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Tolerating Islam

Adeeb Khalid: Catherine the Great’s Ulama, 24 May 2007

For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia 
by Robert Crews.
Harvard, 463 pp., June 2006, 0 674 02164 9
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... of faith. All this is a far cry from the myth of unbroken hostility between Russia and Islam. Robert Crews makes many of these points in his new book on Russia’s management of its Muslim subjects from the reign of Catherine the Great until 1917. Unfortunately, to make up for the sins of past generations, ...


Robert Fisk: Salman Rushdie and Other Demons, 16 March 1989

... was the only Arab leader prepared to confront the world’s most powerful nation. The television crews were invited to Tripoli. Reagan, Gaddafi announced, was trying to start a third world war. What did Mr Reagan think? Simple. Gaddafi, Reagan announced, was ‘flakey’. And so it went on. ‘Colonel Gaddafi,’ I heard a television journalist ask the ...


Christopher Hitchens: On the Original Non-Event , 20 April 1995

... Every spring, American camera crews and sound-teams and the boys and girls of ‘the pencil press’ (as it is still quaintly known) load their equipment or stuff their notebooks in a pocket and set off for the unthrilling town of Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. The occasion is ‘Groundhog Day’, when a local creature named Punxatawney Phil is reputed to predict the coming season’s weather ...

Nobel Savage

Steven Shapin: Kary Mullis, 1 July 1999

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field 
by Kary Mullis.
Bloomsbury, 209 pp., £12.99, March 1999, 0 7475 4376 3
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... direction. On the day he won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Mullis went surfing. The camera crews tried to follow him down the Southern California coast, ‘asking everyone who came out of the water whether he was Kary Mullis’. Mullis was enjoying his new-found anonymity and got a surfer-dude friend to admit to being the great man himself. How does it ...

‘Derek, please, not so fast’

Ferdinand Mount: Derek Jackson, 7 February 2008

As I Was Going to St Ives: A Life of Derek Jackson 
by Simon Courtauld.
Michael Russell, 192 pp., £17.50, October 2007, 978 0 85955 311 7
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... reported that passing aircraft could interfere with radio reception. Less than a year later, Robert Watson-Watt demonstrated by a simple experiment in a field outside Daventry that aircraft could be detected by radio. Radar was born. Remarkably, it was only two years after this that Lindemann demonstrated to Churchill that tinfoil strips cut to a certain ...

Errant Pinkies

Robert Macfarlane, 1 June 2000

by Ha Jin.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £10, May 2000, 0 434 00914 8
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... If a film is made of the novel – and one surely will be – Beijing may well not let the film crews in. A lavish performance of Puccini’s Turandot has been staged in the Forbidden City, which is also where Bertolucci filmed The Last Emperor, but these were both propaganda exercises for China, set safely back in the Imperial past. If the Chinese ...


Walter Patterson, 29 October 1987

by Vladimir Gubaryev, translated by Michael Glenny.
Penguin, 81 pp., £3.50, April 1987, 0 14 048214 8
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The Star Chernobyl 
by Julia Voznesenskaya.
Quartet, 181 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 7043 2631 0
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Chernobyl: A Novel 
by Frederick Pohl.
Bantam, 355 pp., £4.95, September 1987, 0 553 05210 1
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Mayday at Chernobyl 
by Henry Hamman and Stuart Parrott.
Hodder, 278 pp., £2.95, April 1987, 0 450 40858 2
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State of the World 1987: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress toward a Sustainable Society 
by Lester Brown.
Norton, 268 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 393 02399 0
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... in a mass evacuation from which many will never return. You have the firemen, the helicopter crews and the miners who fought to bring the shattered reactor under control. You have the local functionaries who kept the truth from their people; the Party politicos from Moscow who rushed to the scene; the academicians and engineers who planned the desperate ...

