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Mysterian

Jackson Lears: On Chomsky, 3 May 2017

Why Only Us: Language and Evolution 
by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky.
MIT, 215 pp., £18.95, February 2016, 978 0 262 03424 1
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Because We Say So 
by Noam Chomsky.
Penguin, 199 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 0 241 97248 9
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What Kind of Creatures Are We? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Columbia, 167 pp., £17, January 2016, 978 0 231 17596 8
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Who Rules the World? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Hamish Hamilton, 307 pp., £18.99, May 2016, 978 0 241 18943 6
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Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals 
by Neil Smith and Nicholas Allott.
Cambridge, 461 pp., £18.99, January 2016, 978 1 107 44267 2
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... sort of thinking for years but has finally succumbed to it in collaboration with his MIT colleague Robert Berwick, producing Why Only Us: Language and Evolution. Identifying the earliest known symbolic object, a geometrically engraved plaque from South Africa dating from eighty thousand years ago, the authors infer that it indicates the emergence of the ...

Browning’s Last Duchess

Virginia Surtees, 9 October 1986

... first time, with the permission of the Hon. Simon Howard. They cover the visit of the 57-year-old Robert Browning to Naworth Castle, the Cumberland home of the George Howards. Browning had recently published his great poem The Ring and the Book, with its dedication to his dead wife. He was mentally tired, and uneasy over his son Pen’s performance at ...

Still Defending the Scots

Katie Stevenson: Robert the Bruce, 10 September 2014

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots 
by Michael Penman.
Yale, 443 pp., £25, June 2014, 978 0 300 14872 5
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... wants to be William Wallace.’ ‘No,’ Martin corrected him. ‘Alex Salmond wants to be Robert the Bruce.’ Wallace has been cast as ‘the people’s champion’, a role he played in the 1975 novel The Wallace by the prolific Nigel Tranter and, twenty years later, in Braveheart. But Martin was right that the appeal of Bruce would be significantly ...

Rough Wooing

Michael Brown: Flodden, 23 January 2014

Fatal Rivalry: Flodden 1513 
by George Goodwin.
Weidenfeld, 288 pp., £20, July 2013, 978 0 297 86739 5
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... though Goodwin suggests that he may have hoped to annex lands along the English border and recover Berwick-on-Tweed. James’s decision to await the advance of Surrey and then to commit his army to battle were those of a king intent on humiliating his brother-in-law. In many ways, Henry’s delusions matched James’s: although his invasions of France from ...

‘This in no wise omit’

Tom Bingham: Habeas Corpus, 7 October 2010

Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire 
by Paul Halliday.
Harvard, 502 pp., £29.95, March 2010, 978 0 674 04901 7
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... issue to Canada from England, relying on an earlier precedent when the writ had been directed to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Queen’s Bench justices acceded to the argument. They ordered issue of a writ that ‘in the absence of any prohibitive enactment, goes to all parts of the queen’s dominions’, as it had to the Isle of Man, Jersey and St ...

Adored Gazelle

Ferdinand Mount: Cherubino at Number Ten, 20 March 2008

Balfour: The Last Grandee 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 479 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 7195 5424 7
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... down to ten (about the same as Ian Fleming and better than P.G. Wodehouse). On the links at North Berwick, when he made a bad shot, he would turn away and gaze over the Forth and then turn round again, smiling. At times he sounds like a fully paid-up member of the Drones club. No one, after all, was better equipped to live a life of a sporting fainéant: he ...

Glimpsed in the Glare

Michael Neill: Shakespeare in 1606, 17 December 2015

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 423 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 0 571 23578 0
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... against Parliament, that the recusant Lord Monteagle handed over to James’s secretary of state, Robert Cecil, just before the plot was exposed. But Shakespeare had used a similar plot device in Twelfth Night (the comedy that is remembered in the Fool’s song at the end of Act III, scene ii), and even Shapiro admits that the writing of the episode in King ...

Cape of Mad Hope

Neal Ascherson: The Darien disaster, 3 January 2008

The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations 
by Douglas Watt.
Luath, 312 pp., £8.99, January 2007, 978 1 906307 09 7
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... If, that is, they accepted the Union Treaty, in which the Equivalent figured as Article 15. When Robert Burns wrote ‘We’re bought and sold for English gold,’ he was probably thinking of those Scottish politicians who were directly bribed with cash and job offers, and who became despised and notorious. But the Equivalent was far more effective and far ...

What most I love I bite

Matthew Bevis: Stevie Smith, 27 July 2016

The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith 
edited by Will May.
Faber, 806 pp., £35, October 2015, 978 0 571 31130 9
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... feed – are in league with stolen, fleeting pleasures. Smith is the poet of ‘bold drops’. Robert Lowell was enthusiastic about her writing because it was ‘so unlike the usual poem trying so hard to be a poem’. In her essay ‘Simply Living’, she refers to ‘the pleasures of simplicity’ in order to make a fine distinction. ‘Enjoyment lurks ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances, 7 March 2019

The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... twice as much (though anyone who has spent a summer week in Ullapool followed by another in North Berwick will doubt the multiple can be so low). The soil in the south is better too, and much more plentiful; Devine quotes an estimate that only 1 per cent of the land surface in the four parishes of north-west Sutherland has ever been broken by a plough or a ...

West End Boy

Adam Shatz: Breivik & Co, 20 November 2014

A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya 
by Aage Borchgrevink, translated by Guy Puzey.
Polity, 299 pp., £20, November 2013, 978 0 7456 7220 5
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Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia 
by Sindre Bangstad.
Zed, 286 pp., £16.99, June 2014, 978 1 78360 007 6
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... websites, 2083 was posted online on the day of the attacks under the name ‘Andrew Berwick’, one of Breivik’s several aliases. The signs of Europe’s creeping Islamisation were everywhere, he argued, from Bosnian independence to the spread of mosques in Oslo. Muslim men were having their way with European women, while declaring their own ...

‘A Being full of Witching’

Charles Nicholl: The ‘poor half-harlot’ of Hazlitt’s affections, 18 May 2000

... Anthony. In the same year Sarah’s elder sister Martha married a well-to-do young solicitor, Robert Roscoe, who had been one of their first lodgers at Southampton Buildings. This was an excellent match from the Walkers’ point of view, one they were no doubt keen to repeat for Sarah, now in her late teens, and their other children, Micaiah ...

Watching Me Watching Them Watching You

Andrew O’Hagan: Surveillance, 9 October 2003

... at their windows in their pyjama-bottoms and football scarves and shout surnames into the trees.‘Robertson! McCauley! O’Dwyer! Stenhouse!’They had children’s voices. They had spots and hostile memories, they had the beginnings of moustaches, but it was their eyes I can’t forget up at the windows. They hated their immediate confinement, but more than ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... success to increase his notoriety and win some sort of respect among his peers. In January 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It sold forty thousand copies in Britain in its first six months. ‘There is something almost impertinent,’ Henry James wrote, ‘in the way … Mr Stevenson achieves his best effects ...

Trains in Space

James Meek: The Great Train Robbery, 4 May 2016

The Railways: Nation, Network and People 
by Simon Bradley.
Profile, 645 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 1 84668 209 4
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... bureaucrats were constantly obliged to mingle and find common ground. The economic historian Robert Millward points out that the popular notion of nationalisation in Europe as a 1940s phenomenon, driven by the perceived failures of capitalism in the 1930s and the successes of the planned economy in wartime, ignores the earlier history of state direction ...

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