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What exactly did he discover?

John Ziman, 3 May 1984

‘Subtle is the Lord’: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein 
by Abraham Pais.
Oxford, 552 pp., £15, October 1982, 9780198539070
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The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature 
by Heinz Pagels.
Joseph, 370 pp., £10.95, March 1983, 0 7181 2217 8
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Philosophy and the New Physics 
by Jonathan Powers.
Methuen, 203 pp., £3.95, December 1982, 0 416 73480 4
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Albert Einstein: The Centennial Symposium in Jerusalem 
edited by Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana.
Princeton, 439 pp., £24.70, August 1982, 0 06 908299 5
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... pacifist is cast incongruously in the role of the magician whose incantations unleash demonic powers. This formula does, in fact, come out of relativity theory – but it is only one example of the immense technological consequences of Einstein’s theoretical research. The hypothesis that light itself is quantised, which he put forward in that same ...

Between Jesus and Napoleon

Jonathan Haslam: The Paris Conference of 1919, 15 November 2001

Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 574 pp., £25, September 2001, 0 7195 5939 1
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... order that underpinned the entire international system. Taking the hostility of these two weighty powers into account, the Italian Prime Minister rightly worried that ‘the settlement to be arrived at’ would ‘lack the assent of more than half of the population of the European continent’. Two key points emerge: first, the Allies as well as the Central ...


Jonathan Sumption, 16 July 1981

Crusader Institutions 
by Joshua Prawer.
Oxford, 519 pp., £30, September 1980, 0 19 822536 9
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... history of the past two centuries. But they have been, by and large, the achievement of colonial powers, and their political development remained in the retentive hands of European functionaries. Israel is different, and so were the Crusading kingdoms of the Levant which preceded it. Here, moreover, Europeans were not colonials but migrants, creating their ...

Journeys across Blankness

Jonathan Parry: Mapping the Middle East, 19 October 2017

Dislocating the Orient: British Maps and the Making of the Middle East, 1854-1921 
by Daniel Foliard.
Chicago, 336 pp., £45, April 2017, 978 0 226 45133 6
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... was the longest-running and most intractable diplomatic problem in the world. All the European powers had good reasons to keep the Ottoman regime intact across most of its sprawling, often only half-governed territories, even though some of them also had particular reasons for wanting to take over specific bits of that territory, mainly in the Balkans or ...

The Manchu Conquest

Jonathan Spence, 7 August 1986

The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th-Century China 
by Frederic Wakeman.
California, 736 pp., £63.75, January 1986, 0 520 04804 0
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... the Manchu Qing regime recovered faster from the effects of this crisis than any of the European powers is a provocative one, that will only be definitively assessed when the true impact of the erratic shifts in bullion flow on China has received further attention. But it is a worthy attempt to draw China into world history, and it is supplemented by ...

Wear flames in your hair

William Skidelsky: Jonathan Lethem and back-street superheroes, 24 June 2004

The Fortress of Solitude 
by Jonathan Lethem.
Faber, 511 pp., £12.99, January 2004, 0 571 21933 0
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... Jonathan Lethem’s novels tend to be fusions of genres. As She Climbed across the Table (1997) is a science-fiction campus novel; Girl in Landscape (1998) an SF western. Gun, with Occasional Music (1994), his first novel, is a detective story set in a dystopian future. Narcotics are doled out by the state, and knowledge of the past has been eradicated ...

Her eyes were wild

John Bayley, 2 May 1985

Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Selection 
edited by Alan Hill.
Oxford, 200 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 19 818539 1
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Dorothy Wordsworth 
by Robert Gittings and Jo Manton.
Oxford, 318 pp., £12.50, March 1985, 0 19 818519 7
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The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, The Two-Part Prelude 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Cambridge, 76 pp., £7.95, January 1985, 0 521 26526 6
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The Ruined Cottage, The Brothers, Michael 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Cambridge, 82 pp., £7.95, January 1985, 0 521 26525 8
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... things that I have seen I now can see no more’) confirmed and supported Wordsworth’s powers. The Immortality Ode has all the gusto of a celebration of his uniquely creative form of solipsism, whose powers of sympathy are as great as its powers of attracting love, or of ...

