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What did he think he was?

Tom Shippey: Ælfred the Great

10 May 2018
Ælfred’s Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age 
by Max Adams.
Head of Zeus, 509 pp., £9.99, May 2018, 978 1 78408 031 0
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... The two words​ of MaxAdams’s title are in a way antithetical. Alfred is the only English king to be referred to regularly as ‘the Great’, and once upon a time the reason was well known to everyone.* It was because, early ...

Jigsaw Mummies

Tom Shippey: Pagan Britain

6 November 2014
Pagan Britain 
by Ronald Hutton.
Yale, 480 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 300 19771 6
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The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria 
by Max Adams.
Head of Zeus, 450 pp., £25, August 2013, 978 1 78185 418 1
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... the Mabon Stane still stands by the Solway shore. We remain at liberty to construct our own fictions from the facts. It may​ nevertheless be a relief to turn from nameless skeletons to MaxAdams’s study of King Oswald, also Saint Oswald, king of Northumbria from 634 to 642 ce. It’s unclear why he was selected as the focus for Adams’s attention. There were many other kings in the north ...
16 September 1999
Bonar Law 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 458 pp., £25, April 1999, 0 7195 5422 5
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... Meeting him socially, the young Harold Macmillan found him a crashing bore and his politics were similarly far from exciting. Yet he may have been more important than posterity has allowed. R.J.Q. Adams makes that case quietly but firmly. He was, on the face of it, an unusual choice for Party leader. To begin with, he was middle-class, a businessman with interests in metal and banking, when the ...

Adored Gazelle

Ferdinand Mount: Cherubino at Number Ten

20 March 2008
Balfour: The Last Grandee 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 479 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 7195 5424 7
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... politician’. In 1911, Balfour cautioned the Palace against awarding the Order of Merit to Rosebery. Five years later, Rosebery bitterly opposed Balfour’s OM. It is perhaps over the top for R.J.Q. Adams to subtitle his Life of Balfour, ‘The Last Grandee’, with Rosebery lurking up the Firth of Forth getting steadily fatter and redder in the face, while Balfour remained lithe and bonny on his 36 ...

Kill the tuna can

Christopher Tayler: George Saunders

8 June 2006
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 358 pp., £10.99, June 2006, 0 7475 8221 1
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... Nation have allegorical touches too. In these, though, the satire is more sharply focused and the comedy is darker. ‘The Red Bow’ allegorises the political exploitation of 11 September, ‘Adams’ the decision to invade Iraq. Both establish their parallels obliquely and stand up as stories rather than editorial cartoons; ‘Adams’ is also very funny in a slightly disturbing way. Along ...

Amigos

Christopher Ricks

2 August 1984
The Faber Book of Parodies 
edited by Simon Brett.
Faber, 383 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 571 13125 5
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Lilibet: An Account in Verse of the Early Years of the Queen until the Time of her Accession 
by Her Majesty.
Blond and Briggs, 95 pp., £6.95, May 1984, 0 85634 157 6
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... Carroll wrote it, without the ‘very’. A poet called Lord Alfred Tennyson, not to be confused with Alfred Lord Douglas, briefly surfaces like the Kraken; the poem is here a Mort and there a Morte. Max Beerbohm’s parody of Henry James is readily and roughly transcribed: for ‘caught in her tone’, read ‘caught her tone’; for ‘feverish’, read ‘feverishly’; for ‘physically’, read ...

Sea Creatures

Peter Campbell

23 July 1987
Sidney Nolan: Such is life 
by Brian Adams.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £16.95, June 1987, 0 09 168430 7
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Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures 
by John Wilmerding.
Viking, 208 pp., £25, September 1987, 9780670817665
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Faces 1966-1984 
by David Hockney and Marco Livingstone.
Thames and Hudson, 96 pp., £8.95, June 1987, 0 500 27464 9
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... he painted a sequence of pictures of the life and death of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly which were to be his most famous work. The magazine Angry Penguins which had been started in Adelaide by Max Harris was now run jointly with John Reed, and one of Nolan’s paintings was reproduced on the cover of the notorious ‘Ern Malley’ issue. Ern Malley was a poet invented by two young men who ...

