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Weirdo Possible Genius Child

Daniel Soar: Max Porter

23 May 2019
by Max Porter.
Faber, 213 pp., £12.99, March, 978 0 571 34028 6
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... Sometimes​ you just have to think of England. It may be embarrassing, it may be awful, but it exists. MaxPorter’s Lanny – his second novel – is partly about an idea of England. It’s set in an unnamed village, ‘fewer than fifty redbrick cottages’, within commuting distance of London, a place that is ...

De Mortuis

Christopher Driver

28 June 1990
The Ruffian on the Stair: Reflection on Death 
edited by Rosemary Dinnage.
Viking, 291 pp., £14.99, April 1990, 0 670 82763 0
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Death, Ritual and Bereavement 
edited by Ralph Houlbrooke.
Routledge, 250 pp., £35, October 1990, 0 415 01165 5
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In the Face of Death 
by Peter Noll, translated by Hans Noll.
Viking, 254 pp., £15.99, April 1990, 0 670 80703 6
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... that is really difficult. One name is common to Rosemary Dinnage’s thanatological anthology of personal views about hopes and fears, and the social-historical essays edited by Ralph Houlbrooke: Roy Porter, the historian of medicine. Both in his recorded conversation with Dinnage, who is a research psychologist by discipline, and in his academic essay, ‘Death and the Doctors in Georgian England ...

Chop, Chop, Chop

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Grief Is the Thing with Feathers’

21 January 2016
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 114 pp., £10, September 2015, 978 0 571 32376 0
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... MaxPorter​ ’s compact and splendid book, a polyphonic narrative with elements of the prose poem, cracks open a set of emotions that has become spuriously coherent and tractable. Grief Is the Thing with ...
26 November 1987
Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830-1910 
by Richard Evans.
Oxford, 676 pp., £55, October 1987, 0 19 822864 3
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... as Edwin Chadwick claimed, ‘all filth is disease,’ public health programmes of filth removal would create healthy individuals in a healthy body politic. In Germany, the master of miasmatism was Max von Pettenkofer. He believed that visitations arose from local configurations of natural conditions: variations in atmosphere, soil, the water-table, climatic vagaries. Formulated in this way, the ...

Living on Apple Crumble

August Kleinzahler: James Schuyler

17 November 2005
Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-91 
edited by William Corbett.
Turtle Point, 470 pp., £13.99, May 2005, 1 885586 30 2
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... with the gallery: William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Jane Freilicher, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, Larry Rivers, Norman Bluhm and Fairfield Porter. It all made for a vigorous little scene, a fair bit of it played out at the Cedar Bar, then on 9th St in Greenwich Village, where, as O’Hara would later write, ‘we often wrote poems while ...
21 February 1985
The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. Vol. II: The 20th Century 
by Stephen Koss.
Hamish Hamilton, 718 pp., £25, March 1984, 0 241 11181 1
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Lies, Damned Lies and Some Exclusives 
by Henry Porter.
Chatto, 211 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2841 0
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Garvin of the ‘Observer’ 
by David Ayerst.
Croom Helm, 314 pp., £25, January 1985, 0 7099 0560 2
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The Beaverbrook I Knew 
edited by Logan Gourlay.
Quartet, 272 pp., £11.95, September 1984, 0 7043 2331 1
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... socialist daily paper under democratic control’. At the same time, the ground which had supported a whip-financed political press was breaking up even before the First World War. Northcliffe and Max Aitken, later Beaverbrook, were both on the scene by 1914 – despotic, destructive, uncontrollable tycoons of a new sort. As ‘the system lost confidence in itself,’ especially during the great ...

Building an Empire

J. Hoberman: Oscar Micheaux

19 July 2001
Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Audiences 
by Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence.
Rutgers, 280 pp., £38.95, August 2000, 0 8135 2803 8
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Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux 
by J. Ronald Green.
Indiana, 368 pp., £21.95, August 2000, 0 253 33753 4
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... in the US; last autumn, the New York Film Festival presented a restored print of his best-known silent, Body and Soul (1925), with a new jazz score performed by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. (Max Roach has composed music for another Micheaux silent, The Symbol of the Unconquered.) There are now the two books and at least two more are on the way. There is, as yet, no Micheaux biography ...

Nobbled or Not

Bernard Porter: The Central African Federation

25 May 2006
British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part I: Closer Association 1945-58 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 448 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290586 2
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British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part II: Crisis and Dissolution 1959-65 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 602 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290587 0
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... it: ‘Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith-helmets,’ the columnist Max Boot wrote in 2001. Central Africa shows Britain up rather badly, not as a particularly malevolent colonial power but as a pathetically ineffective, often duplicitous and not very brave one. No ...

