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Blowing over the top of a bottle of San Pellegrino

Adam Mars-Jones: Protest Dance Pop, 15 December 2005

Plat du Jour 
by Matthew Herbert.
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... Matthew Herbert’s Plat du Jour is an album of dance tracks united by the theme of food. Herbert has made a name for himself as a producer from collaborations with Róisín Murphy and Björk, but Plat du Jour is a different kettle of fish, a personal project that has taken a couple of years to devise and record ...


C.K. Stead, 15 October 1981

Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait 
by Patrick White.
Cape, 272 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 9780224029247
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... Matthew Arnold worried that a literary reputation in England, unconfirmed by ‘the whole group of civilised nations’ (by which he meant Europe), might be merely provincial. At the same time he was pretty confident about which poets Europe ought, in due course, to favour. Wordsworth was admired at home but not abroad; and since Arnold was sure Wordsworth as a poet in English ranked second only to Shakespeare and Milton, and that among European poets of the 18th and 19th centuries only Goethe was superior, he anticipated a European recognition of Wordsworth which has never come ...

Johnson’s Business

Keith Walker, 7 August 1980

A Dictionary of the English Language 
by Samuel Johnson.
Times, 2558 pp., £45, June 1980, 0 7230 0228 2
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Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson’s Middle Years 
by James Clifford.
Heinemann, 372 pp., £10, February 1980, 0 434 13805 3
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... Foundations, George Cheyne’s Philosophical Principles, Henry More’s Antidote against Atheism, Matthew Hale’s Primitive Origination of Mankind, William Camden’s Remains, Newton’s Optics and works by Sir Kenelm Digby. Johnson drew on hundreds of other writers. To illustrate his reading, and use of quotations, consider the case of George ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert Fergusson, 25 September 2003

‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... essays and poems edited by Robert Crawford. It is also the tenor of many of the pieces in it. As Matthew Wickman puts it, in one of those weaselish generalities that suggest a lurking self-doubt, ‘most scholars believe his most significant poetic achievements are in Scots.’ In fact, the 1773 Poems begins with ‘Poems on Various Subjects’, 28 of ...

Dream On

Katha Pollitt: Bringing up Babies, 11 September 2003

I Don't Know How She Does It 
by Allison Pearson.
Vintage, 256 pp., £6.99, May 2003, 0 09 942838 5
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A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother 
by Rachel Cusk.
Fourth Estate, 224 pp., £6.99, July 2002, 1 84115 487 3
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The Truth about Babies: From A-Z 
by Ian Sansom.
Granta, 352 pp., £6.99, June 2003, 1 86207 575 1
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What Are Children For? 
by Laurie Taylor and Matthew Taylor.
Short Books, 141 pp., £6.99, January 2003, 1 904095 25 9
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The Commercialisation of Intimate Life 
by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
California, 313 pp., £32.95, May 2003, 0 520 21487 0
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... piss smells so good I think about bottling it’; ‘We’re obsessed.’ If Laurie Taylor and Matthew Taylor, father and son, had read Rachel Cusk and Ian Sansom, they might not be so vexed by the question they pose in their title. A pop-sociological essay with autobiographical digressions, What Are Children For? is an odd book in a number of ways, the ...

The Trouble with Nowhere

Martin Jay, 1 June 2000

The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy 
by Russell Jacoby.
Basic Books, 256 pp., £17.95, April 1999, 0 465 02000 3
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Utopias: Russian Modernist Texts 1905-40 
edited by Catriona Kelly.
Penguin, 378 pp., £9.99, September 1999, 0 14 118081 1
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The Faber Book of Utopias 
edited by John Carey.
Faber, 560 pp., £20, October 1999, 9780571197859
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The Nazi War on Cancer 
by Robert Proctor.
Princeton, 390 pp., £18.95, May 1999, 0 691 00196 0
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... In 1967, Herbert Marcuse published a little essay entitled ‘The End of Utopia’, which now reads like a document of a long lost civilisation. Arguing against the pejorative use of the word as a synonym for the absurdly unrealisable, he held that ‘there is one valid criterion for possible realisation, namely, when the material and intellectual forces for the transformation are technically at hand although their rational application is prevented by the existing organisation of the forces of production ...

Too Many Alibis

James Wood: Geoffrey Hill, 1 July 1999

by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 76 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 14 058786 1
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The Truth of Love: A Poem 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 82 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 0 14 058910 4
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... serve to enfranchise these strange children pitiless in their ignorance and contempt? Like Matthew Arnold telling the early Romantic poets that they did not know enough, he needles us with our callowness. Some of the poems in The Triumph of Love adopt voices other than Hill’s, but those that sound like him resemble the angriest poems in Canaan, in ...