Wounds

Stephen Fender

23 June 1988
Hemingway 
by Kenneth Lynn.
Simon and Schuster, 702 pp., £16, September 1987, 0 671 65482 9
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The Faces of Hemingway: Intimate Portraits of Ernest Hemingway by those who knew him 
by Denis Brian.
Grafton, 356 pp., £14.95, May 1988, 0 246 13326 0
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... on inventing it in his private life.’ The reaction started with the publication of Death in the Afternoon in 1932, the hero of which, as Kenneth Lynn cogently expresses it, is not ‘a haunted Nick Adams, or a crippled Jake Barnes, or a hollowed-out Frederic Henry, but an overbearing know-it-all named Ernest Hemingway’. Max Eastman said Hemingway had false hair on his chest. Gertrude Stein, in The ...
20 February 1986
Wranglers and Physicists: Studies in Cambridge Mathematical Physics in the 19th Century 
edited by P.M. Harman.
Manchester, 261 pp., £27.50, November 1985, 0 7190 1756 4
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... its subsequent history could be predicted with as much accuracy as desired, subject only to the patience of the analyst. It was the small discrepancies between prediction and observation that led Adams and Le Verrier to infer the existence of the so far unobserved Neptune, and to calculate with adequate precision where to point the telescope to find it. In this century Pluto was similarly predicted ...

Omnipresent Eye

Patrick Wright: The Nixon/Mao Show

16 August 2007
Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 384 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 7195 6522 7
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... first of many carefully held handshakes. That, as Margaret MacMillan confirms, is more or less what took place at Beijing airport on Monday, 21 February 1972. It’s also the opening scene of John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, premiered in Houston in 1987, and staged again at the London Coliseum over a few evenings last summer. An actual occurrence then, but also, as Adams and his librettist Alice ...

Neo-Catastrophism

Eric Klinenberg: Sinful Cities?

9 October 2003
The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea 
by Thomas Bender.
New Press, 287 pp., $30, September 2002, 1 56584 736 9
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Dead Cities: and Other Tales 
by Mike Davis.
New Press, 448 pp., $16.95, October 2003, 1 56584 844 6
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... are still proposing to use public money to build new athletic stadiums as part of a bid for the 2012 Olympics. Is New York in denial or is it simply entering another stage of what the historian Max Page sees as a continuous process of creative destruction, refusing to let any obstacle block its path? Thomas Bender and Mike Davis are two of America’s leading urban scholars. Bender is a ...

I want to howl

John Lahr: Eugene O’Neill

5 February 2015
Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts 
by Robert Dowling.
Yale, 569 pp., £20, October 2014, 978 0 300 17033 7
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... landscape of its citizens: ‘Prosperity never before imagined, speed never reached by anything but a meteor had made the world irritable, nervous, querulous, unreasonable and afraid,’ Henry Adams wrote in his autobiography (1907): ‘All the new forces, condensed into corporations, were demanding a new type of man – a man with ten times the endurance, energy, will and mind of the old type ...

Who whom?

Christopher Ricks

6 June 1985
The English Language Today 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum.
Pergamon, 345 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 08 031078 8
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The English Language 
by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 194 pp., £9.50, January 1985, 9780192191731
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A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 1779 pp., £39.50, May 1985, 0 582 51734 6
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Words 
by John Silverlight.
Macmillan, 107 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 9780333380109
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Faux Amis and Key Words: A Dictionary-Guide to French Language, Culture and Society through Lookalikes and Confusables 
by Philip Thody, Howard Evans and Gwilym Rees.
Athlone, 224 pp., £16, February 1985, 0 485 11243 4
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Puns 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 631 13793 9
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Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 19 212236 3
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... Redfern is particularly good on the immense range of contradictory impulses alive in punning. Often frantic and sometimes tiring, he is not flippant, scheming or servile. True, he mildly mangles two Max Miller (not Max Müller) jokes, and even one (unacknowledged) of mine: but he does right by the things that matter.As for Fair of Speech, it has pace and pith, and it instructs by delighting. ‘The ...

Self-Made Man

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Edith Wharton’s Domestic Arrangements

5 April 2007
Edith Wharton 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 853 pp., £25, February 2007, 978 0 7011 6665 6
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... was more than the American colony epitomised by the apartment on the rue de Varenne that she and Teddy first rented from the Vanderbilts. If she socialised with other expatriates like James and Henry Adams, she also moved in worlds familiar to Proust, the successive volumes of whose masterwork she read almost as soon as they appeared. The two never met – Wharton later implied, rather implausibly ...

He was the man

Robert Crawford: Ezra Pound

29 June 2016
Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and his Work: Vol. III: The Tragic Years, 1939-72 
by A. David Moody.
Oxford, 654 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 0 19 870436 2
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... was a compulsive anthologist throughout his life, but The Cantos were also biographical in inclination. He sieved biographies, letters and accounts of those he considered great men – whether John Adams or Confucius – to produce poems with distinct overtones of hero-worship. In politics this tendency led to his admiration for Mussolini, and even to that view of Hitler as ‘a Saint’. While caged ...

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