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What Nanny Didn’t Tell Me

Bernard Porter: Simon Mann

26 January 2012
Cry Havoc 
by Simon Mann.
John Blake, 351 pp., £19.99, November 2011, 978 1 84358 403 2
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... goes like clockwork – no problems, no mistakes – though there’s a twist at the end. Simon Mann’s Cry Havoc might seem like a copy of this scenario – same place, roughly the same plot, thirty years later – but it’s much more fun because Mann’s attempted coup turned out to be, in his words, ‘a ...

Her Boy

R.W. Johnson: Mark Thatcher

16 November 2006
Thatcher’s Fortunes: The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher 
by Mark Hollingsworth and Paul Halloran.
Mainstream, 415 pp., £7.99, July 2006, 1 84596 118 8
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The Wonga Coup: The British Mercenary Plot to Seize Oil Billions in Africa 
by Adam Roberts.
Profile, 304 pp., £9.99, June 2006, 1 86197 934 7
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... up in palatial style here but so did Spencer’s ex-friend the convicted fraudster Darius Guppy; Simon Mann, the leader of the attempted mercenary coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004; and Teodorin Nguema, the playboy son of the Equatoguinean dictator, Obiang Nguema, whom Mann was trying to overthrow. It was Thatcher’s ...

The Next Fix

Lara Pawson: African Oil

7 February 2008
Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil 
by Nicholas Shaxson.
Palgrave, 280 pp., £15.99, May 2007, 978 1 4039 7194 4
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Oil Wars 
edited by Mary Kaldor, Terry Lynn Karl and Yahia Said.
Pluto, 294 pp., £17.99, March 2008, 978 0 7453 2478 4
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Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil 
by John Ghazvinian.
Harcourt Brace, 320 pp., $25, April 2007, 978 0 15 101138 4
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... and led to the arrest of Mark Thatcher in South Africa and the jailing of the British mercenary Simon Mann in Zimbabwe. Shaxson toys with the idea that the US (and possibly Spain and Britain) encouraged the attempted coup. The US would have had good reason to welcome a change of regime. Obiang’s son, Teodoro Nguema, owns an airline, a large timber ...

Enemies of All Mankind

Stephen Sedley: Pirates

24 June 2010
The Treatment of Prisoners under International Law 
by Nigel Rodley, with Matt Pollard.
Oxford, 697 pp., £85, August 2009, 978 0 19 921507 2
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The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 295 pp., £21.95, November 2009, 978 1 890951 94 8
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The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates 
by Peter Leeson.
Princeton, 271 pp., £16.95, May 2009, 978 0 691 13747 6
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... version he goes to his death with the words ‘Floreat Etona!’ on his lips (as, one imagines, Simon Mann would have done if things had gone badly for him in Equatorial Guinea). True, Hook could have been an oik trying to make an impression, but at least he had the Latin, and in swordsmanship he fought and died by the rules. Some of Peter Leeson’s ...

Lost in the rain

Michael Wood

24 January 1991
The General in his Labyrinth 
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated by Edith Grossman.
Cape, 285 pp., £13.99, January 1991, 0 224 03083 3
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... the end of the first chapter, when the full roll-call of his name is solemnly performed: General Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios. Simon Bolivar for short. Bolivar was born in 1783, in Caracas, to wealthy aristocratic parents. He studied in Spain, fervently read Rousseau, witnessed ...


James Meek: The Rise of the Private Army

2 August 2007
Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army 
by Jeremy Scahill.
Serpent’s Tail, 452 pp., £12.99, August 2007, 978 1 84668 630 6
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... alleged 2004 attempt by a group of South African mercenaries, led by the British ex-SAS officer Simon Mann, to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. Even within the confines of Scahill’s theme, there are frustrating omissions. He writes about how much higher the daily pay of Blackwater guards in Iraq is than the pay of regular US troops, and ...

The Only Way

Sam Kinchin-Smith: Culinary Mansplaining

4 January 2018
... his excellent television programmes. But thanks to some of the cooks cited in his bibliography – Simon Hopkinson, say, whose Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury, £16.99) is a founding text of contemporary cookbook-writing, or Fergus Henderson, whose St John restaurants trained many of London’s newish wave of serious chefs – and to his and Gill’s ...

What the Organ-Grinder Said

Christopher Beha: Andrés Neuman

5 April 2012
Traveller of the Century 
by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.
Pushkin, 584 pp., £12.99, February 2012, 978 1 906548 66 7
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... There’s a manner of presenting ideas in fiction that corresponds roughly to Yeats’s claim that man can embody truth but cannot know it. A story can embody thoughts it never spells out. So we take Kafka’s work to be saying all sorts of things – about God or his absence, about the general predicament of modernity – that it never actually says ...
6 December 1979
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... such words as crucial, massive, kudos, deceptively simple, based on and so forth much in the manner of Ben Jonson, who liked the idea of giving them emetics to make them vomit the bad language. I once wrote that a man taking such a line should be particularly careful himself, citing a passage in which Wilson announced that J.W. Krutch ‘gives some ...


James Wood: John Carey

8 March 2001
Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... to readers of the Sunday Times and the Spectator. Carey’s cousins in populism sometimes include Simon Jenkins, Paul Johnson, A.N. Wilson and the late Auberon Waugh. An easy moralism animates this worldview. Picasso was a pig; Edmund Gosse was ‘a bore’; D.H. Lawrence hit Frieda and wanted to exterm-inate whole races; Virginia Woolf was a pretentious snob ...

Thou shalt wage class war

Gareth Stedman Jones

1 November 1984
Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain 1900-1940 
by Jonathan Rée.
Oxford, 176 pp., £15, February 1984, 0 19 827261 8
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... Social Democratic Federation and was scornful of the religious and political eclecticism of a Tom Mann or a Ben Tillett. Instead, it drew upon the pure and uncontaminated Marxism that it found in the writings of the American socialist, Daniel De Leon. It was from De Leon’s Two Pages of Roman History that the name of the League was coined, and the watchwords ...

‘My dear, dear friend and Führer!’

Jeremy Adler: Winifred Wagner

6 July 2006
Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler’s Bayreuth 
by Brigitte Hamann, translated by Alan Bance.
Granta, 582 pp., £12.99, June 2006, 1 86207 851 3
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... In this, the first major biography of Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Brigitte Hamann tries very hard to be fair to a subject who, one might think, scarcely deserves it. It would be hard to find a better example than the Wagner dynasty of the continuity between the myth of a glorious Germany and its terrible enactment ...

Coruscating on Thin Ice

Terry Eagleton: The Divine Spark

24 January 2008
Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins 
by Peter Conrad.
Thames and Hudson, 529 pp., £24.95, September 2007, 978 0 500 51356 9
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... the transcendent artistic spirit; but not all artists have viewed their trade in this high-minded manner. Jonathan Swift or Samuel Johnson would have been dismayed by this grandiose inflation of their literary hackwork. And who knows how Aeschylus or the author of Beowulf regarded their craft? It would be rash to assume that they thought of it in the same way ...

The Real Magic

David Sylvester

8 June 1995
A Biographical Dictionary of Film 
by David Thomson.
Deutsch, 834 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 233 98859 9
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... observations which epitomise the art of film come in as asides, as when, writing about Michel Simon, he invokes ‘the special mingling of self and character that is so necessary (and dangerous) in screen acting’. (This, by the way, is a rewrite. In the previous edition it read: ‘the special mingling of self and character that is so hallucinatory in ...

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