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Disease and the Marketplace

Roy Porter, 26 November 1987

Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830-1910 
by Richard Evans.
Oxford, 676 pp., £55, October 1987, 0 19 822864 3
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... such bacilli existed. The epidemic had struck at a crucial juncture. Louis Pasteur in France and Robert Koch in Imperial Berlin had pioneered the germ theory of disease, which attributed lethal epidemics to invasive micro-organisms. But this new bacteriology did not enjoy an instantaneous or universal triumph. To many it seemed like a warmed-up version of ...

Why Mr Fax got it wrong

Roy Porter: Population history, 5 March 1998

English Population History from Family Reconstitution 1580-1837 
by E.A. Wrigley and R.S. Davies.
Cambridge, 657 pp., £60, July 1997, 0 521 59015 9
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The Savage Wars of Peace: England, Japan and the Malthusian Trap 
by Alan Macfarlane.
Blackwell, 427 pp., £45, May 1997, 0 631 18117 2
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... two hundred years ago this year, An Essay on the Principle of Population made the Rev. Thomas Robert malthus into the man of the moment. Malthus’s principle – that population inevitably outruns food resources – was heralded by some as the decisive scientific refutation of the mad perfectibilist schemes of the French Revolutionaries and their English ...

Lucky Moments

Robert Bernard Martin, 1 April 1983

Spirit of Wit: Reconsiderations of Rochester 
edited by Jeremy Treglown.
Blackwell, 208 pp., £14, September 1982, 0 631 12897 2
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... rivals. Although I should have thought that misanthropy was nearer the mark than misogyny, Peter Porter twice mentions Rochester’s ‘male chauvinism’, which today may be only the knee-jerk reaction of any masculine critic, automatically kicked out to protect himself by anticipation from the very charge he levels. Rochester’s flaunted licentiousness ...

Blame it on the Belgians

Hilary Mantel, 25 June 1992

The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe 
by Charles Nicholl.
Cape, 413 pp., £19.99, June 1992, 0 224 03100 7
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... You don’t want to see him,’ said the porter at Corpus, when Charles Nicholl went to Cambridge to look at the portrait that is probably Christopher Marlowe. ‘He died in a tavern brawl.’ Nicholl viewed the putative Marlowe, in his opulent slashed doublet, and wondered how he could afford the outfit. He looked at his buttery bills too, and noted when the shoemaker’s son had money to spend; noted when (unless he was starving himself) he was absent from college ...

Give Pot a Chance

Roy Porter, 8 June 1995

Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine 
by Lester Grinspoon, edited by James Bakalar.
Yale, 184 pp., £7.95, April 1995, 0 300 05994 9
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... serving a six-month prison sentence, and virtually without medical support. Again, a Florida man, Robert Randall, who had contracted Aids following a blood transfusion, had, with great difficulty, obtained legal authorisation to use cannabis to reduce the nausea he suffered. He, too, was arrested at gunpoint, tried and convicted on a charge of growing ...

Callaloo

Robert Crawford, 20 April 1989

Northlight 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 81 pp., £8.95, September 1988, 0 571 15229 5
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A Field of Vision 
by Charles Causley.
Macmillan, 68 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 0 333 48229 8
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Seeker, Reaper 
by George Campbell Hay and Archie MacAlister.
Saltire Society, 30 pp., £15, September 1988, 0 85411 041 0
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In Through the Head 
by William McIlvanney.
Mainstream, 192 pp., £9.95, September 1988, 1 85158 169 3
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The New British Poetry 
edited by Gillian Allnutt, Fred D’Aguiar, Ken Edwards and Eric Mottram.
Paladin, 361 pp., £6.95, September 1988, 0 586 08765 6
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Complete Poems 
by Martin Bell, edited by Peter Porter.
Bloodaxe, 240 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 1 85224 043 1
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First and Always: Poems for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital 
edited by Lawrence Sail.
Faber, 69 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 571 55374 5
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Birthmarks 
by Mick Imlah.
Chatto, 61 pp., £4.95, September 1988, 0 7011 3358 9
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... this sort of browned-off tone does for a good deal of the verse in Bell’s Complete Poems. Peter Porter writes that Bell ‘knew more about poetry than any other writer I have known’, yet the number of Bell’s best poems is small. Clearly he was multi-talented. A stanza from a version of Corbiere shows fine use of form and acoustics. Bell can also have an ...

Robin’s Hoods

Patrick Wormald, 5 May 1983

Robin Hood 
by J.C. Holt.
Thames and Hudson, 208 pp., £8.95, May 1982, 0 500 25081 2
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The Early History of Glastonbury: An Edition, Translation and Study of William of Malmesbury’s ‘De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie’ 
by John Scott.
Boydell, 224 pp., £25, January 1982, 9780851151540
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Megalithomania 
by John Michell.
Thames and Hudson, 168 pp., £8.50, March 1982, 9780500012611
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... attempt to identify a ‘real’ Robin Hood was made 130 years ago by Joseph Hunter, who spotted a Robert Hood at Wakefield in 1316-17 and a ‘Robyn Hode, porter’ in the royal chamber in 1324. Since the Gest envisages a tour of the North by ‘Edwarde, our comly kynge’ as the context of Robin’s pardon and entry into ...

