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Mysterian

Jackson Lears: On Chomsky

3 May 2017
Why Only Us: Language and Evolution 
by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky.
MIT, 215 pp., £18.95, February 2016, 978 0 262 03424 1
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Because We Say So 
by Noam Chomsky.
Penguin, 199 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 0 241 97248 9
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What Kind of Creatures Are We? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Columbia, 167 pp., £17, January 2016, 978 0 231 17596 8
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Who Rules the World? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Hamish Hamilton, 307 pp., £18.99, May 2016, 978 0 241 18943 6
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Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals 
by Neil Smith and Nicholas Allott.
Cambridge, 461 pp., £18.99, January 2016, 978 1 107 44267 2
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... just so’ stories about what happened on the savannah thousands of years ago. Chomsky resisted this sort of thinking for years but has finally succumbed to it in collaboration with his MIT colleague RobertBerwick, producing Why Only Us: Language and Evolution. Identifying the earliest known symbolic object, a geometrically engraved plaque from South Africa dating from eighty thousand years ago, the ...
9 October 1986
... Rosalind, youngest daughter of the second Lord Stanley of Alderley) are published here for the first time, with the permission of the Hon. Simon Howard. They cover the visit of the 57-year-old Robert Browning to Naworth Castle, the Cumberland home of the George Howards. Browning had recently published his great poem The Ring and the Book, with its dedication to his dead wife. He was mentally ...

Still Defending the Scots

Katie Stevenson: Robert​ the Bruce

10 September 2014
Robert​ the Bruce: King of the Scots 
by Michael Penman.
Yale, 443 pp., £25, June 2014, 978 0 300 14872 5
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... a few months ago in a blog for the Telegraph of a Treasury aide who’d said to him that ‘Alex Salmond wants to be William Wallace.’ ‘No,’ Martin corrected him. ‘Alex Salmond wants to be Robert the Bruce.’ Wallace has been cast as ‘the people’s champion’, a role he played in the 1975 novel The Wallace by the prolific Nigel Tranter and, twenty years later, in Braveheart. But Martin ...

‘This in no wise omit’

Tom Bingham: Habeas Corpus

7 October 2010
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire 
by Paul Halliday.
Harvard, 502 pp., £29.95, March 2010, 978 0 674 04901 7
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... His counsel, engaged by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, argued that the writ might issue to Canada from England, relying on an earlier precedent when the writ had been directed to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Queen’s Bench justices acceded to the argument. They ordered issue of a writ that ‘in the absence of any prohibitive enactment, goes to all parts of the queen’s dominions’, as ...

Rough Wooing

Michael Brown: Flodden

23 January 2014
Fatal Rivalry: Flodden 1513 
by George Goodwin.
Weidenfeld, 288 pp., £20, July 2013, 978 0 297 86739 5
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... choice. James had no real objectives beyond forcing Henry to abandon his expedition to France, though Goodwin suggests that he may have hoped to annex lands along the English border and recover Berwick-on-Tweed. James’s decision to await the advance of Surrey and then to commit his army to battle were those of a king intent on humiliating his brother-in-law. In many ways, Henry’s delusions ...

Adored Gazelle

Ferdinand Mount: Cherubino at Number Ten

20 March 2008
Balfour: The Last Grandee 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 479 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 7195 5424 7
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... dinner table. When in Scotland he liked to play two rounds of golf a day, to keep his handicap down to ten (about the same as Ian Fleming and better than P.G. Wodehouse). On the links at North Berwick, when he made a bad shot, he would turn away and gaze over the Forth and then turn round again, smiling. At times he sounds like a fully paid-up member of the Drones club. No one, after all, was ...

Glimpsed in the Glare

Michael Neill: Shakespeare in 1606

17 December 2015
1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 423 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 0 571 23578 0
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... that Edmund uses to discredit Edgar and the mysterious missive, warning of ‘a terrible blow’ against Parliament, that the recusant Lord Monteagle handed over to James’s secretary of state, Robert Cecil, just before the plot was exposed. But Shakespeare had used a similar plot device in Twelfth Night (the comedy that is remembered in the Fool’s song at the end of Act III, scene ii), and even ...

