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Too Much for One Man

Thomas Penn: Kaiser Karl V, 23 January 2020

Emperor: A New Life of Charles V 
by Geoffrey Parker.
Yale, 760 pp., £25, May 2019, 978 0 300 19652 8
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... he was born: there, he began the long, slow process by which he abdicated in favour of his son Philip and brother Ferdinand. It was abundantly clear why such a transfer of power was necessary. It was a cold winter and Charles, white-haired, with shrunken gums exposing blackened teeth, his joints so crippled by gout that he was unable to sign documents with ...

Oops

Philip Nobel: What makes things break, 21 February 2013

To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure 
by Henry Petroski.
Harvard, 410 pp., £19.95, March 2012, 978 0 674 06584 0
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... atmosphere on arrival. It was discovered later that engineers working for the contractor, Lockheed Martin, had programmed the software to give altitude data in imperial units, while those of its partner, Nasa, had used metric – a three hundred million dollar oops. But no one died. And it is death or its prevention, more so even than money, that is the ...

Binarisms

John Sutherland, 18 November 1993

Complicity 
by Iain Banks.
Little, Brown, 313 pp., £15.99, September 1993, 0 316 90688 3
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Against a Dark Background 
by Iain M. Banks.
Orbit, 496 pp., £8.99, January 1994, 1 85723 185 6
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... than the script for a video nasty. Young male novelists routinely seek to give maximum offence. Martin Amis did so in 1975 by calling a novel Dead Babies. In The Wasp Factory Banks recounted acts of child-on-child sadism in a deadpan. Holden Caulfield monologue which suggested that serial killing was a minor rite of passage, as insignificant in adult ...

His Only Friend

Elaine Showalter, 8 September 1994

Hardy 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Bloomsbury, 886 pp., £25, February 1994, 0 7475 1037 7
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... In the midst of writing his biography of Philip Larkin, Andrew Motion was contacted by a spiritualist who claimed to have been speaking to Larkin in the Beyond; later Larkin sent a posthumous word of approval for the book. Could the cosmic wires have been crossed and could the spiritualist have been talking to Martin Seymour-Smith? For this massive biography of Hardy – or ‘Tom’, as Seymour-Smith chummily calls him – has the vehemence of divine revelation and the fervour of personal mission ...

Fourth from the top

Martin Kemp, 1 December 1983

Collected Essays: Vols I and II 
by Frances Yates.
Routledge, 279 pp., £12.50, May 1982, 0 7100 0952 6
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... to find him composing a verbal emblem book, Gli Eroici Furori. This was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney in 1585 and exercised a profound influence upon Elizabethan poetry. In devising and explaining his visual conceits, Bruno aimed to transform the increasingly stale conventions of Petrarchan love poetry into philosophically significant devices. His ...

Reputation

Peter Burke, 21 May 1987

The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... his major task. As for Elliott’s studies of the court and palaces of the Count-Duke’s master, Philip IV, and of the revolt of the Catalans against their joint regime, they complement rather than compete with the book now under review. There are two obvious reasons for this neglect of a major Spanish statesman. The first is that he failed, while his rival ...

Nicely! Nicely!

Jenny Turner, 13 May 1993

Operation Shylock 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 398 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 224 03009 4
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... anything like me, you will find yourself having to fight off a sort of sinking feeling as the new Philip Roth comes thudding into your life. What If A Lookalike Stranger Stole Your Name, Usurped Your Biography, And Went Around The World Pretending To Be You? the jacket flap blares: oh God help us, here we go again. You know there will be a lot of paranoid ...

In Bexhill

Peter Campbell: Unpopular Culture, 5 June 2008

... our Blackpool photos from those years/and, I’ll bet, in every family’s South Pier snap’) and Philip Larkin (‘We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls/In parodies of fashion, heels and veils’) hit the same sweetly rasping note as Tish Murtha’s unemployed man and his family in Newcastle, Martin Parr’s ...

