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Britain takes the biscuit

Gordon Brown and Geoff Mulgan, 25 October 1990

The Competitive Advantage of Nations 
by Michael Porter.
Macmillan, 855 pp., £25, May 1990, 0 333 51804 7
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... the average Yugoslav and why the average Scot earns less than the average English man or woman. Michael Porter’s The Competitive Advantage of Nations is audacious (or foolhardy) enough to offer an answer. Its aim is nothing less than a systematic explanation of the wealth of nations, with 52 pages of policy recommendations added on for good ...

Something an academic might experience

Michael Neve, 26 September 1991

The Faber Book of Madness 
edited by Roy Porter.
Faber, 572 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 571 14387 3
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... shared by the social services who now look after him. It is a tribute to the social historian Roy Porter that he has devoted three books, and any number of articles, to the history of the John Sylvesters of this world. A prodigious historian, Porter has done the work that French historians can only theorise about. He has ...

What is concrete?

Michael Wood: Erich Auerbach, 5 March 2015

Time, History and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach 
by Erich Auerbach, edited by James Porter, translated by Jane Newman.
Princeton, 284 pp., £27.95, December 2013, 978 0 691 13711 7
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... a great deal to tell us – although it perhaps won’t now quite tell us what it used to. James Porter, the editor of Time, History and Literature, suggests that Auerbach ‘sought to derive something like a history of mentalities under the guise of Romance philology’, and Emily Apter, in Against World Literature (2013), connects his secular theology to ...

Keepers

Andrew Scull, 29 September 1988

Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency 
by Roy Porter.
Athlone, 412 pp., £25, August 1987, 0 485 11324 4
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The Past and the Present Revisited 
by Lawrence Stone.
Routledge, 440 pp., £19.95, October 1987, 0 7102 1253 4
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Sufferers and Healers: The Experience of Illness in 17th-Century England 
by Lucinda McCray Beier.
Routledge, 314 pp., £30, December 1987, 0 7102 1053 1
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Illness and Self in Society 
by Claudine Herzlich and Janine Pierret, translated by Elborg Forster.
Johns Hopkins, 271 pp., £20.25, January 1988, 0 8018 3228 4
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Medicine and Society in Wakefield and Huddersfield 1780-1870 
by Hilary Marland.
Cambridge, 503 pp., £40, September 1987, 0 521 32575 7
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A Social History of Madness: Stories of the Insane 
by Roy Porter.
Weidenfeld, 261 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 297 79223 7
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... their eyes back on the pre-reform era, saw little reason to dispute its unsavoury reputation. Even Michael MacDonald, whose splen did Mystical Bedlam used the casebooks of the astrological physician and divine Richard Napier to illuminate the mental world of the 17th century, and to suggest that mental alienation and distress might then have been dealt with in ...

Inside Out

John Bayley, 4 September 1980

The Collected Ewart 1933-1980 
by Gavin Ewart.
Hutchinson, 412 pp., £10, June 1980, 0 09 141000 2
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Selected Poems and Prose 
by Michael Roberts, edited by Frederick Grubb.
Carcanet, 205 pp., £7.95, June 1980, 0 85635 263 2
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... there is a poem called ‘It’s hard to dislike Ewart’. Too true, as Clive James or Peter Porter might say, possibly with a certain wry exasperation. Generally speaking, our fondness and admiration for poets does go with a potential of patronage or dislike, a pleasure in our sense of the absurdities and vulnerabilities of their worlds – Keats ...

Is there a health crisis?

Roy Porter, 19 May 1988

The Public Health Challenge 
edited by Stephen Farrow.
Hutchinson, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 09 173165 8
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The Truth about the Aids Panic 
by Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan.
Junius, 68 pp., £1.95, March 1987, 9780948392078
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Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 
by Frank Mort.
Routledge, 280 pp., £7.95, October 1987, 0 7102 0856 1
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Medicine and Labour: The Politics of a Profession 
by Steve Watkins.
Lawrence and Wishart, 272 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85315 639 5
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... Are we, or are we not, in the throes of a health crisis? Read some of what is said, and it seems as though our civilisation is about to collapse in an Aids-related catastrophe, at the very moment when the National Health Service is itself suffering Government-administered euthanasia. Listen to others, and all this is made out to be so much cant, cynically orchestrated by interested parties: on the one hand, to bash the gays; on the other, to aggrandise the medical profession still further ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The United States v. Billie Holiday’, 18 March 2021

... was fun.’ Then she sings ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do’, a song composed by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins, first performed by Anna Meyers and often associated with Bessie Smith. The song is all about independence, and Holiday seems to return to sassy life as she sings it. ‘If I go to church on Sunday,’ one verse runs, ‘Then ...

