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The Great Neurotic Art

Steven Shapin: Tucking into Atkins

5 August 2004
Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution: The No-Hunger, Luxurious Weight Loss Plan that Really Works! 
by Robert C.Atkins.
Vermilion, 542 pp., £7.99, January 2003, 0 09 188948 0
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Atkins for Life: The Next Level, Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health 
by Robert C.Atkins.
Pan, 456 pp., £7.99, December 2003, 0 330 41846 7
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The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss 
by Arthur Agatston.
Headline, 278 pp., £10.99, May 2003, 0 7553 1129 9
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... One of the many endearing peculiarities of academic life at Harvard is that even routine departmental meetings sometimes turn out to be catered. Email announcements specify not just time, place and purpose, but also the name of the catering firm ...

One Minute You’re Fine

Eleanor Birne: At what point do you become fat?

26 January 2006
Fat Girl: A True Story 
by Judith Moore.
Profile, 196 pp., £12.99, June 2005, 1 86197 980 0
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The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict 
by William Leith.
Bloomsbury, 296 pp., £10.99, August 2005, 9780747572503
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... I don’t know whether I’m fat or thin. I suspect I might be ‘plump’. I do know that when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I was skinny. I also know that I am not skinny now. One reason I know this is that when I went back to my old university last summer, I had to be reintroduced to the college chaplain by my (still) skinny boyfriend who was in the same year at college but who the chaplain had no problem remembering ...
15 August 1991
John Major: The Making of the Prime Minister 
by Bruce Anderson.
Fourth Estate, 324 pp., £16.99, June 1991, 9781872180540
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‘My Style of Government’: The Thatcher Years 
by Nicholas Ridley.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 09 175051 2
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... At the height of one of the many leadership crises in the Labour Party during the Fifties or early Sixties, the Crossbencher column of Lord Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express described the young Harold Wilson lying in his sleeper on the night train from Liverpool and listening to the wheels beating out the rhythm: ‘It could be me, it could be me, it could be me ...

All hail, sage lady

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Crown’

15 December 2016
... I don’t think​ the queen liked me. She’d seen it all before, the snooping anti-monarchist with the new tie, so she simply passed me to her husband, who asked if a novelist wrote books. As often with the duke, his question lay somewhere between existential brilliance and intergalactic dunce-hood ...

Making a Costume Drama out of a Crisis

Jenny Diski: ‘Downton Abbey’

21 June 2012
Downton Abbey: Series One and Two 
Universal DVD, £39.99, November 2011Show More
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series One and Two 
BBC DVD, £17.99, April 2012Show More
Park Lane 
by Frances Osborne.
Virago, 336 pp., £14.99, June 2012, 978 1 84408 479 1
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Habits of the House 
by Fay Weldon.
Head of Zeus, 320 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 908800 04 6
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... Alistair Cooke can be seen in an old TV clip, thanks to the bottomless well that is YouTube, carefully cross-legged, wearing a blazer, a discreetly silver-striped black tie on a pearl grey shirt, and what can only be called slack...

It’s already happened

James Meek: The NHS Goes Private

22 September 2011
... Wrightington Hospital, in the countryside near Wigan, is an accretion of postwar buildings of different eras clustered round an 18th-century mansion. It was sold to Lancashire County Council in 1920 after the death of its last resident, a spendthrift, according to one writer, ‘with a fanatical attachment to blood sports ...
5 April 1990
A Form of Sound Words: The Religious Poetry of Christopher Smart 
by Harriet Guest.
Oxford, 293 pp., £35, October 1989, 0 19 811744 2
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... Harriet Guest’s starting-point is Donald Davie’s suggestion in 1958 that Christopher Smart might be considered ‘the greatest poet between Pope and Wordsworth’. Her intelligent and carefully argued book does not deliver quite the far-reaching reassessment of Smart’s status Davie must have had in mind ...

Rongorongo

John Sturrock: The Rosetta Stone

19 September 2002
Keys of Egypt 
by Lesley Atkins and Roy Atkins.
HarperCollins, 335 pp., £7.99, September 2001, 0 00 653145 8
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The Rosetta Stone: The Story of the Decoding of Hieroglyphics 
by Robert Solé and Dominique Valbelle, translated by Steven Rendall.
Profile, 184 pp., £7.99, August 2002, 1 86197 344 6
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Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts 
by Andrew Robinson.
McGraw Hill, 352 pp., £25.99, June 2002, 0 07 135743 2
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The Man who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris 
by Andrew Robinson.
Thames and Hudson, 168 pp., £12.95, April 2002, 0 500 51077 6
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... In the shopping precinct that now clings to the skirts of the old Reading Room, a table is laid with portable derivatives of the Rosetta Stone. The number of them hints at a BM merchandising frenzy: for sale, and I may have miscounted, are a mug, a mouse-mat, a ceramic tile, a tie, a teacloth, a scarf, a T-shirt and two sizes of replica, all of them stamped with a presumably random excerpt from the Stone’s inscriptions ...

The way out of a room is not through the door

Christian Lorentzen: Charles Manson

7 November 2013
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson 
by Jeff Guinn.
Simon and Schuster, 495 pp., £20, August 2013, 978 0 85720 893 4
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... It started with the jitterbug, or with a ketchup bottle. Kathleen Maddox couldn’t get away with dancing in her hometown. Ashland, Kentucky in 1934 was too small, and if she let a boy hold her hand word would always get back to her mother Nancy, a strict Christian widow ...

Not to Be Read without Shuddering

Adam Smyth: The Atheist’s Bible

20 February 2014
The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lys Ann Weiss.
Chicago, 249 pp., £21, October 2012, 978 0 226 53029 1
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... One of the ways​ in which literary texts are capacious is their ability to contain, within themselves, imaginary books: books that the more literal-minded real world isn’t yet able to realise. Borges’s short fiction is teeming with them ...

The Olympics Scam

Iain Sinclair: The Razing of East London

19 June 2008
... In the mornings, there is a clinging, overripe smell that some people say drifts in from the countryside, a folk memory of what these clipped green acres used, so recently, to be ...

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