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8 December 1994
London: A Social History 
by Roy Porter.
Hamish Hamilton, 429 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 241 12944 3
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A City Full of People: Men and Women of London, 1650-1750 
by Peter Earle.
Methuen, 321 pp., £25, April 1994, 9780413681706
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... of a kind, but there’s always a steady patter of complaint which matches the drizzle that bathes the city in its dirty yellow light. The authentic Londoner’s lament can be heard throughout RoyPorter’s history of London, which has, in addition, the other great metropolitan quality of cunning built into its very structure. What looks for all the world like yet another coffee-table picture book ...

Before Foucault

Roy Porter

25 January 1990
The Normal and the Pathological 
by Georges Canguilhem, translated by Carolyn Fawcett and Robert Cohen.
Zone, 327 pp., £21.95, June 1989, 0 942299 58 2
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... When is a disease not a disease? No quibbling academic riddle this, but a problem increasingly pressing upon medical practice and ethics alike. So many questions crowd in. Is it valid to talk of a person being ill without a disease, or having a disease without being sick? When and how do we draw dividing-lines between conditions, disabilities and abnormalities, on the one hand, and diseases, on the ...
26 September 1991
The Faber Book of Madness 
edited by Roy Porter.
Faber, 572 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 571 14387 3
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... not take up his case. Sylvester was 19 at the time, and speaks of an entirely wasted life – a view shared by the social services who now look after him. It is a tribute to the social historian RoyPorter that he has devoted three books, and any number of articles, to the history of the John Sylvesters of this world. A prodigious historian, Porter has done the work that French historians can only ...

Highway to Modernity

Colin Kidd: The British Enlightenment

8 March 2001
Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 728 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7139 9152 6
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... in England 1660-1750 (1976). This told the story of the assault on orthodox Christianity launched during the Augustan age by a variegated cast of libertine rakes, deists and heterodox theologians. RoyPorter detects in Redwood’s book ‘a decidedly rum case: incapable of mounting a truly rational critique of Throne and Altar, rationalist enemies of the Establishment had, rather caddishly ...
19 May 1988
The Public Health Challenge 
edited by Stephen Farrow.
Hutchinson, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 09 173165 8
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The Truth about the Aids Panic 
by Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan.
Junius, 68 pp., £1.95, March 1987, 9780948392078
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Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 
by Frank Mort.
Routledge, 280 pp., £7.95, October 1987, 0 7102 0856 1
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Medicine and Labour: The Politics of a Profession 
by Steve Watkins.
Lawrence and Wishart, 272 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85315 639 5
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... Are we, or are we not, in the throes of a health crisis? Read some of what is said, and it seems as though our civilisation is about to collapse in an Aids-related catastrophe, at the very moment when the National Health Service is itself suffering Government-administered euthanasia. Listen to others, and all this is made out to be so much cant, cynically orchestrated by interested parties: on the ...
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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... In mid-August 1892, Hamburg was basking in a heatwave. Workers splashed around in the River Elbe, which reached an almost unprecedented 70°F. Then people started to go down with intestinal pains, spasms, vomiting, diarrhoea. Most of them died. The death rate climbed. At the back of their minds the city’s medical officers and doctors nursed a dark fear that it was cholera: but surely that was impossible ...

Biting into a Pin-cushion

A.D. Nuttall: Descartes’s botch

24 June 2004
Flesh in the Age of Reason 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 7139 9149 6
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... of investigation, rather than the mind of a philosopher, who would assume as little as possible. Imagine how different it would have been if Descartes had written: ‘We think, therefore we are.’ RoyPorter tells the story of evolving conceptions of human nature in the Enlightenment. The basic answer offered to the unstated second question is: ‘Living as we do in an originally Christian culture ...

