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Grey Eminence

Edward Said

5 March 1981
Walter Lippmann and the American Century 
by Ronald​ Steel.
Bodley Head, 669 pp., £8.95, February 1981, 0 370 30376 8
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... Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) was probably the most powerful and famous American journalist of this century, a fact confirmed many times over in Ronald Steel’s extraordinarily fine biography. The only son of very well-off German-Jewish parents, Lippmann had a sheltered and privileged childhood in New York, ‘learning Latin and Greek by gaslight ...

Foxy-Faced

John Bayley

29 September 1988
Something to hold onto: Autobiographical Sketches 
by Richard Cobb.
Murray, 168 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 7195 4587 0
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... the past. The convolutions of contemporary literary criticism (in this context the past today moves fast) win the former’s professional admiration, while Cobb is as much a connoisseur of Tunbridge Wells interiors, customs and habits – ‘a distinctive week and a distinctive Sunday’ – as he is of the rituals of the railroad in a small American town, or of French speech, French drinks, metro ...

Poor Boys

Karl Miller

18 September 1986
In Search of a Past: The Manor House, Amnersfield 1933-1945 
by Ronald​ Fraser.
Verso, 187 pp., £15, September 1984, 9780860910923
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Growing up in the Gorbals 
by Ralph Glasser.
Chatto, 207 pp., £10.95, August 1986, 0 7011 3148 9
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... that is well-spoken. They are both interesting books because they tell interesting stories, and are arranged to dramatic effect in interesting ways. Ralph Glasser’s is fresh from the oven, while Ronald Fraser’s appeared in 1984, gained a second impression last year, and is still being discussed. Juliet Mitchell has called it ‘a miniature masterpiece’, and it is a work which should have been ...

America Deserta

Richard Poirier

16 February 1989
America 
by Jean Baudrillard, translated by Chris Turner.
Verso, 129 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 86091 220 5
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America Observed: The Newspaper Years of Alistair Cooke 
by Ronald Wells.
Reinhardt, 233 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 1 871061 09 1
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American Journals 
by Albert Camus, translated by Hugh Levick.
Hamish Hamilton, 155 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12621 5
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... I think, therefore I am’ was not supposed by Descartes to apply only to those for whom thinking is a line of work. That would appear to be the operating assumption, however, of the celebrated French sociologist-philosopher Jean Baudrillard in America, the latest of his works translated into English. At first the reader might wonder why a prose as dense as his should be made more so by having it ...

Shaw tests the ice

Ronald​ Bryden

18 December 1986
Bernard Shaw: The Diaries 1885-1897 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 1241 pp., £65, September 1986, 0 571 13901 9
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... in its social fervour.’ It seems to have been that fervour which drew him together with Shaw. Their socialism had an emotional, almost religious basis lacking in that of the Webbs or, later, H.G. Wells. In his Fabian essay on property, Wallas describes the ‘dreary squalor’ of the English industrial working class, then the new and nobler life socialism could bring them. ‘Socialism hangs above ...

Short Cuts

James Meek: Anglospheroids

21 March 2013
... in 1916 to destroy that country’s oil industry before the Germans overran it. He had the Romanian government’s permission but local staff would occasionally try to interfere as he went at the oil wells with fire, dynamite and his personal sledgehammer. If the force of his personality failed to get them to back off, Daniel Yergin writes in The Prize, ‘he would deliver a powerful kick or pull out ...

Sabotage

Gavin Millar

13 September 1990
Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles 
by Frank Brady.
Hodder, 655 pp., £18.95, January 1990, 0 340 51389 6
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If this was happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 312 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79630 5
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Norma Shearer 
by Gavin Lambert.
Hodder, 381 pp., £17.95, August 1990, 0 340 52947 4
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Ava’s Men: The Private Life of Ava Gardner 
by Jane Ellen Wayne.
Robson, 268 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 86051 636 9
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Goldwyn: A Biography 
by Scott Berg.
Hamish Hamilton, 579 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 241 12832 3
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The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-Making in the Studio Era 
by Thomas Schatz.
Simon and Schuster, 514 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 671 69708 0
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... partly as a spoof to deflate the impregnable authority of radio. Nobody was pleased, least of all the producers, CBS, who had to apologise to listeners, the Federal Communications Commission and H.G. Wells, all of whom appeared shocked. CBS made Welles apologise too and settled out-of-court claims for injuries received by panicking listeners falling downstairs and jumping out of windows in an effort to ...

