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Spadework

John Brown

18 November 1982
Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Richard Layman.
Junction, 285 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 86245 027 6
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... for biography, such a delay constitutes a small literary mystery, and in the preface to Shadow Man Richard Layman supplies a terse explanation. It appears that Lillian Hellman, Hammett’s closest friend from 1931 onwards, took steps soon after his death to acquire legal control of all the novelist’s copyrights (despite the terms of Hammett’s ...
20 May 1982
Philosophical Explanations 
by Robert Nozick.
Oxford, 765 pp., £15, November 1981, 0 19 824672 2
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... be learned and wise. They are expected to have read all that has been written in response to the layman’s large questions, and to rearrange it in novel and luminous dialectical patterns, sympathetically harmonising all the suggestions offered by all the great dead philosophers. Since philosophy became self-consciously professional, the first task has ...

Into the Alley

Daniel Soar: Dashiell Hammett

3 January 2002
Nightmare Town: Stories 
by Dashiell Hammett, edited by Kirby McCauley and Martin Greenberg et al.
Picador, 396 pp., £16.99, March 2001, 0 330 48109 6
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Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921-60 
edited by Richard Layman and Julie Rivett.
Counterpoint, 650 pp., £28.99, June 2001, 1 58243 081 0
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... A blank page is frightening. Something has to be written, but how do you choose the words? Why this word and not that? How to overcome the arbitrariness of writing? One way is to trick yourself, to pretend that what you’re about to write has already been written, that someone has been there already and that you’re only following his traces, trying to reconstruct what must have happened ...

Everlasting Stone

Patrick Wormald

21 May 1981
The Enigma of Stonehenge 
by John Fowles and Barry Brukoff.
Cape, 126 pp., £6.95, September 1980, 0 224 01618 0
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British Cathedrals 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 275 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 297 77828 5
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... public good by barbed wire and bored guards. The other was a lecture on Stonehenge by Professor Richard Atkinson, where the greatest living expert on the subject sternly rebuked a member of his packed audience who had the temerity to ask whether we could know anything of the culture or religion of those who had built it. What Mr Fowles has come up with is a ...

Diary

Frank Kermode: Being in New York

7 July 1983
... is social, not scholarly. Not that these categories can confidently be thought distinct. When Richard Wollheim and I agreed to do a double act at a lunchtime university seminar we were surprised to find that a very large number of people had turned up with their sandwiches: but they hadn’t come just for the company, and there were plenty of acute ...

Midwinter

J.B. Trapp

17 November 1983
Thomas More: History and Providence 
by Alistair Fox.
Blackwell, 271 pp., £19.50, September 1982, 0 631 13094 2
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The Statesman and the Fanatic: Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More 
by Jasper Ridley.
Constable, 338 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 9780094634701
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English Reformation Literature: The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition 
by John King.
Princeton, 539 pp., £30.70, December 1982, 0 691 06502 0
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Seven-Headed Luther: Essays in Commemoration of a Quincentenary, 1483-1983 
edited by Peter Newman Brooks.
Oxford, 325 pp., £22.50, July 1983, 0 19 826648 0
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The Complete Works of St Thomas More. Vol. VI: A Dialogue concerning Heresies. Part 1: The Text, Part 2: Introduction, Commentary, Appendices, Glossary, Index 
edited by T.M.C. Lawler, Germain Marc’hadour and Richard Marius.
Yale, 435 pp., £76, November 1981, 0 300 02211 5
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... the time that Erasmus was writing, he had already put into words the Tudor image of a villainous Richard III. Though this was not printed either in English or in Latin until after his death, the work may once have been intended as an aid to the consolidation of the dynasty into whose service he had entered. Here was one kind of political activity, besides ...

Genius

Richard Gregory

17 June 1982
The Mind’s Best Work 
by D.N. Perkins.
Harvard, 314 pp., £12.95, November 1981, 0 06 745762 2
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The Mathematical Experience 
by Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh.
Harvester, 440 pp., £12.95, November 1981, 0 7108 0364 8
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... wit: so this is not for the non-mathematician an arid book. Most of it can be understood by the layman, though technical points sometimes pop up without warning and go away unexplained. The book ends with Four-Dimensional Intuition. Here ‘intuition’ does not mean a path to truth, so much as appreciation or understanding. The intriguing question is: can ...