Viva la joia

Roy Porter, 22 December 1983

Montaigne: Essays in Reading 
edited by Gérard Defaux.
Yale, 308 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 0 300 02977 2
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Montaigne and Melancholy: The Wisdom of the ‘Essays’ 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 194 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 7156 1698 6
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... playing with bile, courting disaster. A generation later, that other constitutional melancholic, Robert Burton, shut himself up in Christ Church and composed for twenty years. The outcome, the Anatomy of Melancholy, won him glory. But it was the testament of an embittered splenetic, a libeller of humanity, whose half a million words kept melancholy on the ...

Tissue Wars

Roy Porter: HIV and Aids, 2 March 2000

The River: A Journey Back to the Source of HIV and Aids 
by Edward Hooper.
Allen Lane, 1070 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 7139 9335 9
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... from America? Advocates of the ‘natural transfer’ hypothesis, including Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo, credited as the discoverers of HIV, have assumed that Aids was an old disorder which became subject to the medical gaze only when Westerners were affected. And how had that come about? A disease long contained within certain isolated Central African ...

How to Hiss and Huff

Robert Alter: Mann’s Moses, 2 December 2010

The Tables of the Law 
by Thomas Mann, translated by Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann.
Haus, 113 pp., £10, October 2010, 978 1 906598 84 6
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... is a welcome replacement of the fussier and less accurate English version done by Helen Lowe-Porter for the original publication.) The novella was written after Mann helped pitch a film on the Ten Commandments to MGM. The film never got off the ground, but this text appeared as part of a rather uneven volume on the subject to which ten prominent writers ...

Weirdo Possible Genius Child

Daniel Soar: Max Porter, 23 May 2019

Lanny 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 213 pp., £12.99, March 2019, 978 0 571 34028 6
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... you just have to think of England. It may be embarrassing, it may be awful, but it exists. Max Porter’s Lanny – his second novel – is partly about an idea of England. It’s set in an unnamed village, ‘fewer than fifty redbrick cottages’, within commuting distance of London, a place that is ‘a cruciform grid with the twin hearts of church and ...

Monsieur Mangetout

Walter Nash, 7 December 1989

The Guinness Book of Records 1990 
edited by Donald McFarlan.
Guinness, 320 pp., £10.95, October 1989, 0 85112 341 4
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The Chatto Book of Cabbages and Kings: Lists in Literature 
edited by Francis Spufford.
Chatto, 313 pp., £13.95, November 1989, 0 7011 3487 9
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... Regard it, if you like, as a ripping anthology of runaway rigmaroles, from Tertullian to Cole Porter, with the added bonus of a brilliant introductory essay; or approach it more soberly, as a donnish disquisition supported by a considerable appendix of illustrative material. I suspect Mr Spufford would like us to take it both ways, and I should therefore ...

Baghdad’s Ruling Cliques

Keith Kyle, 15 August 1991

The Iraqi Revolution of 1958: The Old Social Classes Revisited 
edited by Robert Fernea and William Roger Louis.
Tauris, 232 pp., £35, May 1991, 1 85043 318 6
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Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein’s Ambition for Iraq 
by Simon Henderson.
Mercury House, 271 pp., £8.99, June 1991, 1 56279 007 2
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Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography 
by Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi.
Brassey, 307 pp., £17.95, April 1991, 0 08 041326 9
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The Gulf Between Us: The Gulf War and Beyond 
edited by Victoria Brittain.
Virago, 186 pp., £5.99, June 1991, 1 85381 386 9
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Under Siege in Kuwait: A Survivor’s Story 
by Jadranka Porter.
Gollancz, 250 pp., £4.99, July 1991, 9780575051850
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... and murder. A vivid account of life for a foreigner under the occupation has appeared in Jadranka Porter’s Under Siege in Kuwait. Ms Porter was a Yugoslav (and a British citizen) employed by the local English-language paper and living with her much older black American boy-friend. Fortunately for the book, this rather ...

Static

Lorna Scott Fox, 22 September 1994

The Still Moment 
by Paul Binding.
Virago, 290 pp., £20, May 1994, 1 85381 441 5
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... endeavour that smacks of artifice, Welty was self-made, something which delighted Katherine Anne Porter. ‘She has never studied the writing craft in any college. She has never belonged to a literary group ... Nothing else that I know about her could be more satisfactory to me than this.’ Despite Welty’s prompt adoption by ...

Sex in the head

Roy Porter, 7 July 1988

The History of Sexuality. Vol. III: The Care of Self 
by Michel Foucault, translated by Robert Hurley.
Allen Lane, 279 pp., £17.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9002 3
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... How are we to read the history of sexuality? In the Introduction volume to his great multi-volume essay in critical-revisionism, Michel Foucault set out to demystify the discourse which has informed post-Victorian accounts about sex, whether therapeutic (Reich), scholarly (Bloch) or polemical (Marcuse). Such histories were traditionally cast in a progressive, Whiggish, emancipatory framework, presupposing a dialectics of drives, repression and liberation ...

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