Prinney, Boney, Boot

Roy Porter, 20 March 1986

The English Satirical Print 1600-1832 
edited by Michael Duffy.
Chadwyck-Healey, February 1986
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... within the rich cultures and subcultures of agitation in and out of doors. In the light of this, Michael Duffy, as general editor of this series, has rightly decided that a substantial explanatory introduction was needed for each volume and he has assembled a first-rate team of historians to address such problems. Several have interpreted their brief as ...

‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 11 September 2003

Kate Remembered 
by A. Scott Berg.
Simon and Schuster, 318 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 7432 0676 2
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... picture, and Hepburn says, ‘Oh, I see; you’re one of those,’ and recalls the visits of Cole Porter, who would ‘straighten pictures for five minutes before he’d even sit down’. There are some fine set pieces. There is a Parcheesi game at Hepburn’s house in Connecticut, where Hepburn, who hates to lose, blames her defeat on having Berg as a ...

Viva la joia

Roy Porter, 22 December 1983

Montaigne: Essays in Reading 
edited by Gérard Defaux.
Yale, 308 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 0 300 02977 2
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Montaigne and Melancholy: The Wisdom of the ‘Essays’ 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 194 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 7156 1698 6
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... all this pontificating? These contributors might not stay for an answer – perhaps just as well. Michael Screech, however, offers some clues, pointing out, in his characteristically moving, erudite, but self-effacing study, Montaigne’s great antipathy towards pedantry, blather and bleating. For hard-line deconstructionists Screech’s book will have the ...

Too Glorious for Words

Bernard Porter: Lawrence in Arabia, 3 April 2014

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East 
by Scott Anderson.
Atlantic, 592 pp., £25, March 2014, 978 1 78239 199 9
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... mess, muddle and brutalising effects. Anderson’s day job clearly hasn’t made him a militarist. Michael Gove would hate his take on the First World War: he calls the August 1914 celebrations in London ‘a death dance performed by gullible primitives’. The other local actors Anderson brings into the picture perform two related functions: taking some of ...

Presence of Mind

Michael Wood: Barthes, 19 November 2009

Carnets du voyage en Chine 
by Roland Barthes.
Christian Bourgois, 252 pp., €23, February 2009, 978 2 267 02019 9
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Journal de deuil 
by Roland Barthes.
Seuil/Imec, 271 pp., €18.90, February 2009, 978 2 02 098951 0
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... anything. But then what we hang on to becomes all the more remarkable, and Barthes, like Cole Porter, was the author of phrases and rhythms that for some of us will not go away until we do. ‘To write,’ Barthes suggested in Criticism and Truth (1966), ‘is to engage in a difficult relationship with our own language.’ This is not exactly Cole ...

Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

Other Passports: Poems 1958-1985 
by Clive James.
Cape, 221 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 224 02422 1
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... in the field of Pop. Let it be better made, as lyrics and music were in the days of Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and Ira Gershwin, is his belief. This is an important aspect of his drive into popular culture: not just to enjoy the warmth of a wider appreciation and so avoid the inward-looking aridity of much experimental art, but to join in with and even ...

From Notre Dame to Cluny, via a Beehive Hut

John Bossy: Abelard’s Final Fling, 2 July 1998

Abelard: A Medieval Life 
by M.T. Clanchy.
Blackwell, 416 pp., £45, January 1997, 0 631 20502 0
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... and castrated in consequence: a romantic figure, like say Tchaikovsky, in an age of epics. Michael Clanchy’s life of him is too serious to count as romance, and too witty to be epic. He writes extremely well, and matches with a wide and happy learning, which runs from Socrates to Eliot and from Cole Porter to ...

Weirdo Possible Genius Child

Daniel Soar: Max Porter, 23 May 2019

Lanny 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 213 pp., £12.99, March 2019, 978 0 571 34028 6
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... you just have to think of England. It may be embarrassing, it may be awful, but it exists. Max Porter’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 ‘a cruciform grid with the twin hearts of church and ...

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