To Serve My Friends

Jonathan Parry, 27 January 2022

Trust and Distrust: Corruption in Office in Britain and Its Empire, 1600-1850 
by Mark Knights.
Oxford, 488 pp., £35, December 2021, 978 0 19 879624 4
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... pandemic has exposed some uncomfortable truths about the modern British state: its vast emergency powers, but also its unpreparedness for the unexpected, its scope for inefficiency under lax leadership, and its instinctive reliance on corporate contracts. In November 2020, the National Audit Office reported that the government had awarded £18 billion in ...

An American Romance

Edward Mendelson, 18 February 1982

Old Glory: An American Voyage 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 527 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 9780002165211
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No particular place to go 
by Hugo Williams.
Cape, 200 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 224 01810 8
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... Old Glory – the book written by Jonathan Raban – is an altogether different book from the Old Glory that was praised in the reviews, but it is no less wonderful for that. The book the reviewers wrote about does not exist at all, except as the ghost of an intention. This phantasmal Old Glory is the book which Raban originally planned to write, and which he expected would be little more than an elegant travel diary: the record of a passive drifting journey down the Mississippi in the track of Huckleberry Finn ...

Angelic Porcupine

Jonathan Parry: Adams’s Education, 3 June 2021

The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams 
by David S. Brown.
Scribner, 464 pp., £21.20, November 2020, 978 1 9821 2823 4
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... make something of his life, an intense seriousness about working out his opinions, and tremendous powers of organisation. Having the run of the 18,000 books at the Adams Old House in Quincy shaped him much more than the dusty traditionalism of Harvard. After graduating, he decided to study in Berlin, thinking it the home of honest philosophical and historical ...

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry: Harry Goes Rogue, 6 February 2020

... It now occupies an almost entirely neutral constitutional space, which has helped to limit the powers and pretensions of politicians. It is a more effective symbol of national unity at times of crisis for being both apolitical and personal. By drawing to his or her fallible self a lot of the popular enthusiasm that might otherwise be bestowed on ...

Grumpy in October

Jonathan Parry: The Anglo-French Project, 21 April 2022

Entente Imperial: British and French Power in the Age of Empire 
by Edward J. Gillin.
Amberley, 288 pp., £20, February, 978 1 3981 0289 7
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... on China in 1859-60, after the Chinese emperor resisted a trade treaty insisted on by the two powers, who had just bombarded Canton. More than 200 ships arrived with 23,000 men and modern artillery, attacked the forts on the river Pei-ho, and opened a path to Peking. After the Chinese captured and tortured a Times correspondent, the allied forces razed ...

Horrible Heresies

Jonathan Rée: Spinoza’s Big Idea, 16 March 2017

The Collected Works of Spinoza Vol. II 
edited and translated by Edwin Curley.
Princeton, 769 pp., £40.95, June 2016, 978 0 691 16763 3
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... and he was soon launched on a posthumous career as the figurehead of the atheistic movements that Jonathan Israel likes to call the ‘radical enlightenment’. Subversive Spinozism was still being championed in plebeian London as late as the 1830s, when – as G.H. Lewes would recall – a poverty-stricken German Jewish watchmaker called Cohn (‘a man of ...

What does China want?

Jonathan Steele: China in the Stans, 24 October 2013

Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia 
by Philip Shishkin.
Yale, 316 pp., £20, June 2013, 978 0 300 18436 5
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The Chinese Question in Central Asia: Domestic Order, Social Change and the Chinese Factor 
by Marlène Laruelle and Sébastien Peyrouse.
Hurst, 271 pp., £40, October 2012, 978 1 84904 179 9
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... site of geostrategic rivalry: it is after all the only place in the world where three imperial powers are fighting for control of the same territory. Russia, the most recent external ruler, exploited the area for two centuries; for commercial as well as nostalgic reasons it is reluctant to lose its remaining influence. China sees the region as a temptingly ...

Why the hawks started worrying and learned to hate the Bomb

John Lewis Gaddis: Nuclear weapons, 1 April 1999

The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons 
by Jonathan Schell.
Granta, 240 pp., £9.99, November 1998, 1 86207 230 2
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... abolition to their own and allied governments – Mrs Thatcher was particularly scathing. But as Jonathan Schell points out in The Gift of Time, ‘history often creates a problem whose only real solution lies beyond the pale of current political acceptability.’ Reykjavik expanded the pale: it brought the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons into the realm ...

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