Hit by Donald Duck

Oliver Hill-Andrews: The Red Scientist

24 May 2018
Popularising Science: The Life and Work of J.B.S. Haldane 
by Krishna Dronamraju.
Oxford, 367 pp., £26.99, February 2017, 978 0 19 933392 9
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... his context. Popularising Science has further, more serious problems: it is littered with self-aggrandising remarks; whole sections from one chapter are reproduced verbatim in another; and it follows Ronald Clark’s biography of Haldane from 1968 a little too closely, and without attribution. Dronamraju, a geneticist, is good on Haldane’s scientific achievements, but his use of unexplained ...

Baby Face

John Bayley

24 May 1990
William Gerhardie: A Biography 
by Dido Davies.
Oxford, 411 pp., £25, April 1990, 0 19 211794 7
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Memoirs of a Polyglot 
by William Gerhardie.
Robin Clark, 381 pp., £5.95, April 1990, 0 86072 111 6
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Futility 
by William Gerhardie.
Robin Clark, 198 pp., £4.95, April 1990, 0 86072 112 4
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God’s Fifth Column: A Biography of the Age 1890-1940 
by William Gerhardie, edited by Michael Holroyd and Robert Skidelsky.
Hogarth, 360 pp., £8.95, April 1990, 0 7012 0887 2
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... re a genius, but if you’re Russian ... well then ... of course ...’ ‘I am English,’ cut in Gerhardie. That was partly the trouble: he was, but he made his reputation as an exotic. Unlike Ronald Firbank, who had his own niche as a homosexual and a rare stylistic innovator, Gerhardie could not in the end claim to be anything specially, not even an eccentric. Although he had a close and life ...

So Amused

Sarah Rigby: Fay Weldon

11 July 2002
Auto da Fay 
by Fay Weldon.
Flamingo, 366 pp., £15.99, May 2002, 9780007109920
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... is 12, regales the girls with tales of her prewar meetings in London with figures such as Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound (who apparently had a habit of playing her piano with his nose when drunk), H.G. Wells and E. Nesbit, who, Weldon’s grandmother tells her, ‘was very excitable and . . . ran round the corridors at night screaming’. Meanwhile, Weldon attends a Scottish-influenced girls’ high ...

Noddy is on page 248

Jay Griffiths: On the streets

10 June 1999
The Penguin Book of 20th-Century Protest 
edited by Brian MacArthur.
Penguin, 440 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 670 87052 8
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DIY Culture: Party and Protest in Nineties Britain 
edited by George McKay.
Verso, 310 pp., £11, July 1998, 1 85984 260 7
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... approach: heavy subjects, heavily protested. MacArthur’s gravitas has advantages. The book is thorough on race equality, poverty and war, and the selection provides a sober roll-call: Ida B. Wells, Aneurin Bevan, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King, Václav Havel, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Its portrayal of the first half of the century has solidity; you are in safe, if stubby hands. There are also some ...

Her Guns

Jeremy Harding

8 March 1990
The View from the Ground 
by Martha Gellhorn.
Granta, 459 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 14 014200 2
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Towards Asmara 
by Thomas Keneally.
Hodder, 320 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 340 41517 7
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... Central American policy. Her fiction is less well-known, although the first collection of novellas, The trouble I’ve seen (1936), received generous praise from Graham Greene and H.G. Wells. For years, her literary standing was compromised by her ties to Ernest Hemingway in the Thirties and Forties. This has long since ceased to be the case. The Face of War, her collected war reporting ...
19 September 1996
Our Vampires, Ourselves 
by Nina Auerbach.
Chicago, 238 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 226 03201 9
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... the movie that struck me as truly frightening. Nina Auerbach, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, is interested in fear. In the Eighties she found herself living in a nation – Ronald Reagan’s America – that had ‘turned ... its fear on itself’. Franklin Roosevelt had said that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ but Reagan was a master manipulator of ...

Todd Almighty

Peter Medawar

16 February 1984
A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist 
by Alexander Todd.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 521 25593 7
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... of all doubles – membership of our own Order of Merit and of the Order Pour le Mérite, the German model of our own. I believe the only two others who have won this double are Henry Moore and Sir Ronald Syme. Nothing could be more interesting than to learn such a man’s views on unilateral nuclear disarmament, the Greenham Common women, the exhaustion of fossil fuels and the fitness of women for ...

Oh for the oo tray

William Feaver: Edward Burra

13 December 2007
Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye 
by Jane Stevenson.
Cape, 496 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 224 07875 7
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... Century Eye could be published unillustrated. That is, without reproductions of any of the paintings. (Part of The Tea-Shop, 1929, one of Burra’s Naughtee Paree numbers, perfect for a Folio Society Ronald Firbank reprint, makes it to the dust jacket.) Pictures, it’s true, might distract from the commissioned narrative and, anyway, biographers of painters should avoid frisking pictures for personal ...

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