Esprit de Corps

Roy Porter

21 January 1988
Granville Sharp Pattison: Anatomist and Antagonist 1791-1851 
by F.L.M. Pattison.
Canongate, 284 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 86241 077 0
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Death, Dissection and the Destitute 
by Ruth Richardson.
Routledge, 426 pp., £19.95, January 1988, 0 7102 0919 3
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... Can any profession be more altruistic and noble than medicine? It comes as rather a scandalous suggestion that doctors may themselves be sick. Not just overworked and exhausted, and statistically liable to alcoholism, drug-dependence and suicide: but actually deficient in their psychological make-up. This shocking possibility has recently been floated by Glin Bennet, who argues that medicine holds ...
8 May 1997
From Idiocy to Mental Deficiency: Historical Perspectives on People with Learning Disabilities 
edited by David Wright and Anne Digby.
Routledge, 238 pp., £45, October 1996, 9780415112154
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... It is easy to conjure up landscapes of the past peopled by holy fools, and to suppose that medieval times were full of simpleton jesters, and boy bishops leading rites of inversion and showing how all sinners were equal in God’s eyes. It is equally easy to imagine a subsequent darkening of the plain – the old Christian reverence for simplicity yielding to the carceral project of modernity, Foucault’s ...
22 June 2000
British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800: The Origins of an Associational World 
by Peter Clark.
Oxford, 516 pp., £60, January 2000, 0 19 820376 4
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... If two Englishmen were cast away on a desert island, what’s the first thing they would do? They’d set up a club. The brothers Goncourt’s celebrated quip chimes precisely with a much cherished image of the bewhiskered Victorian gent digesting the Times at the Reform or Athenaeum, before sorting out the world’s evils. But as Peter Clark, Britain’s leading urban historian, notes in a characteristically ...

I ain’t a child

Roy Porter

5 September 1996
Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street 1870-1914 
by Anna Davin.
Rivers Oram, 289 pp., £19.95, January 1996, 9781854890627
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... Anna Davin has risen admirably to the challenges facing the historian of working-class life in London. Dealing with the documents is daunting enough. To begin with, there are 17 volumes of Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London, published between 1889 and 1903. For all its faults it is the first survey of outcast London that can be described as social science and it remains a unique ...

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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... What would Montaigne have made of being deconstructed? Would that gentle ironist, that pricker of presumption and pedantry, have been amused, or saddened, to find himself the totem and target of post-structuralist theoretical rigour? That is his fate in the latest Yale French Studies tome. Led by the editor, Gérard Defaux, the authors flick mainstream Montaigne scholarship aside with impatient condescension ...
5 August 1982
Coram’s Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the 18th Century 
by Ruth McClure.
Yale, 321 pp., £15, September 1981, 0 300 02465 7
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Children of the Empire 
by Gillian Wagner.
Weidenfeld, 284 pp., £10.95, March 1982, 0 297 78047 6
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... If old sea-dog Thomas Coram’s mission had been to found the most English, the most 18th-century of charities, he could not have done better than launch the Foundling Hospital – which he did, its doors receiving its first infant in 1741. Till then, England – unlike other countries – had had no hospice designed for abandoned babies, though such an idea had been floated in a characteristic gesture ...

Signor Cock

Roy Porter

25 June 1987
Intercourse 
by Andrea Dworkin.
Secker, 259 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 436 13961 8
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... You only have to read the torrent of filthy abuse pouring out of this diatribe against sex and men to see that Andrea Dworkin is a sick lady. It’s one long hysterical denunciation of sexual intercourse as really bad news for women. The way she rants on is of course the give-away symptom of sexual frustration. Clearly she can’t be getting enough of it – not surprising for someone overweight and ...

Castaway

Roy Porter

4 March 1982
The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Vol. I: 1750-1781 
edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 640 pp., £27.50, June 1979, 0 19 811863 5
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The Poems of William Cowper: Vol. 1 1748-1782 
edited by John Baird and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 500 pp., £25, September 1980, 0 19 811875 9
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The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Vol. II: 1782-1786 
edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp.
Oxford, 640 pp., £27.50, June 1979, 0 19 811863 5
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... Cowper came to me and said: “O that I were insane always. I will never rest. Can you not make me truly insane? … You retain health and yet are as mad as any of us all – mad as a refuge from unbelief – Bacon, Newton and Locke.’ ” Thus William Blake’s memo of a ghostly visitation from William Cowper. But how aghast Cowper would have been at the words put into his mouth! Blake revelled ...

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