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Your life depends on it

Thomas Jones: Jonathan Raban, 19 October 2006

by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2006, 0 330 41338 4
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... American know-all. August Vanags was unworthy of being the author of his own book. Put him on Larry King, and he’d unsell Boy 381 at the rate of thousands a minute. So instead they packed him off to Whidbey Island with an ex-directory phone number and refused all interviews on his behalf. And with good reason, since even Lucy – though perhaps ...

This Condensery

August Kleinzahler: In Praise of Lorine Niedecker, 5 June 2003

Collected Works 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
California, 471 pp., £29.95, May 2002, 0 520 22433 7
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Collected Studies in the Use of English 
by Kenneth Cox.
Agenda, 270 pp., £12, September 2001, 9780902400696
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New Goose 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
Listening Chamber, 98 pp., $10, January 2002, 0 9639321 6 0
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... of Poetry of February 1931 had among its contributors Zukofsky, Carl Rakosi (another Wisconsiner), Charles Reznikoff, Basil Bunting, John Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert McAlmon, George Oppen, William Carlos Williams and Whittaker Chambers, a friend of Zukofsky’s from Columbia who, among other things, later translated Bambi from the German. Quite a ...

Axeman as Ballroom Dancer

David Blackbourn, 17 July 1997

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987 
by Richard J. Evans.
Oxford, 1014 pp., £55, March 1996, 0 19 821968 7
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... were striking. In most parts of the Holy Roman Empire, the Carolina Criminal Code promulgated by Charles V held good into the 17th century. It prescribed the death penalty not just for murder and treason, but for arson, blasphemy, counter-feiting, conjuring, witchcraft, abortion, rape, unnatural sex, highway robbery, robbery or attempted robbery with ...

In New York

Hal Foster: Plans for Ground Zero, 20 March 2003

... agency, which runs the transportation hubs of the metropolitan area, owns the site. The developer Larry Silverstein? His group still holds the lease to the Twin Towers, which remains valid. The city? The state? The Federal Government? The families of the victims? Lower Manhattanites? All New Yorkers? Americans in general? Citizens of the world? Who counts in ...

Buried Alive!

Nick Richardson: Houdini, 14 April 2011

Houdini: Art and Magic 
by Brooke Kamin Rapaport.
Yale, 261 pp., £25, November 2010, 978 0 300 14684 4
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... United States Jail in Washington DC, in the cell that had held James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau. He not only escaped from it, but also, on the way out, opened the cells of two other inmates and made them switch places. Legend has it that he asked the occupant of one of the cells what he’d done to get locked up. ‘I’m a ...

Even Uglier

Terry Eagleton: Music Hall, 20 December 2012

My Old Man: A Personal History of Music Hall 
by John Major.
Harper, 363 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 00 745013 8
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... Wood, Sarah Bernhardt and the Ballets Russes. Dickens was fascinated by the performing style of Charles Mathews, a blacked-up minstrel, and put it to use in his own public readings, though without the burned cork. T.S. Eliot revered Marie Lloyd, and the present queen’s grandmother, the hatchet-faced Queen Mary, was an improbable fan of Albert ...

At least they paid their taxes

Linda Colley, 25 July 1991

Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography 
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam, 532 pp., £16.99, April 1991, 0 593 02450 8
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... not, as might have been expected, use Smith as a gateway to a nice fresh-faced Yalie called, say, Charles (‘Chip’) Staunton Webster III, with a law opening in Daddy’s firm in Boston and a summer place in New Hampshire. Instead, she took up acting, still very much a déclassé occupation, and decided to go to Hollywood. She got there, Kelley claims, by ...

Confusion of Tongues

Steven Shapin: Scientific Languages, 3 December 2015

Scientific Babel: The Language of Science from the Fall of Latin to the Rise of English 
by Michael Gordin.
Profile, 432 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 1 78125 114 0
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... than other European languages including French, Italian and even Latin. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V picked out the roles to which different languages were best suited: Spanish to speak with God, French to speak with men, Italian with women and German to horses. A similar remark has been attributed to the Prussian Frederick the Great, who added that ...


Ian Sansom: I was a teenage evangelist, 8 July 2004

... and Frank Morison’s Who Moved the Stone? I read Nicky Cruz’s Run, Baby, Run, and books by Charles Colson, books which are still in print years after their first publication, Christian megasellers. I also spent a lot of time in prayer, and in daydreams. I was completely happy. I was a solipsist. I was saved. Then, the August after I left school, guided ...


John Burnside: Death and Photography, 18 December 2014

... taken for granted by millions, including possibly the same 86 per cent of Americans who told the Larry King Show that they believed in aliens and almost certainly the proportion of that number who say that those aliens have the same supernatural abilities as Lucifer and the fallen angels. Today’s testimony doesn’t stretch that far. In fact, it’s fairly ...

Boxing the City

Gaby Wood, 31 July 1997

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell 
by Deborah Solomon.
Cape, 426 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 224 04242 4
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... are his selected diaries, Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, edited by Mary Ann Caws, and Charles Simic’s prose poems, an inspired labour of love called Dime Store Alchemy. Cornell’s life as an artist began the day he showed his Ernst-inspired collages to Julien Levy, whose gallery brought Surrealism to America. Levy asked Cornell to design the ...
Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 320 pp., $24.95, May 1996, 0 520 20407 7
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... which is credited with destroying silent cinema. Already primed on the show-biz sensations of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight and Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs, the 1927 audience reached a new plateau of hysteria. Although The Jazz Singer’s profit margin has been overestimated (by Rogin as well), the movie instantly established Warners as a ...

What kind of funny is he?

Rivka Galchen: Under Kafka’s Spell, 4 December 2014

Kafka: The Years of Insight 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 682 pp., £24.95, June 2013, 978 0 691 14751 2
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Kafka: The Decisive Years 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 552 pp., £16.25, June 2013, 978 0 691 14741 3
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... the ending of A Handful of Dust, when we meet the illiterate man in the Brazilian jungle who loves Charles Dickens’s writing so much he holds the protagonist, Tony Last, captive so that he can read Dickens to him until the end of his days. Sometimes I thought of Stach as the captive and Kafka as the captor in this analogy, and sometimes the other way ...

Like Boiling a Frog

David Runciman: The Future of Wikipedia, 28 May 2009

The Wikipedia Revolution 
by Andrew Lih.
Aurum, 252 pp., £14.99, March 2009, 978 1 84513 473 0
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... Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution is that both Jimmy Wales and one of his first collaborators, Larry Sanger, are self-confessed and totally earnest ‘objectivists’, meaning followers of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Sanger wrote his doctoral thesis at Ohio State University under the title ‘Epistemic Circularity: An Essay on the Problem of ...

White Power

Thomas Meaney, 1 August 2019

Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America 
by Kathleen Belew.
Harvard, 330 pp., £23.95, April 2018, 978 0 674 28607 8
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Revolutionaries for the Right Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War 
by Kyle Burke.
North Carolina, 337 pp., June 2018, 978 1 4696 4073 0
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... but ultimately productive relationship with Reagan. In 1979 the anti-communist Georgia congressman Larry McDonald established the Western Goals Foundation, a privately funded version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which had been wound up four years earlier. Like HUAC, McDonald’s database stored files on thousands of Americans deemed ...

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