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Mecca Bound

Robert Irwin

21 July 1994
The Hajj: Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places 
by F.E. Peters.
Princeton, 399 pp., £19.95, July 1994, 0 691 02120 1
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Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans 
by Suraiya Faroqhi.
Tauris, 244 pp., £34.50, May 1994, 1 85043 606 1
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The Hadj: A Pilgrimage to Mecca 
by Michael Wolfe.
Secker, 331 pp., £19.99, January 1994, 0 436 58404 2
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... in commerce, neither discusses the pilgrimage’s role in the slave trade. Even as late as the early decades of this century, some Africans financed their pilgrimage by selling their children. MichaelWolfe’s The Hadj is the story of an American convert’s pilgrimage made in 1990. Wolfe, who also writes novels, conscientiously avoids the politics of the contemporary hajj and his responses seem ...

Pissing in the Snow

Steven Rose: Dissidents and Scientists

18 July 2019
Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science 
by Audra J. Wolfe.
Johns Hopkins, 302 pp., £22, January 2019, 978 1 4214 2673 0
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... or executed. Their fate was seen in the West as evidence of an irreconcilable clash between science in the ‘free world’ and in the Soviet Union. It is with the Lysenko affair that Audra Wolfe begins her history of the CIA’s covert role in promoting the allegedly neutral, objective nature of scientific inquiry as a Western value. Since the 17th century, Western scientists and their ...

The First Person, Steroid-Enhanced

Hari Kunzru: Hunter S. Thompson

15 October 1998
The Rum Diary 
by Hunter S. Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 204 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 9780747541684
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The Proud Highway: The Fear and Loathing Letters. Vol. I 
by Hunter S. Thompson, edited by Douglas Brinkley.
Bloomsbury, 720 pp., £9.99, July 1998, 0 7475 3619 8
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... For Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism was defined by the appearance of all kinds of literary devices in non-fiction writing, but chiefly by an unwillingness to adopt the traditional journalistic tone of polite ...

Over the Top

Michael​ Howard

8 February 1996
A Genius for War: A Life of General George Patton 
by Carlo D’Este.
HarperCollins, 977 pp., £25, November 1995, 0 00 215882 5
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... Mad, is he?’ George II is reported to have said of General Wolfe; ‘Then I wish he would bite some of my other generals!’ Both remarks might have been made about General George S. Patton Jr, and no doubt frequently were. His sanity was seriously in question. As ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book

15 August 2019
... Tom Wolfe​ lived round the corner from the Metropolitan Museum, at 21 East 79th Street, between Fifth and Madison. A mahogany elevator went to the sitting room of his 14th-floor apartment, much as it does to ...

Money Talk

Victor Mallet

21 December 1989
Liar’s Poker: Two Cities, True Greed 
by Michael​ Lewis.
Hodder, 224 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 340 49602 9
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Lords of Poverty: The Free-Wheeling Lifestyles, Power, Prestige and Corruption of the Multi-Billion Dollar Aid Business 
by Graham Hancock.
Macmillan, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 0 333 43962 7
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High Life 
by Taki.
Viking, 198 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82956 0
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The Midas Touch: Money, People and Power from West to East 
by Anthony Sampson.
BBC/Hodder, 212 pp., £15, October 1989, 0 340 48793 3
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... Both extremes have turned out to be subjects of morbid fascination: on the one hand the nameless, starving children of Ethiopia, on the other the wheeler-dealers of the international markets, the Michael Milkens and their hundred million dollar salaries. Michael Lewis deals wittily with the bizarre and shameless world of the wealthy bond-dealers in Liar’s Poker. In Lords of Poverty Graham Hancock ...
2 March 1989
Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of ‘Horizon’ 
by Michael​ Shelden.
Hamish Hamilton, 254 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12647 9
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Coastwise Lights 
by Alan Ross.
Collins Harvill, 254 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 00 271767 0
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William Plomer 
by Peter Alexander.
Oxford, 397 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 19 212243 6
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... black liquid reaches of National Sept, the plane trees going sha-sha-sha through the open windows’. The writing is genuinely alive with what Connolly called ‘erotic nostalgia’. Both Powell and Michael Shelden emphasise his capacity for self-inspection, elevated to a comic art, on the subject of his own tastes and weaknesses (‘MESSAGE FROM THE ID: “If you would collect women instead of books I ...

Everybody knows

Christina Gombar: Kate Jennings

22 August 2002
Moral Hazard 
by Kate Jennings.
Fourth Estate, 180 pp., £10, April 2002, 1 84115 737 6
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... challenges, especially when the business is central to the theme. Most people are afraid of numbers, while those who aren’t – those who work with them – may be just plain sick of them. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and Michael Lewis’s bond-trading memoir, Liar’s Poker, in common with the many chronicles that imitated them, keep their focus tightly trained on the upper echelons ...