A Welcome for Foreigners

Peter Burke, 7 November 1991

The Golden Age of Painting in Spain 
by Jonathan Brown.
Yale, 330 pp., £39.95, January 1991, 0 300 04760 6
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Spanish Paintings of the 15th through 19th Centuries 
by Jonathan Brown and Richard Mann.
National Gallery of Art, Washington/Cambridge, 165 pp., £50, April 1991, 0 521 40107 0
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... Sittow, who came from Reval (now Tallinn in Estonia) and had been trained in Bruges. Again, when Philip II wanted his new monastery-palace of the Escorial decorated, he summoned whole teams of painters from Italy, one group in the 1560s, and another, more distinguished, in the 1580s (the latter group included Luca Cambiaso, Federico Zuccaro and Pellegrino ...

Henry Hill and Laura Palmer

Philip Horne, 20 December 1990

... from within, from a recognition and rejection of human alikeness between watcher and villain. Martin Scorsese’s brutal, dazzling film about everyday life in the lower ranks of the Mafia, GoodFellas, plays with this gothic scheme of the watcher drawn into the criminal underworld, but with an irony that partly accounts for the work’s shocking impact. We ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... If​ you are British and no longer young, the title for a brand new Philip Larkin poem is liable to enter your head at least once a day. This morning it was ‘Order of Service’. It’s not as good as ‘High Windows’ or ‘Dockery and Son’, but it has the same doleful ebb. Searching in an old folder, I found an order of service for Larkin’s memorial at Westminster Abbey on 14 February 1986 ...

Shoot them to be sure

Richard Gott: The Oxford History of the British Empire, 25 April 2002

The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. I: The Origins of Empire 
edited by William Roger Louis and Nicholas Canny.
Oxford, 533 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924676 9
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. II: The 18th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and P.J. Marshall.
Oxford, 639 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924677 7
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. III: The 19th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and Andrew Porter.
Oxford, 774 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924678 5
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. IV: The 20th Century 
edited by William Roger Louis and Judith Brown.
Oxford, 773 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924679 3
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The Oxford History of the British Empire. Vol. V: Historiography 
edited by William Roger Louis and Robin Winks.
Oxford, 731 pp., £14.99, July 2001, 0 19 924680 7
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... on Native Americans by Daniel Richter, and another on the ‘black experience’ of Empire by Philip Morgan. But broadly speaking, the radical historians of Empire – David Killingray, Peter Sluglett, Nicholas Tarling – have been confined to the final, historiographical volume, while the more conservative have been given the meaty chapters in the bulk ...

Satisfaction

Julian Loose, 11 May 1995

The Information 
by Martin Amis.
Flamingo, 494 pp., £15.99, March 1995, 0 00 225356 9
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... Clearly, for Martin Amis, enough is nothing like enough. To read him is to discover an author as voracious as his characters: like Terry in Success, who specifies that ‘I want all that and I want all that. And I want all that and I want all that. And I want all that and I want all that.’ Or like the fast-food, fast-sex junkie John Self of Money, who always gets less than he bargains for, yet keeps going back for more: ‘I would cheerfully go into the alchemy business, if it existed and made lots of money ...

Barrage Balloons of Fame

Christopher Tayler: We need to talk about Martin, 8 October 2020

Inside Story 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 521 pp., £20, September, 978 1 78733 275 1
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... a point. Fifty years later he’s still up in the treetops: he never touches the ground again. Martin Amis began a similar feat of heroic resolve in the 1970s, and whatever you make of his commitment to an all-consuming idea of style, you can’t say he makes things easy for himself up there. In his new book, his 25th, statements like ‘the doorbell ...

What the hell happened?

Alexander Star: Philip Roth, 4 February 1999

I Married a Communist 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 323 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 224 05258 6
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... Some time ago, Philip Roth remarked that his novels investigate ‘people in trouble’. Though much about his work has changed over the years, his fictional landscapes are still littered with human wreckage. Rage and lust, anxiety and melancholy are the dominant emotions, and all human impulses, even loyalty and affection, tend to career wildly out of control ...

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