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Stop the treadmill!

Barry Schwartz: Affluence and wellbeing, 8 March 2007

The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950 
by Avner Offer.
Oxford, 454 pp., £30, March 2006, 0 19 820853 7
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... of wealth acquisition that thrives on inequality, but leaves no one better off. Twenty years ago Robert Frank wrote a brilliant book about the quest for status, Choosing the Right Pond, and Offer’s contribution brings Frank’s analysis up to date. We run faster and faster, for longer and longer, just to keep ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... Writing letters was not the work Robert Lowell thought himself born to do, but what with one thing and another – good friends, a lively mind, deep troubles – he wrote a great many of them, demonstrating at considerable length ‘the excitement of his intelligence and the liveliness of his prose’. These are the words of Saskia Hamilton, the poet who has undertaken the arduous and complicated task of editing this selection ...

If Goofy Could Talk

Frank Cioffi, 6 April 1995

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals 
by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy.
Cape, 268 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 224 03554 1
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The Hidden Life of Dogs 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 148 pp., £12.50, May 1994, 0 297 81461 3
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The Tribe of Tiger 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, October 1994, 0 297 81508 3
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... to them. The author of the entry on animals in the Oxford Companion to the Mind, the ethologist Robert Hinde, writes that ‘chimpanzees have a conception of the self and can dissemble and deceive others,’ and that there is strong evidence that ‘dogs have pleasant and unpleasant dreams.’ Someone must have forgotten to warn Hinde that such discourse is ...

Men at Sea

Robert Taubman, 6 November 1980

Rites of Passage 
by William Golding.
Faber, 278 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 571 11639 6
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... myth – one we can still half assent to while half persuaded by the black, reductive alternative. Frank Kermode, while studying the mythopoeic patterns of The Spire, is surely right about the importance for that novel of a particular place, Salisbury, and a particular trade: ‘I don’t know exactly where he got the facts about the mason’s ...

Diary

Frank Field: Reading Kilroy-Silk’s Diary, 6 November 1986

... to present them in as favourable a light as possible. From this point of view, the diary of Robert Kilroy-Silk is a great disappointment.1 Before embarking on its exploration the reader ought to prepare himself for two shocks. First, there are yet more disclosures about the operations of Militant in Merseyside. In his new book on Labour’s future Eric ...

Traffaut’s Heroes

Richard Mayne, 4 September 1980

The Films in My Life 
by François Truffaut, translated by Leonard Mayhew.
Allen Lane, 358 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1322 3
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... his American heroes – including not only Lubitsch, Hawks, Hitchcock and Orson Welles, but also Robert, Aldrich, Frank Tashlin, Robert Wise and Nicholas Ray. Characteristically, his best remarks about them home in on technique. ‘Hitchcock’s mastery of the are grows greater with each ...

Blame Robert Maxwell

Frederick Wilmot-Smith: How Public Inquiries Go Wrong, 17 March 2016

... This is the process, named after a legal battle involving the disgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell, whereby those criticised in the first draft of a report are given an opportunity to respond. Chilcot hoped to begin this process in 2013, but negotiations over the publication of minutes of cabinet meetings and the correspondence between Tony ...

Bad Medicine

Frank McLynn, 23 July 1992

The Malaria Capers 
by Robert Desowitz.
Norton, 288 pp., £14.95, February 1992, 9780393030136
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... was content to return to Hippocrates’s theory of an aetiology from ‘miasmata’ in swamps. Robert Desowitz recounts in some detail the discovery of the malaria pathogen transmitted to humans by the bite of the anopheline mosquito, and provides much fascinating information en route. Polynesia was malaria-free until Europeans brought the scourge in the ...

To Kill All Day

Frank Kermode: Amis’s Terrible News, 17 October 2002

Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 306 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 224 06303 0
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... aposiopesis may be allowed as a structural feature, as when Yeats ends his ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ by claiming that he cannot continue his roll call of Gregory’s friends because ‘a thought/Of that late death took all my heart for speech.’ We may grant Yeats command of that trick and also say that to confront horror with irony calls for ...

Baudelairean

Mary Hawthorne: The Luck of Walker Evans, 5 February 2004

Walker Evans 
by James Mellow.
Perseus, 654 pp., £15.99, February 2002, 1 903985 13 7
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... poor, drought-stricken Hale County. Evans struck up a conversation with a tenant farmer named Frank Tingle. Tingle in turn introduced Evans and Agee to his brother-in-law Bud Woods, and to Bud Woods’s son-in-law Floyd Burroughs. Evans and Agee had found their subjects. The men all drove back to Tingle’s house, and Evans quietly set to ...

Westminster’s Irishman

Paul Smith, 7 April 1994

The Laurel and the Ivy: The Story of Charles Stewart Parnell and Irish Nationalism 
by Robert Kee.
Hamish Hamilton, 659 pp., £20, November 1993, 0 241 12858 7
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The Parnell Split 1890-91 
by Frank Callanan.
Cork, 327 pp., £35, November 1992, 0 902561 63 4
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... not only him but the Home Rule cause of the moral dignity he had battled to assert, and, as Frank Callanan notes, delivered to Unionist enemies the propaganda gift of an apparent reversion to the old, burlesque Ireland, the pantomimic Paddyism, of their most cherished prejudices, an image only intensified by Davitt’s snivelling exculpation of the ...

After the Woolwich

Frank Kermode, 7 February 1991

Spanner and Pen: Post-War Memoirs 
by Roy Fuller.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 190 pp., £16.95, February 1991, 1 85619 040 4
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... not be easy to name more recent comedians likely to win his approval. He quotes a letter from Robert Graves which, although it is about the poetry, gives an accurate representation of the way Fuller often sees his personality: ‘oppressed, stoical, humorous’, and not given to ‘chancing his arm’. There are various asides in which he speaks of a ...

Dead Cats and Fungi

Robert Taubman, 20 March 1980

Puffball 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 255 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 340 24565 4
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The Mirror of the Giant 
by Penelope Shuttle.
Marion Boyars, 165 pp., £5.95, January 1980, 0 7145 2679 7
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Another Part of the Wood 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 176 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 7156 1458 4
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Wild Oats 
by Jacob Epstein.
Alison Press/Secker, 267 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 436 14826 9
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In the Secret State 
by Robert McCrum.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 241 10322 3
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... another explicit sexual encounter of predictably little literary effect. The author tries to be frank and decent and open about it, but can’t, because the girlie magazines have got there first and muddied that pool. There were phrases elsewhere that I liked without comprehending – ‘ “It is the harvest of Orion!” cries Beth, and her shadow falls ...

Fashville

Robert Tashman, 9 March 1995

Prêt-à-Porter 
directed by Robert Altman.
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... a big business, but not, as it is now, a corporate power that crosses national and class borders. Robert Altman’s new film, Prêt-à-Porter, is like La Dolce Vita grafted onto Funny Face. The unaffected and trusting Hepburn and Astaire would be marginalised or crushed in the fashion world portrayed here. Altman has never enjoyed a sustained period of ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Scorsese, 16 November 2006

The Departed 
directed by Martin Scorsese.
October 2006
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... soon as it appears, and everyone still wants to be a gangster. He is not exactly a tragic hero, as Robert Warshow once suggested in a famous essay, but he is an embodiment of rogue power, a Robin Hood without the sentimental interest in the poor. Actually, gangsters in movies are always giving things away to children and widows, as Jack Nicholson hands out ...

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