Cape of Mad Hope

Neal Ascherson: The Darien disaster

3 January 2008
The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations 
by Douglas Watt.
Luath, 312 pp., £8.99, January 2007, 978 1 906307 09 7
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... of ruin, England offered them every penny of their lost money back – plus 42 per cent interest! If, that is, they accepted the Union Treaty, in which the Equivalent figured as Article 15. When Robert Burns wrote ‘We’re bought and sold for English gold,’ he was probably thinking of those Scottish politicians who were directly bribed with cash and job offers, and who became despised and ...

West End Boy

Adam Shatz: Breivik & Co

20 November 2014
A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya 
by Aage Borchgrevink, translated by Guy Puzey.
Polity, 299 pp., £20, November 2013, 978 0 7456 7220 5
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Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia 
by Sindre Bangstad.
Zed, 286 pp., £16.99, June 2014, 978 1 78360 007 6
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... exposing the Muslim plot to conquer Christendom. In large part a compendium of extracts from counter-jihadist websites, 2083 was posted online on the day of the attacks under the name ‘Andrew Berwick’, one of Breivik’s several aliases. The signs of Europe’s creeping Islamisation were everywhere, he argued, from Bosnian independence to the spread of mosques in Oslo. Muslim men were having ...

What most I love I bite

Matthew Bevis: Stevie Smith

27 July 2016
The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith 
edited by Will May.
Faber, 806 pp., £35, October 2015, 978 0 571 31130 9
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... as ‘the madness and correctitude of poetry’. Those thieves – like the flower and the poem they feed – are in league with stolen, fleeting pleasures. Smith is the poet of ‘bold drops’. Robert Lowell was enthusiastic about her writing because it was ‘so unlike the usual poem trying so hard to be a poem’. In her essay ‘Simply Living’, she refers to ‘the pleasures of simplicity ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances

7 March 2019
The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... 1140 hours of sunshine a year, while south-east Scotland has between 1471 and 1540 hours – perhaps twice as much (though anyone who has spent a summer week in Ullapool followed by another in North Berwick will doubt the multiple can be so low). The soil in the south is better too, and much more plentiful; Devine quotes an estimate that only 1 per cent of the land surface in the four parishes of north ...

‘A Being full of Witching’

Charles Nicholl: The ‘poor half-harlot’ of Hazlitt’s affections

18 May 2000
... The family worshipped at the Elim Baptist Chapel on Fetter Lane, where in 1819 they buried grandfather Anthony. In the same year Sarah’s elder sister Martha married a well-to-do young solicitor, Robert Roscoe, who had been one of their first lodgers at Southampton Buildings. This was an excellent match from the Walkers’ point of view, one they were no doubt keen to repeat for Sarah, now in her ...

Watching Me Watching Them Watching You

Andrew O’Hagan: Surveillance

9 October 2003
... exercise in the vindication of public outrage’. Nowadays, in certain Liverpool pubs, you can find people who will show you a new image, downloaded and printed from the Internet. It is an image of Robert Thompson as he may look now. Vengeance is evergreen, and the regulars know the image by heart and they watch the door. I don’t mean to marshal these thoughts, as Johnson said, into a school and ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde

10 May 2012
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... himself, he would have to produce more substantial work. He wanted both commercial and literary success to increase his notoriety and win some sort of respect among his peers. In January 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It sold forty thousand copies in Britain in its first six months. ‘There is something almost impertinent,’ Henry James wrote ...

Trains in Space

James Meek: The Great Train Robbery

4 May 2016
The Railways: Nation, Network and People 
by Simon Bradley.
Profile, 645 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 1 84668 209 4
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... railways – state and railways were in a state of symbiosis, where nominally private and nominally public bureaucrats were constantly obliged to mingle and find common ground. The economic historian Robert Millward points out that the popular notion of nationalisation in Europe as a 1940s phenomenon, driven by the perceived failures of capitalism in the 1930s and the successes of the planned economy in ...

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