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All the Sad Sages

Ferdinand Mount: Bagehot, 6 February 2014

Memoirs of Walter Bagehot 
by Frank Prochaska.
Yale, 207 pp., £18.99, August 2013, 978 0 300 19554 5
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... beards and whiskers with sad, rheumy eyes – Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Swinburne, William Morris, Leslie Stephen, Tennyson – giving off a steamy despair. They had heard the melancholy long withdrawing roar of faith, and they did not like the sound of it. Today relegated to a wall in a side room, these literary men seem to take second billing to the wall ...

Pool of Consciousness

Jane Miller, 21 February 1980

by Dorothy Richardson.
Virago, £3.50, November 1980, 0 86068 100 9
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... the boredom of its conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.’ Leslie Fiedler found another kind of boredom in Pilgrimage, one he defended, grudgingly, as ‘a warranty of its commitment to truth and the dull reality we all inhabit’. The notion of a ‘commitment to truth’ is acceptable enough, but the novel’s admirers ...

Short Cuts

Rory Scothorne: Under New Management, 13 August 2020

... wrote in the 1972 edition of Parliamentary Socialism, channelling disillusionment with Harold Wilson, who appeared to have betrayed his left-wing promise. Miliband thought the left within the party would always struggle to influence a moderate leadership; it seemed impossible to him, as it did to everyone until it actually happened, that someone as ...

A Little Bit of Showing Off

Adam Phillips: Isherwood’s 1960s, 6 January 2011

The Sixties: Diaries 1960-69 
by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 756 pp., £30, November 2010, 978 0 7011 6940 4
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... emigration to America, and his sense of himself as a writer. Not the kind, as he says of Angus Wilson, who ‘proudly calls your attention to every single God-damned nuance’, but a ‘“reassuring” type of writer’ who ‘takes you by the hand and leads you step by step from a familiar into an unfamiliar situation’. Isherwood knew from his own ...

Destined to Disappear

Susan Pedersen: ‘Race Studies’, 20 October 2016

White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations 
by Robert Vitalis.
Cornell, 272 pp., $29.95, November 2015, 978 0 8014 5397 7
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... field’s core concepts (realism, liberal internationalism) back to Thucydides or Machiavelli or Wilson is, Vitalis insists, a post-1945 invention. Instead, at the moment of its American birth, ‘international relations meant race relations.’ Races, not states or nations, were considered humanity’s foundational political units; ‘race war’ – not ...

I am the fifth dimension!

Bee Wilson, 27 July 2017

Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra Special Talking Mongoose 
by Christopher Josiffe.
Strange Attractor, 404 pp., £15.99, April 2017, 978 1 907222 48 1
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... reported that an animal which may have been Gef had been dramatically captured and killed. Mr Leslie Graham, a retired army lieutenant who bought the farmhouse after Margaret Irving sold up, was putting away his motorcycle one night when he was startled by an animal with gleaming eyes. It had a weasel-like appearance but it was bigger than a weasel, more ...

Deity with Fairy Wings

Emily Witt: Girlhood, 8 September 2016

The Girls 
by Emma Cline.
Chatto, 355 pp., £12.99, June 2016, 978 1 78474 044 3
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... centre Russell instead of Charles. The cult’s celebrity patron is called Mitch instead of Dennis Wilson, and the group lives rent-free on a ranch where they help raise llamas instead of renting out horses, as the Manson family did at Spahn Ranch. Cline also removes all reference to Helter Skelter – Manson’s delusional plan to incite a race war in ...

Don’t let that crybaby in here again

Steven Shapin: The Manhattan Project, 7 September 2000

In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist 
by S.S. Schweber.
Princeton, 260 pp., £15.95, May 2000, 0 691 04989 0
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Atomic Fragments: A Daughter’s Questions 
by Mary Palevsky.
California, 289 pp., £15.95, June 2000, 0 520 22055 2
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... remind him of a bet they’d struck on the outcome: ‘Oppie, you owe me ten dollars.’ General Leslie Groves, the overall Director of the Manhattan Project, immediately appreciated the military significance of what he’d just seen: ‘The bang must certainly have been a pretty big one . . . The war’s over.’ For the most part, if the scientists and ...

