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Prophet of the Rocks

Richard Fortey: William Smith

9 August 2001
The Map that Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science 
by Simon Winchester.
Viking, 338 pp., £12.99, August 2001, 0 670 88407 3
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... behaviour towards the low-born Smith would seem disgraceful today. Smith was excluded from membership for many years – a period throughout which he laboured alone to be a true prophet of the rocks. SimonWinchester has done a considerable service to geology in rescuing Smith from comparative obscurity. It seems extraordinary that Darwin has had several dozen biographies and T.H. Huxley not so many ...

Era of Wonders

Eric Hobsbawm: Mandarin Science

26 February 2009
Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China 
by Simon Winchester.
Viking, 316 pp., £20, September 2008, 978 0 670 91379 4
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... Civilisation in China transformed the knowledge of the subject both in the West and, to a considerable extent, in China itself. That titanic project naturally dominates the lively new biography by SimonWinchester, a writer who has specialised in books tying individuals to great achievements. Its original American title was The Man Who Loved China, and Needham’s life before his energies and ...

‘They got egg on their faces’

Leofranc Holford-Strevens: The Oxford English Dictionary

20 November 2003
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary 
by Simon Winchester.
Oxford, 260 pp., £12.99, October 2003, 0 19 860702 4
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... Like a Member of Parliament, I must declare an interest: I am employed by the publisher of both the OED and SimonWinchester’s account of its genesis. However, I have had no involvement with the latter, whose author’s qualities are well known to readers of his previous books, most relevantly The Surgeon of Crowthorne ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: Chicanery and Fantasy

6 June 2019
... in 1983, getting seven questions right on his chosen subject (William Temple, former archbishop of Canterbury) and nine wrong. He claimed, falsely, to have written a book called Know Yourself. SimonWinchester blurbs Sisman’s book as an ‘utterly mad and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy … which involves a man who relentlessly duped our most cherished institutions of godly ...
23 January 1986
Now the war is over: A Social History of Britain 1945-51 
by Paul Addison.
BBC/Cape, 223 pp., £10.95, September 1985, 0 563 20407 9
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England First and Last 
by Anthony Bailey.
Faber, 212 pp., £12.50, October 1985, 0 571 13587 0
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A World Still to Win: The Reconstruction of the Post-War Working Class 
by Trevor Blackwell and Jeremy Seabrook.
Faber, 189 pp., £4.50, October 1985, 0 571 13701 6
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The Issue of War: States, Societies and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941-1945 
by Christopher Thorne.
Hamish Hamilton, 364 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 241 10239 1
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The Hiroshima Maidens 
by Rodney Barker.
Viking, 240 pp., £9.95, July 1985, 0 670 80609 9
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Faces of Hiroshima: A Report 
by Anne Chisholm.
Cape, 182 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 224 02831 6
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End of Empire 
by Brain Lapping.
Granada, 560 pp., £14.95, March 1985, 0 246 11969 1
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by Simon Winchester.
Hodder, 317 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 340 33772 9
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... governments had in the meantime been solicitous or even scrupulous about the tiny remaining scraps of Empire whose people, except for those in Hong Kong, were now especially dependent on Britain. SimonWinchester recently made it his ambition to visit all 16 populated areas still formally under Crown control. He couldn’t get to Pitcairn in the end, but did manage to reach Tristan da Cunha, and he ...

King shall hold kingdom

Tom Shippey: Æthelred the Unready

29 March 2017
Æthelred: The Unready 
by Levi Roach.
Yale, 369 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 0 300 19629 0
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... insistent moralising that disfigure similar Continental works in Latin. Some of its chroniclers mix observation and commemoration with attractively dispassionate analysis. In his entry for 897, the Winchester chronicler concludes his account of the long struggle between Alfred and the Vikings by saying that it had not, after all, been totally overwhelming: the Vikings had been bad, disease and cattle ...


Ian Buruma

13 May 1993
Gower: The Autobiography 
by David Gower and Martin Johnson.
Collins Willow, 256 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 00 218413 3
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... of Albion will come together in Victory. Gower will return this year to make a century against the Australians, and Gooch will escort him off the field, brawny arm wrapped around delicate shoulder. Simon Heffer, in the Evening Standard, wrote a more ill-tempered piece, in which he deplored the fact that Mr M. Atherton (Manchester Grammar and Cambridge) was frozen out of Gooch, G.’s secondary-modern ...

With Great Stomack

Simon​ Schaffer: Christopher Wren

21 February 2002
His Invention so Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren 
by Adrian Tinniswood.
Cape, 463 pp., £25, July 2001, 9780224042987
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... Library to the host of London parish churches Wren jointly oversaw from the 1670s; from the execution of St Paul’s and the complex of buildings at Greenwich to the abortive plans for Whitehall, Winchester and the rebuilding of the entire City of London. As indispensable accompaniment to this survey, the biography also rehearses Wren’s crucial work in astronomy, medicine and mechanics, most of it ...
13 May 1999
... in scrambled-egg vests), the Dome was a spacecraft standing in for all the missing liners and cargo boats from nostalgic black and white photographs. It was an unoptioned metaphor with its own poet, Simon Armitage, hired to knock up a thousand-line tribute. Time drifted. The 12 minutes of the virtual reality journey in the brochures was actually the time between trains, the time spent enjoying the ...

Costa del Pym

Nicholas Spice

4 July 1985
Crampton Hodnet 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 0 333 39129 2
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Foreign Land 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 352 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 00 222918 8
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Black Marina 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 157 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 9780571134670
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... St Botolph’s, imagines briefly that he must marry Miss Jessica Morrow, until Miss Morrow points out his mistake; Anthea Cleveland has her heart temporarily broken by an Old Etonian undergraduate, Simon Beddoes; and Mr Cleveland, Anthea’s father, becomes infatuated with his pupil Barbara Bird, who is quite happy to return the sentiment so long as it does not entail kissing and ‘that sort of ...

In the Châtelet

Jeremy Harding

20 April 1995
François Villon: Complete Poems 
edited by Barbara Sargent-Bauer.
Toronto, 346 pp., £42, January 1995, 0 8020 2946 9
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Basil Bunting: Complete Poems 
edited by Richard Caddel.
Oxford, 226 pp., £10.99, September 1994, 0 19 282282 9
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... He told Victoria Forde, whose book The Poetry of Basil Bunting is laden with the fruits of his conversation and correspondence, that when he refused to eat for a part of his term, the Governor of Winchester jail had a roast chicken delivered to his cell ‘every morning’ of his fast. Pound telegrams the same story in Canto 74: ‘Bunting/ doing six months after that war was over/as pacifist tempted ...
9 March 1995
... gain within the rules, there have even been examples of a willingness to take a more covert approach to the business of making money. During the 1989-90 Parliamentary session, the Tory Member for Winchester, John Browne, was suspended from the Commons for 20 days for having failed to disclose various interests and items of remuneration, including an $88,000 payment from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency ...

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