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At the Ashmolean

Neal Ascherson: ‘The Lost World of Old Europe’

5 August 2010
... Poor Europa! The competition to give her an ancestry has been raging for generations. Now the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – the new, gorgeously refashioned Ashmolean, which reopened last November with 39 new galleries – has joined in.* The Lost World of Old Europe reveals a brilliant, imaginative, precocious culture that arose in south-eastern Europe in the late Neolithic period, the Copper Age, but after flourishing for several thousand years, failed and was forgotten ...

On Jonathan Miller

Neal Ascherson: Jonathan Miller

2 January 2020
... Ifirst met​ Jonathan’s knees. This was because Cambridge sofas in the 1950s had broken springs. Once they had buoyed up culture heroes like Rupert Brooke, John Cornford or Guy Burgess. Now, as we trudged across the great Gromboolian plain of the 1950s, they had given up the struggle. Modish undergraduates perched on the arms. Jonathan, new to the place, tried to sit down and slid backwards into the depths ...

Diary

Neal Ascherson: Among the icebergs

18 October 2007
... what is happening. It is just that we, the humans, may have to adjust our own way of life.’ ...

Heartlessness

Neal Ascherson

19 December 1991
Judge on Trial 
by Ivan Klima, translated by A.G. Brain.
Chatto, 547 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 9780701133498
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... The war was finished – and so was the regime of occupation. Its most hated representatives had either fled or wound up in prison while their victims had been proclaimed martyrs. But all that concerned just a tiny section of the population: most of the people had not died, fled or gone to gaol, but merely gone on with their lives. Overnight, they had entered a world which commended actions that yesterday’s laws had identified as crimes, a world whose laws declared yesterday’s crimes to be acts of heroism ...

Nairn is best

Neal Ascherson

21 May 1987
Nairn: In Darkness and Light 
by David Thomson.
Hutchinson, 303 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 09 168360 2
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... Some sixty years ago, when David Thomson was a boy, he suffered from a condition that badly affected his eyesight. He could see, but poorly. He read Braille and, though this was forbidden, the printed page. On two occasions, when the condition grew worse, he was condemned to spend six weeks at a time lying on his back in a darkened room. In general, all heavy physical exertion was banned ...

At the British Museum

Neal Ascherson: Celts

21 October 2015
... Splendid​ specimens of the untrousered, strong-legged Celt’. That was what John Stuart Blackie, the founder of Scotland’s first chair of Celtic studies in 1882, liked to see about him in the Highlands. In Celts: Art and Identity (at the British Museum until 31 January, then at the National Museum of Scotland from 30 March until 25 September) he would have met several untrousered, strong-legged giants ...

In Delville Wood

Neal Ascherson: Shrapnel balls and green acorns

7 November 2013
... Albert wrote to his sister Mabel from the trenches. That Mary he’d danced with, could she find out if Mary ever thought about him? Mabel considered he was too young for all that, it wasn’t proper. So she didn’t ask. But then he wrote again, so she did. ‘My insides go all jumbly when I think about Albert,’ said Mary to Mabel. So Mabel put that in her next letter to Albert ...

Littoral

Misha Glenny

9 May 1996
Black Sea 
by Neal Ascherson.
Cape, 306 pp., £17.99, July 1995, 0 224 04102 9
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... to live under atrocious conditions. The story of Dimitri’s family probably sounds familiar to Neal Ascherson, who must have encountered dozens of similar cases when researching his book. There are cities, towns and villages in the hinterland of the Black Sea and to its west on the Aegean where much of the population can boast of such ...

