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Burning isn’t the only way to lose a book

Matthew Battles, 13 April 2000

The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World 
edited by Roy MacLeod.
Tauris, 196 pp., £39.50, February 2000, 1 86064 428 7
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... grew bold enough to ask ‘Amr what might be done with the ‘books of wisdom’ held in the ‘royal treasuries’, going on to tell him of the great collections amassed by Ptolemy Philadelphus and his successors. ‘Amr replied that he could not decide the fate of the books without consulting the Caliph, Omar. The Caliph’s answer, quoted here from ...

Carnivals of Progress

John Ziman, 17 February 1983

Sir William Rowan Hamilton 
by Thomas Hankins.
Johns Hopkins, 474 pp., £19.50, July 1981, 0 8018 2203 3
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Gentlemen of Science: Early Years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 
by Jack Morrell and Arnold Thackray.
Oxford, 592 pp., £30, August 1981, 0 19 858163 7
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The Parliament of Science: The British Association for the Advancement of Science 1831-1981 
edited by Roy MacLeod and Peter Collins.
Science Reviews, 308 pp., £12.25, September 1982, 0 905927 66 4
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... genius received prompt recognition. He was appointed professor of mathematics and Astronomer Royal of Ireland at the age of 22, and was knighted at 30. He had four adoring and talented sisters, and innumerable sympathetic friends, including Maria Edgeworth and William Wordsworth. His scientific star never publicly waned: just before his death, in ...

This Sporting Life

R.W. Johnson, 8 December 1994

Iain Macleod 
by Robert Shepherd.
Hutchinson, 608 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 09 178567 7
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... It was one of the most attractive aspects of Iain Macleod that he was not easily taken for a professional politician. After depressing his hard-working doctor father by getting a lower second at Cambridge, he was quickly sacked from his first job at De la Rue’s, mainly because he found it an almost impossible struggle to get to work in the morning after staying up into the wee hours playing bridge and poker at Crockfords ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... in his speeches. ‘Lazy? Lazy?’ Bevan responded to a sneer about the laziness of his colleague Roy Jenkins: ‘How can a boy from Abersychan who acquired an accent like that be lazy?’ From Princess Margaret comes a comment on the moribundity of the London Season: ‘Every tart in London can get in.’ Kynaston appreciates the respect for working-class ...

In Praise of Middle Government

Ian Gilmour, 12 July 1990

Liberalisms. Essays in Political Philosophy 
by John Gray.
Routledge, 273 pp., £35, August 1989, 0 415 00744 5
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The Voice of Liberal Learning: Michael Oakeshott on Education 
edited by Timothy Fuller.
Yale, 169 pp., £20, April 1990, 0 300 04344 9
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The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott 
by Paul Franco.
Yale, 277 pp., £20, April 1990, 0 300 04686 3
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Conservatism 
by Ted Honderich.
Hamish Hamilton, 255 pp., £16.99, June 1990, 0 241 12999 0
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... not read any of Macmillan’s books. R. A. Butler is a non-person to Honderich, and so is Iain Macleod. The most glaring exclusion of all, however, is that of Lord Hailsham. Honderich is aware of Hailsham’s existence since he makes a heavy joke about his trousers, which Honderich calls his undergarment, but he is evidently not aware of his books. With ...

Nobbled or Not

Bernard Porter: The Central African Federation, 25 May 2006

British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part I: Closer Association 1945-58 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 448 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290586 2
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British Documents on the End of Empire Series B Vol. 9: Central Africa: Part II: Crisis and Dissolution 1959-65 
by Philip Murphy.
Stationery Office, 602 pp., £150, November 2005, 0 11 290587 0
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... growing bigger: one of the most extraordinary items here is a report from 1946, in which Roy Welensky, the larger-than-life leader of the white Rhodesians, is quoted as admitting that it was probably ‘impractical’ for Britain to take over the Congo, Angola and Mozambique ‘at this stage’. During the civil war in the Congo in 1961 several ...

Really Very Exhilarating

R.W. Johnson: Macmillan and the Guardsmen, 7 October 2004

The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends and the World They Made 
by Simon Ball.
HarperCollins, 456 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 00 257110 2
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... was a lazy, hopeless student at Eton and Christ Church, where his set consisted exclusively of royalty and other aristocrats; his sole distinction at Oxford was to get arrested for disturbing the peace in the early hours of the morning while playing a drunken game of bicycle polo with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. He insisted that behaving this way was his ...

What he did

Frank Kermode, 20 March 1997

W.B. Yeats: A Life. Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage 
by R.F. Foster.
Oxford, 640 pp., £25, March 1997, 0 19 211735 1
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... large-scale biography of Yeats, died in 1983, and after some vicissitudes the task devolved on Roy Foster, the professor of Irish history at Oxford. He has had access to Lyons’s notes and transcripts, invaluable to a successor confronted, as he says, with ‘a vast and unfamiliar subject’. Vast it remains, but the unfamiliarity has clearly ...

The Doctrine of Unripe Time

Ferdinand Mount: The Fifties, 16 November 2006

Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties 
by Peter Hennessy.
Allen Lane, 740 pp., £30, October 2006, 0 7139 9571 8
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... Derick Heathcoat Amory. To support his view, the prime minister had the great Keynesian economist Roy Harrod writing to him by almost every post urging him to reflate faster. Much of the summer holidays of 1958 and 1959 I spent in Norfolk with my schoolfriend Henry Harrod, and we would cycle to the postbox through the cornfields, proudly carrying his ...

Even Immortality

Thomas Laqueur: Medicomania, 29 July 1999

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present 
by Roy Porter.
HarperCollins, 833 pp., £24.99, February 1999, 0 00 637454 9
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... No one should take comfort from the title of Roy Porter’s shaggy masterpiece of a history of medicine. ‘The Greatest Benefit to Mankind’ – the phrase is Dr Johnson’s – begs for a question-mark, a rising inflection of incredulity, if not outright disbelief. Porter is too ebullient, too much of an optimist, too little of a polemicist to supply the Rousseauian rejoinder: ‘An art more pernicious to men than all the ills it pretends to cure ...

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