The Great Dissembler

James Wood: Thomas More’s Bad Character

16 April 1998
The Life of Thomas More 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 435 pp., £20, March 1998, 1 85619 711 5
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... robbery from the Pope of the leadership of the English Church. But he is also seen as a lawyer-layman caught in the mesh of presumptuous ecclesiology, an English Cicero of the pre-Reformation who nobly gave his head to forces beyond his control. Most absurdly, because of Robert Bolt’s screenplay, this barrister of Catholic repression is widely envisioned ...
4 September 1980
Studies in the Reformation: Luther to Hooker 
by W.D.J. Cargill Thompson.
Athlone, 259 pp., £18, July 1980, 9780485111873
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... that they will never deflower me!’ He was indeed devoured, for the very reason he feared. As Richard Hooker put it, half a century later, in a cooler ecclesiastical climate: ‘Hitherto they which condemn utterly the name [Supreme Head of the Church] so applied, do it because they mislike that any such power should be given unto civil governors. The ...

Matters of Taste

Peter Graham

4 December 1986
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen 
by Harold McGee.
Allen and Unwin, 684 pp., £20, September 1986, 9780043060032
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The French Menu Cookbook 
by Richard Olney.
Dorling Kindersley, 294 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 86318 181 3
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Out to Lunch 
by Paul Levy.
Chatto, 240 pp., £10.95, November 1986, 0 7011 3091 1
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The Good Food Guide 1987 
edited by Drew Smith.
Consumers’ Association/Hodder, 725 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 340 39600 8
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... not. McGee has digested a vast number of facts which he presents in a very palatable form for the layman. As in that admirable Victorian compendium, Enquire within upon everything, topics are described succinctly and arranged into easily assimilated sections with headings. The book tells you most of what you would want to know about the nature and properties ...

Nuclear Family

Rudolf Peierls

19 June 1980
Disturbing the Universe 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 283 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 06 011108 9
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... specific questions for the theory to answer. Responding to this challenge, Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman invented novel ways of tackling the problem. Some of the steps had already been taken earlier by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga in Japan. Dyson was the first to understand the approaches both of Schwinger and of Feynman, and to demonstrate that, while ...
19 August 1982
The Struggle for the Falkland Islands 
by Julius Goebel, introduced by J.C.J. Metford.
Yale, 482 pp., £10, June 1982, 0 300 02943 8
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The Falklands Islands Dispute: International Dimensions 
edited by Joan Pearce.
Chatham House, 47 pp., £2.75, April 1982, 0 905031 25 3
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The Falkland Islands: The Facts 
HMSO, 12 pp., £50, May 1982, 0 11 701029 4Show More
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... wonders how such land-bound creatures as the Spaniards managed to get to America at all. Did Sir Richard Hawkins say his latitude was 48°, three degrees north of where he ought to have been? Then he meant 50° 48' – ‘how so obvious an error got into the text is immaterial.’ He saw a peopled country with many fires? That could easily be the uninhabited ...

Middle Positions

John Hedley Brooke

21 July 1983
Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875 
by Adrian Desmond.
Blond and Briggs, 287 pp., £15.95, October 1982, 0 85634 121 5
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Evolution without Evidence: Charles Darwin and ‘The Origin Species’ 
by Barry Gale.
Harvester, 238 pp., £18.95, January 1983, 0 7108 0442 3
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The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography 
by Janet Browne.
Yale, 273 pp., £21, May 1983, 0 300 02460 6
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The Descent of Darwin: A Handbook of Doubts about Darwinsm 
by Brain Leith.
Collins, 174 pp., £7.95, December 1982, 0 00 219548 8
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... for T.H. Huxley, ‘the natural and irreconcilable enemies of science’. His professional rival Richard Owen, by contrast, considered those blind to the beauty of design in nature to be suffering from ‘some, perhaps, congenital, defect of mind’. But the trouble with reduction to polar opposites is that what really gets excluded are the middle positions ...
3 October 1996
The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 216 pp., £14.99, March 1996, 0 297 81764 7
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Is There a God? 
by Richard Swinburne.
Oxford, 144 pp., £20, February 1996, 0 19 823544 5
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God in Us: A Case for Christian Humanism 
by Anthony Freeman.
SCM, 87 pp., £5.95, September 1993, 0 344 02538 1
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Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Hodder, 401 pp., £20, October 1996, 0 340 57107 1
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... Quest for God is part of a noble tradition in which laymen have written devotional treatises. The layman explains his love of God, and his fondness for his ecclesiastical tradition. The high point was reached more than three hundred years ago when Sir Thomas Browne published his Religio Medici, and Johnson’s indebtedness to this tradition is seen best in ...
14 November 1996
The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities 
by Philip Kitcher.
Allen Lane, 381 pp., £20, April 1996, 0 7139 9129 1
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... not to have an exaggerated view of the importance of genes to life. This has been exacerbated by Richard Dawkins’s eloquent and widely-read attempts to persuade us that we are nothing more than a gene’s way of making another gene. But the truth is that neither the chicken nor the egg comes first. Bodies, artefacts such as nests and burrows, proteins and ...

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