The Most Beautiful Icicle

Inigo Thomas: Apollo 11

15 August 2019
Reaching for the Moon: A Short History of the Space Race 
by Roger D. Launius.
Yale, 256 pp., £20, July, 978 0 300 23046 8
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The Moon: A History for the Future 
by Oliver Morton.
Economist Books, 334 pp., £20, May, 978 1 78816 254 8
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... half what it had been just three years earlier. Nothing about the Apollo 11 mission went unrehearsed: even the photography was practised and programmed. ‘They would loan us a Hasselblad,’ said Michael Collins, the third member of the Apollo 11 mission, who stayed behind in the moon’s orbit in Columbia, the command module, while his companions descended to its surface. Mia Fineman, curator of an ...

Mganga with the Lion

Kenneth Silverman: Hemingway

2 September 1999
Hemingway: The Thirties 
by Michael​ Reynolds.
Norton, 360 pp., £9.95, October 1998, 0 393 31778 1
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Hemingway: The Final Years 
by Michael​ Reynolds.
Norton, 416 pp., £19.95, July 1999, 0 393 04748 2
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True at First Light 
by Ernest Hemingway.
Heinemann, 319 pp., £16.99, July 1999, 9780434008322
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... Michael Reynolds is the marrying kind of biographer: president of the Hemingway Society, he has published a 140-page annotated chronology of Hemingway’s life, a 2300-item inventory of Hemingway’s reading ...

Who’s sorry now?

Andrew O’Hagan: Michael​ Finkel gets lucky

2 June 2005
True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa 
by Michael​ Finkel.
Chatto, 312 pp., £15.99, May 2005, 0 7011 7688 1
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Burning Down My Master’s House 
by Jayson Blair.
New Millennium, 288 pp., $24.95, March 2004, 9781932407266
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The Journalist and the Murderer 
by Janet Malcolm.
Granta, 163 pp., £8.99, January 2004, 1 86207 637 5
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... and his subject. It seems we all have something groovy to learn from the Americans both in terms of souping up our stories and in terms of feeling really bad about it afterwards. This new memoir from Michael Finkel streaks across a firmament already glittering with apologetic precedents. Stephen Glass, once a popular and ambitious young thing at the New Republic, invented email addresses and whole ...


Tom Paulin

5 November 1981
Too Long a Sacrifice: Life and Death in Northern Ireland since 1969 
by Jack Holland.
Columbus, 217 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 396 07934 2
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A History of Northern Ireland 
by Patrick Buckland.
Gill and Macmillan, 195 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 7171 1069 9
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... begun to move away from the traditions and values of ‘Carson’s Army’, the Ulster Volunteer Force of 1912, towards the ideals of the United Irishmen, the revolutionary organisation founded by Wolfe Tone and a group of Belfast radicals in 1791. Holland, however, is sceptical about the change that has taken place in Loyalist attitudes: some Loyalists, he says, have replaced ‘a sheep-like ...

Davitt’s Part

Charles Townshend

3 June 1982
Davitt and Irish Revolution 1846-1882 
by T.W. Moody.
Oxford, 674 pp., £22.50, April 1982, 9780198223825
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... a little and swings the left arm, he has the slightest inclination to stoop, but is straight, smart, active and gentlemanly-looking; his age is about 30 years.’ Such was the picture of the young Michael Davitt, Fenian suspect, produced by the police detective who was watching him in 1869. (In fact, he was working-class, and 24 years old.) Somewhat later, after seven years’ penal servitude, he was ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters

24 January 2013
Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... a meal ticket for my superannuated years,’ Styron muses in Selected Letters, edited by his widow with R. Blakeslee Gilpin. The irony of Styron’s career is that as a literary son of Faulkner, Wolfe and Hemingway, he expended massive energy and mountaineering stamina into making himself a major prestigious novelist – and succeeded! – yet that ‘slender little volume’ has left its big ...

Just one of those ends

Michael​ Wood: Apocalypse Regained

13 December 2001
Apocalypse Now Redux 
directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
August 2001
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Marlon Brando 
by Patricia Bosworth.
Weidenfeld, 216 pp., £12.99, October 2001, 0 297 84284 6
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... but he also means every phrase to refer to the war as it came to play out in the favoured mythography. The continuing American blindness to Vietnam itself, in this and many other instances, notably Michael Cimino’s film The Deer Hunter (1978), can be astonishing, but the myth also shows some genuine self-understanding. Apocalypse Now, in particular, is full of the sense that Americans exported whole ...

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