It’s already happened

James Meek: The NHS Goes Private

22 September 2011
... in the corridors, where the surgeons have a habit of cuffing one another’s faces affectionately. At the end of a hallway lined with untidy stacks of case notes in wrinkled cardboard folders Martyn Porter, a senior surgeon and the hospital’s clinical chairman, waited in his office to be called to the operating theatre. He fixed me with an intense, tired, humorous gaze. ‘The problem with ...
2 November 1995
TheHistory of Pain 
by Roselyne Rey, translated by Elliott Wallace and J.A. Cadden , and S.W. Cadden.
Harvard, 394 pp., £25.50, October 1995, 0 674 39967 6
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... ophthalmoscopes and (exactly a century ago) X-rays – it became possible to allocate pain to specific bodily sites and pathological events. Rey retraces the conceptual underpinnings for what Max von Frey called the ‘doctrine of specificity’ to the rise of neuroanatomy in the Scientific Revolution. In the 18th century the great Swiss-born physiologist, Albrecht von Haller, clarified the ...

Regret is a shabby thing

Bernard Porter: Knut Hamsun

27 May 2010
Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissenter 
by Ingar Sletten Kolloen, translated by Deborah Dawkin and Erik Skuggevik.
Yale, 378 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 300 12356 2
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Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance 
by Monika Zagar.
Washington, 343 pp., £19.99, May 2009, 978 0 295 98946 4
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... The Dark Side to counter the ‘whitewashing’ of Hamsun which, as she sees it, continues to this day. Included in her indictment are Jan Troell’s 1996 biopic of his later years, Hamsun, with Max von Sydow playing the elderly author, on the whole sympathetically; Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s first, two-volume version of his biography (2003-4) which has now appeared, abridged and translated, as ...

Lab Lib

M.F. Perutz

19 April 1984
Rutherford: Simple Genius 
by David Wilson.
Hodder, 639 pp., £14.95, February 1984, 0 340 23805 4
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... theory of relativity, Rutherford grumbled that this result might ‘draw scientific men away from experiment towards broad metaphysical conceptions’. On the other hand, when the Nazis dismissed Max Born, the pioneer of quantum mechanics, from his chair of theoretical physics at Göttingen, Rutherford immediately moved heaven and earth to find him support, a niche to work in at the Cavendish ...

Don’t talk to pigeons

Ben Jackson: MI5 in WW1

22 January 2015
MI5 in the Great War 
edited by Nigel West.
Biteback, 434 pp., £25, July 2014, 978 1 84954 670 6
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... in other words that it would deter other spies. More to the point, the publicity ended any lingering discussion of dissolving Kell’s department. Helm’s case, along with the subsequent trials of Max Schultz and Armgaard Karl Graves, were also sufficient to secure a remarkable restriction of British civil liberties. In 1911 Churchill, then home secretary, began issuing general warrants to examine ...

Violets in Their Lapels

David A. Bell: Bonapartism

23 June 2005
The Legend of Napoleon 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Granta, 336 pp., £20, August 2004, 1 86207 667 7
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The Retreat 
by Patrick Rambaud, translated by William Hobson.
Picador, 320 pp., £7.99, June 2005, 0 330 48901 1
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Napoleon: The Eternal Man of St Helena 
by Max​ Gallo, translated by William Hobson.
Macmillan, 320 pp., £10.99, April 2005, 0 333 90798 1
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The Saint-Napoleon: Celebrations of Sovereignty in 19th-Century France 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Harvard, 307 pp., £32.95, May 2004, 0 674 01341 7
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Napoleon and the British 
by Stuart Semmel.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 300 09001 3
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... by de Gaulle himself: ‘Napoleon exhausted the goodwill of the French, abused their sacrifices, and covered Europe with graves, ashes and tears.’ Appropriately, The Battle won the Prix Goncourt. Max Gallo’s million-selling quartet of novels, by contrast, gleefully embraces the myth of the ‘grand homme’ in its most lurid, overblown form. If Rambaud displaces the focus from Napoleon to the ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2011

5 January 2012
... 6 January. The alterations we have been having done are now pretty much finished, thanks to Max, a young Latvian who’s unsmiling but an excellent carpenter and Eugene, much jollier and from New Zealand who has supervised it all. Walking round the job this evening R. is shocked to discover in ...

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