Down Dalston Lane

Neal Ascherson

27 June 1991
A Journey through Ruins: The Last Days of London 
by Patrick Wright.
Radius, 294 pp., £16.99, May 1991, 0 09 173190 9
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... In the winter of 1941, so I have been told, there were nights when it was never dark at the fighter airfield at North Weald. You could walk up the shallow ridge at the southern perimeter and see, twenty miles away, the whole horizon as an arch of intolerable red and orange light: London burning. In our time, the M11 cuts across a corner of the old Battle of Britain aerodrome to reach that ridge ...
20 February 1997
Europe: A History 
by Norman Davies.
Oxford, 1365 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 19 820171 0
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... In this supposedly scientific age, the imaginative side of the historical profession has undoubtedly been downgraded. The value of unreadable academic papers and of undigested research data is exaggerated. Imaginative historians such as Thomas Carlyle have not simply been censured for an excess of poetic licence. They have been forgotten. Yet Carlyle’s convictions on the relationship of history and poetry are at least worthy of consideration ...

Cross Words

Neal Ascherson

17 November 1983
The Story of the ‘Times’ 
by Oliver Woods and James Bishop.
Joseph, 392 pp., £14.95, October 1983, 0 7181 1462 0
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Good Times, Bad Times 
by Harold Evans.
Weidenfeld, 430 pp., £11.95, October 1983, 0 297 78295 9
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... Rupert Murdoch’s decision to take on the Times was an act of considerable courage. But it was also the act of a determined man who, as a shrewd entrepreneur and a newspaperman of great experience, had every reason to know what he was doing ... The costly changes introduced by the Editor [Harold Evans] had been accompanied by a substantial number of new senior editorial appointments ...

Red Souls

Neal Ascherson

22 May 1980
Russian Hide and Seek 
by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 240 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 09 142050 4
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... We have come out of a long tunnel, and the view has changed. War is now quite clearly visible, not all that far off. That is not inevitably where we are going, the terminus. But most of us never expected to get so close, so suddenly. The Russians are in Afghanistan, aggrieved and astonished at the world’s reaction. Nato is buying itself a new armoury it does not need, deliberately presenting what is really a crisis of confidence within the Alliance as a response to a Soviet threat ...

Conservatives

Neal Ascherson

6 November 1980
The Meaning of Conservatism 
by Roger Scruton.
Macmillan, 205 pp., £12, 0 333 37635 8
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Counting Our Blessings 
by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Secker, 348 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436294013
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Peregrinations 
by Peregrine Worsthorne.
Weidenfeld, 277 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 297 77807 2
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... It’s only a few years ago since Mr Callaghan started presenting Labour as the British National Party. Labour, we were given to understand, was the party of patriotic unity, of social cohesion, of organic harmony between interests and classes. The Tories, on the other hand, were supposed to be ‘divisive’. It was they who were setting bewildered sections of the loyal yeomanry against each other, inciting the banker against the worker tearing apart the seamless, woad-dyed robe of Ancient British tribal solidarity ...

Hard Men

Neal Ascherson

5 May 1983
Contact 
by A.F.N. Clarke.
Secker, 160 pp., £6.95, March 1983, 0 436 09998 5
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... This book is written in anger,’ the author begins. ‘Anger at previous attempts to portray the British soldier. Anger at the violence and the hatred that became part of a way of life. Anger at the misrepresentation of the facts ...’ And here, at the very outset, as it seems to me, the writer starts to lose his way among his own emotions. Northern Ireland offers an infinity of occasions for anger, as Clarke knows better than most of us: he was a subaltern in the Parachute Regiment on two particularly foul spells of duty, in Belfast (Shankill Road, Crumlin Road, the Ardoyne) during 1973, and at Crossmaglen in South Armagh in 1976 ...

Beyond Discussion

Neal Ascherson

3 April 1980
The Last Word: An Eye-Witness Account of the Thorpe Trial 
by Auberon Waugh.
Joseph, 240 pp., £6.50, February 1980, 0 7181 1799 9
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... Heh, heh!’ went the judge in the Thorpe trial, Mr Justice Cantley. According to Auberon Waugh, who sat in the press benches all through the six weeks of the Old Bailey proceedings, he made a habit of it: his own jokes, the floundering of witnesses, the incredible spectacle over which he was presiding, all presented matter for a good heh. Auberon Waugh purses his lips over this, but that’s his technique as a pamphleteer ...

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