Imperial Graveyard

Samuel Moyn: Richard Holbrooke, 6 February 2020

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century 
by George Packer.
Cape, 592 pp., £25, May 2019, 978 1 910702 92 5
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... before becoming a foreign service officer in Rusk’s department, he compared Rusk to Woodrow Wilson in a term paper. Wilson ‘had a beautiful dream’ of global freedom and peace on the American model, Holbrooke wrote, and ‘it shone in the skies for all the world to see and – for a while – believe.’Holbrooke ...

Educating the Blimps

Geoffrey Best: Military history, 10 June 1999

Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart 
by Alex Danchev.
Weidenfeld, 369 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 297 81621 7
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Studies in British Military Thought: Debates with Fuller and Liddell Hart 
by Brian Holden Reid.
Nebraska, 287 pp., £30, October 1998, 0 8032 3927 0
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... needed shock treatment, cannily and even mischievously arranged for it to come in the form of Leslie Hore-Belisha, patron saint of road safety. This unlikeliest of all holders of the office was, Danchev writes, ‘outré, perfervid and Jewish; a celibate sensualist, a congenital iconoclast and a National Liberal. He dined off black plates and dreamed of ...

Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley, 2 April 1987

Randall Jarrell’s Letters 
edited by Mary Jarrell.
Faber, 540 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 571 13829 2
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The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore 
edited by Patricia Willis.
Faber, 723 pp., £30, January 1987, 0 571 14788 7
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... Alfred Kazin, Lionel Trilling, Delmore Schwartz, Allen Tate, Kenneth Burke, Robert Fitzgerald, Leslie Fiedler and John Crowe Ransom – this last its founder as a school of literary criticism ‘to teach those who teach it’. Marianne Moore, in Brooklyn, had a quieter time, but was just as much in touch with them all through friends and books. All the ...


Mark Hertsgaard, 5 August 1993

On the Home Front: The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site 
by Michele Stenehjem Gerber.
Nebraska, 312 pp., £33.25, January 1993, 0 8032 2145 2
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The Nuclear Peninsula 
by Françoise Zonabend, translated by J.A. Underwood.
Cambridge, 138 pp., £19.95, April 1993, 0 521 41321 4
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... have to be taken that in more normal times would be considered reckless in the extreme,’ General Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, later wrote. Solving the waste problem was regarded as a bothersome, secondary chore, something to be put off in favour of more exciting and prestigious endeavours. Carroll ...

There are some limits Marlowes just won’t cross

Christopher Tayler: Banville’s Marlowe, 3 April 2014

The Black-Eyed Blonde 
by Benjamin Black.
Mantle, 320 pp., £16.99, February 2014, 978 1 4472 3668 9
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... or wasn’t only, a pulp craftsman embittered by the faint praise he’d been lobbed by Edmund Wilson before the likes of Eliot and Auden announced themselves as fans. Slick magazine writers were no good either – ‘their scenes are almost tiresomely neat … but they are little men who have forgotten how to pray’ – and when discussing the right way ...

Really Very Exhilarating

R.W. Johnson: Macmillan and the Guardsmen, 7 October 2004

The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends and the World They Made 
by Simon Ball.
HarperCollins, 456 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 00 257110 2
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... for reasons which I wholly understand, this experience was not vouchsafed to Mr Gaitskell, Mr Wilson, Mr Brown, Mr Jay and the other leading members of the Labour front bench.’ This probably made little impact on Gaitskell and Co, but for Macmillan’s generation the fact that the entire Labour front bench had avoided active service was something to be ...


Michael Neve, 3 September 1981

The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas de Quincey 
by Grevel Lindop.
Dent, 433 pp., £12, July 1981, 0 460 04358 7
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... moment, Mrs de Quincey withdrew Thomas from the school. The reasons for this are obscure, although Leslie Stephen, in his entry for the Dictionary of National Biography, stresses that she felt Thomas had become ‘vain’ in his learning. It was clearly a damaging thing to do, and may have contributed to de Quincey’s opting, in his mature prose style, for ...

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