A Life of Henry Reed

Jon Stallworthy, 12 September 1991

... as a biographer, he turned to triumphant success in a radio play about a nervous young biographer, Herbert Reeve, engaged on just such a quest as he had himself abandoned. Reed’s hero (whose name owes something to that of Herbert Read, the poet and critic, with whom he was tired of being confused) assembles a mass of ...

Funny Mummy

E.S. Turner, 2 December 1982

The Penguin Stephen Leacock 
by Robertson Davies.
Penguin, 527 pp., £2.95, October 1981, 0 14 005890 7
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Jerome K. Jerome: A Critical Biography 
by Joseph Connolly.
Orbis, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 85613 349 3
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Three Men in a Boat 
by Jerome K. Jerome, annotated and introduced by Christopher Matthew and Benny Green.
Joseph, 192 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 907516 08 4
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The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert 
edited by Peter Haining.
Robson, 255 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 86051 200 2
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... his own in the world of Will Rogers, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, the early Wodehouse, A.P. Herbert and ‘Beachcomber’. Americans, or some of them, accepted him as a successor to Mark Twain. His Yankee-style hyperbole did not, for once, upset the British, for he practised the tricks of ‘sly English humour’ too. He was too near academe to be a ...

Doomed to Draw

Ben Jackson: Magnus Carlsen v. AI, 6 June 2019

The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match that Made Chess Great Again 
by Brin-Jonathan Butler.
Simon and Schuster, 211 pp., £12.99, November 2018, 978 1 9821 0728 4
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Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI 
by Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan.
New in Chess, 416 pp., £19.95, January 2019, 978 90 5691 818 7
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... strategically and learn abstract concepts. ‘If one could devise a successful chess machine,’ Herbert Simon and others suggested in 1958, ‘one would seem to have penetrated to the core of the human intellectual endeavour.’ Combine this with its clear measures of success and readily formalised rules, and chess seemed to offer the perfect testbed for ...

Can we conceive of Beatrice ‘snapping’ like a shrew?

Helen Vendler: How not to do Dante, 1 September 2005

Dante in English 
edited by Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds.
Penguin, 479 pp., £16.99, May 2005, 0 14 042388 5
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... their titles suggest. (An outline of Dante’s life is provided separately in a short essay by Matthew Reynolds, Griffiths’s co-editor.) A reader will come away from Griffiths’s piece having heard a good deal about Dante’s works and the world from which they issued. But the manner of the introduction is so peculiar that its information is less ...


Terry Eagleton: T.S. Eliot’s Politics, 19 September 2002

The ‘Criterion’: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Interwar Britain 
by Jason Harding.
Oxford, 250 pp., £35, April 2002, 9780199247172
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... Eliot derived his poetics from the French Symbolists, so that it was impossible for him to follow Matthew Arnold in finding a solution to spiritual turbulence in poetry as such. The language of poetry cannot deliver a solution of this kind, indeed cannot even comment authoritatively on such a condition, since to be persuasive – which is to say, for ...

Coalition Monsters

Colin Kidd, 6 March 2014

In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government 
by Matthew D’Ancona.
Penguin, 414 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 670 91993 2
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... pact between the Tories and the Lloyd George Liberals, now semi-detached from the Liberal Party of Herbert Asquith. Further schisms followed. The Liberal Nationals, under Sir John Simon, joined the National Government of 1931 and continued for the next thirty years co-operating closely with the Conservatives. Under the Woolton-Teviot Agreement of 1947 the ...


Terry Eagleton, 21 September 1995

George Eliot: A Biography 
by Frederick Karl.
HarperCollins, 708 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 00 255574 3
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... enquiry that delicate dimension of subjectivity so damagingly expelled by Jeremy Bentham and Herbert Spencer. What has happened by the time Eliot springs on the scene is that knowledge has drifted dangerously loose from its emotional moorings, threatening a crisis of ideological faith. There had been, once upon a time, a discourse which both explained to ...

Embracing Islam

Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1991

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 
by Salman Rushdie.
Granta, 432 pp., £17.99, March 1991, 9780140142242
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... the impress of this cultural iconoclasm. The penultimate piece in Imaginary Homelands is his 1990 Herbert Read Memorial Lecture. Its title, ‘Is nothing sacred?’, indicates a credo which is widely shared amongst contemporary writers and academics; one example is Angela Carter’s declaration that ‘In the pursuit of magnificence, nothing is ...

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