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Far from the Least Worst Alternative

R.W. Johnson: The shortcomings of Neville Chamberlain, 17 August 2006

Neville Chamberlain: A Biography 
by Robert Self.
Ashgate, 573 pp., £35, May 2006, 0 7546 5615 2
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... in May 1940, as a result of the failed Norwegian campaign, his stock had sunk fairly low but, as Robert Self points out, he continued to serve in Churchill’s government to such good effect that the latter made no bones about saying that Chamberlain was ‘the best man’ he had, ‘head and shoulders over the average man in the ...

At the Wellcome

Will Self: Bedlam, The Asylum and Beyond, 17 November 2016

... career. I remember also that during my Royal Free period I was reading R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self – so I came to an awareness both of the state-mandated asylums, and of those who radically opposed them, at more or less the same time. Still, I don’t believe I’m atypical, either among the psychically distressed or those who’ve never suffered from ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers, 20 April 2017

... talk about your work and not your life, if you don’t mind. ‘Bob’s patrician manner was self-created,’ Jonathan Galassi told me, ‘deliberately low-key, warm yet self-protective.’ The thing was to keep moving forward and not look back. Even at Barbara Epstein’s wake, held in her apartment on West 67th ...

Self-Positioning

Stefan Collini: The Movement, 25 June 2009

The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and Their Contemporaries 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 336 pp., £18.99, May 2009, 978 0 19 955825 4
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... fallen,’ Raine comments, ‘for the propaganda – Larkin’s bluff, insular, faux-xenophobic self-caricature.’ Compound terms using ‘self-’ often raise questions about agency and responsibility. When we speak of ‘self-criticism’ or ‘...

Fanfaronade

Will Self: James Ellroy, 2 December 2010

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women 
by James Ellroy.
Heinemann, 203 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 0 434 02064 5
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... and who knows what they may make of it? – a different kind of case history, one of compacted self-delusion, grandiosity and monstrous self-pity. Dutifully, I set to. I reread My Dark Places and once more exposed myself to the fanfaronade of his self-interrogation as he detailed the ...
We and They, Civic and Despotic Cultures 
by Robert Conquest.
Temple Smith, 252 pp., £12.50, April 1980, 0 85117 184 2
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The Recovery of Freedom 
by Paul Johnson.
Blackwell, 232 pp., £8.50, August 1980, 0 631 12562 0
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... regarded the state as a means by which the less fortunate among us could be enabled to achieve the self-expression and moral fulfilment which is their right as creatures made in God’s image’, now writes: ‘Of all lessons the one which history most earnestly presses upon us and which we most persistently brush aside is “Beware the state!” ’ And he ...

Some Names for Robert Lowell

Karl Miller, 19 May 1983

Robert Lowell: A Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 527 pp., £12.50, May 1983, 0 571 13045 3
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... Robert Lowell is not difficult to represent as the mad poet and justified sinner of the Romantic heritage. He is the dual personality who breaks the rules, kicks over the traces: he did this in the course of a series of manic highs which came and went from maturity, if not before, until the end of his life in 1977 at the age of 60 ...

Self-Management

Seamus Perry: Southey’s Genius for Repression, 26 January 2006

Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793-1810 
edited by Lynda Pratt, Tim Fulford and Daniel Sanjiv Roberts.
Pickering & Chatto, 2624 pp., £450, May 2004, 1 85196 731 1
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... Coleridge’s old schoolmates, who took the visitors to see a notorious democrat at Balliol called Robert Southey. It was an encounter that, Southey would recall, ‘fixed the future fortunes of us both’. The tourists had planned to stop in Oxford for three or four days but ended up staying three weeks. When they finally set out for Wales, Coleridge’s head ...

Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert Crawford: The Radical Burns, 25 July 2002

Robert Burns: Poems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate Burns: The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... Aberdeen philosopher Thomas Blackwell was writing that Homer was a ‘stroling indigent Bard’. Robert Burns liked that idea. In ‘Love and Liberty’ a bard sings alongside prostitutes and tinkers, and pronounces himself ‘Homer like’. Burns’s footnote (Burns enjoyed footnotes) points out cheekily that ‘Homer is allowed to be the oldest ...

Diary

Will Self: Cocaine, 5 November 2015

... white rather than the right stuff. The cocaine literature of the era reflected these attitudes: Robert Sabbag’s Snowblind (1976) was a gonzo-inflected account of how one man, Zachary Swan, single-handedly turned southern California onto coke; and while there’s plenty of nastiness in the tale (how could there not be?), the overall impression Sabbag gives ...

Bad Shepherd

Robert Crawford: James Hogg, 5 April 2001

The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. VIII: The ‘Spy’ 
edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 641 pp., £60, March 2000, 9780748613656
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... George Buchanan’s over-the-top ‘Elegy for Jean Calvin’. The volume remains high in some of Robert Fergusson’s sophistic-performative street-talk, Burns’s on-off, rip-roaring ‘Tam o’Shanter’, MacDiarmid’s last trump blawing ‘tootle-ootle-oo’, Edwin Morgan’s Loch Ness Monstering ‘Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok ...

Self-Effacers

John Lanchester, 24 May 1990

Chicago Loop 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 183 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 241 12949 4
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Lies of Silence 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 194 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0610 8
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Amongst Women 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 184 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14284 2
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The Condition of Ice 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 170 pp., £12.95, April 1990, 0 436 19989 0
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... brilliance on our attention, the four novelists here under review would be clustered towards the self-effacing side of the spectrum, with colleagues such as Burgess, Nabokov and Amis fils huddling together for warmth at the far end. Paul Theroux’s last novel, My Secret History, deployed a cool transparency of style to great effect in telling a story which ...

The Frisson

Will Self, 23 January 2014

The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes 
by Patrick Keiller.
Verso, 218 pp., £14.99, November 2013, 978 1 78168 140 4
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... than I see that reality reclaimed and borne away by the uncontrollable river of things.’ This self-cancelling – or possibly short-circuiting – property of the Surrealist frisson (or indeed the Situationists’ ‘situations’ and ‘détournements’), was explained by Lefebvre in his Critique of Everyday Life, in terms of his own roughly equivalent ...

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 ...

Under the Staircase

Robert Neild, 1 April 1983

War Plan UK: The Truth about Civil Defence in Britain 
by Duncan Campbell.
Burnett, 488 pp., £12.95, November 1982, 0 09 150670 0
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With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War 
by Robert Scheer.
Secker, 279 pp., £8.95, February 1983, 0 436 44355 4
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... of Defence for Research and Engineering, Strategic and Theatre Nuclear Forces, that Robert Scheer heard the phrase from which he took the title of his book: ‘if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.’ The shovels, Mr Jones explained, were for digging holes in the ground. These would be covered somehow or other ...

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