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... out the right-wing storm of the early 1950s. While Richard Russell was quietly destroying Douglas MacArthur with elaborate courtesy and serpentine procedure in the Armed Services Committee, LBJ dealt with Joe McCarthy. Knowing that many Democratic voters and senators might take McCarthy’s side if his hysteria was confronted, LBJ warned liberals like ...

Who’s in, who’s out?

Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka: The Nonproliferation Complex, 23 February 2012

... the Pugwash conference. Funding comes from governments and from large bodies such as the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, the Ploughshares Fund, the Carnegie Corporation and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Nonproliferation became a formal objective of the international community in 1968, when most of the world’s sovereign states signed the ...

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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... perspective on Britain’s relationship to the US requires. It emerges that while the Pentagon and MacArthur both thought the main danger in Korea was that South Korean forces were so superior to their Northern counterparts that it would be difficult to stop Syngman Rhee starting a war, the British believed that the danger came from the North and were saying ...


Tariq Ali: Richard Sorge’s Fate, 21 November 2019

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent 
by Owen Matthews.
Bloomsbury, 448 pp., £25, March 2019, 978 1 4088 5778 6
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... Ian Fleming called him the ‘most formidable spy in history’; other admirers included John le Carré, Tom Clancy and General MacArthur. Owen Matthews – whose new biography of Sorge is the fifth to appear in English – is well qualified to write this book: his Ukrainian maternal grandfather was Boris ...

Why the bastards wouldn’t stand and fight

Murray Sayle: Mao in Vietnam, 21 February 2002

China and the Vietnam Wars 1950-75 
by Qiang Zhai.
North Carolina, 304 pp., $49.95, April 2000, 0 8078 4842 5
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None so Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam 
by George Allen.
Ivan Dee, 296 pp., $27.50, October 2001, 1 56663 387 7
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No Peace, No Honour: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam 
by Larry Berman.
Free Press, 334 pp., $27.50, November 2001, 0 684 84968 2
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... of later zealots – a thesis confirmed for Mao in the autumn of 1950, when General Douglas MacArthur, at the head of a mostly American army, invaded North Korea, proclaiming his intention of destroying the regime of Mao’s friend-in-need, Kim Il Sung. After a clear warning Mao threw 300,000 PLA into the Korean fighting, out-generalled and routed ...

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