Melancholy Actions

Charles Glass: Scuttling the French Fleet, 17 December 2009

England’s Last War against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42 
by Colin Smith.
Weidenfeld, 490 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 0 297 85218 6
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... resounded with more anti-English ardour than Surcouf, a submarine launched in 1929 and named after Robert Surcouf, le roi des corsairs, who in his long career seized more than 40 English ships. In 1940, the first shots in what Colin Smith calls ‘England’s last war against France’ were exchanged between the two navies. Before the armistice of 22 June, de ...

Oh God, can we face it?

Daniel Finn: ‘The BBC’s Irish Troubles’, 19 May 2016

The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’: Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland 
by Robert Savage.
Manchester, 298 pp., £70, May 2015, 978 0 7190 8733 2
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... that the British state, of which it was a part, was one of the main protagonists in the conflict? Robert Savage believes that the corporation passed this test with honour: ‘the BBC was attacked, threatened and bullied by a variety of actors, but did its best to stand its ground and maintain editorial independence and journalistic integrity.’ But the facts ...

Zero Hour

E.S. Turner, 29 September 1988

The Berlin Blockade 
by Ann Tusa and John Tusa.
Hodder, 445 pp., £16.95, June 1988, 0 340 41607 6
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... not. The American Air Force opened up a ‘little Corridor’ at Great Falls, Montana, where 100 crews a month were taught instrument flying. The French risked Russian fury by blowing up two Radio Berlin transmitter towers which were an aerial hazard, but near Tempelhof a 400-foot brewery chimney which not even Goering had been able to move survived ...


Stephen Smith: What about Somalia?, 11 February 1993

... of ordnance in Aideed’s yard was firmly told to forget about it. (His discovery occurred as Robert Oakley, the President’s special representative, was wheedling Aideed and his enemy Ali Mahdi Mohamed into a hug opportunity for the cameras.) Any questions about disarmament have been met by the commanders of Operation Restore Hope with an insouciant ...

Not Altogether Lost

James Hamilton-Paterson: The Tasaday, 19 June 2003

Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday 
by Robin Hemley.
Farrar, Straus, 352 pp., $25, May 2003, 0 374 17716 3
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... and whose PANAMIN organisation controlled access to them from the outset. Carefully selected film crews, journalists and scientists made the trip down to South Cotabato and were arduously choppered into dense jungle to view the tribe. Imelda Marcos visited and declared herself a changed person; so did Gina Lollobrigida and Charles Lindbergh. National ...

The Way of the Warrior

Tom Shippey: Vikings, 3 April 2014

Vikings: Life and Legend 
edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wernhoff.
British Museum, 288 pp., £25, February 2014, 978 0 7141 2337 0
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The Northmen’s Fury 
by Philip Parker.
Cape, 450 pp., £25, March 2014, 978 0 224 09080 3
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... updates, but there is no advance on Martin Arnold’s The Vikings: Culture and Conquest (2006), or Robert Ferguson’s The Hammer and the Cross (2009), or even Gwyn Jones’s magisterial History of the Vikings (1968, revised 1973). Consider the ‘key questions’ Parker starts with. First, why should Scandinavian societies have turned so suddenly to overseas ...

Tricky Business

Megan Vaughan: The Middle Passage, 12 December 2002

The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade 
by Robert Harms.
Perseus, 466 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 1 903985 18 8
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... The Billy brothers were expecting big profits from the sale of Africans they would never see. Robert Harms has based his riveting account of the ‘worlds of the slave trade’ on a journal kept by a young lieutenant on the Diligent, Robert Durand, a document sold in the 1980s to the Beinecke Library at Yale, where ...

And after we’ve struck Cuba?

Thomas Powers, 13 November 1997

The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Harvard, 728 pp., £23.50, October 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 420 pp., £25, September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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... leaders privy to these extraordinary reports. The Americans, too, had unruly fears. In June 1962 Robert Kennedy asked a Russian confidant whom he rightly thought to be an officer in the KGB: ‘Tell me Georgi, is there anyone in the Soviet leadership who advocates a decisive clash with the United States?’ The meeting and the question were reported to ...

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