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The Excommunicant

Richard Popkin: Spinoza v. the Synagogue

15 October 1998
The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study 
by Richard Mason.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £35, May 1997, 0 521 58162 1
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Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity 
by Steven Smith.
Yale, 270 pp., £21, June 1997, 0 300 06680 5
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... starts from the Ethics, then carefully expounds Spinoza’s theological metaphysics, going on to interpret his critique of existing religions and his justification for complete religious toleration. StevenSmith starts from Spinoza’s role as the first secular Jew (after his excommunication), and the way it is reflected both in his critique of religion, especially Judaism, and in his political theory ...

What did you expect?

Steven​ Shapin: The banality of moon-talk

1 September 2005
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth 
by Andrew Smith.
Bloomsbury, 308 pp., £17.99, April 2005, 0 7475 6368 3
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... that, Schmitt is scripted counting backwards from three and saying ‘Ignition’. For all its contrived banality, Armstrong’s ‘small step’ is in every dictionary of quotations, and Andrew Smith is of the remarkable opinion that the First Sentence is ‘one of the most memorable lines ever offered the English language’ and ‘as famous as anything Shakespeare wrote’. Of the 12 Moon ...

The Least Worst Place

Colin Dayan: ‘Supermax’ Prisons

2 August 2007
Bad Men: Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons 
by Clive Stafford Smith.
Weidenfeld, 307 pp., £16.99, April 2007, 978 0 297 85221 6
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... told me: ‘We are dead twice over, killed in our mind, tortured as we await the death of our bodies.’ Imagine what it would be like to have worked for more than twenty years, as Clive Stafford Smith has, defending death-row inmates in the American South, only to find oneself in Guantánamo, what the military calls ‘the least worst place’, trying to win the trust of men who have not even been ...

Let’s eat badly

William Davies: Irrationality and its Other

25 November 2019
Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason 
by Justin E.H. Smith.
Princeton, 344 pp., £25, April, 978 0 691 17867 7
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... t matter what anyone says or does, so long as they remain engaged and engaging. President Trump is the symptom of a society that treats rationality as a property of machines, and not people. Justin Smith’s Irrationality is one of many books provoked by the political eruptions of 2016. Trump is a recurring preoccupation, but so is the internet and the carnival of quickfire nonsense it hosts. Taking ...
28 November 1996
The Prehistory of the Mind 
by Steven​ Mithen.
Thames and Hudson, 288 pp., £16.95, October 1996, 0 500 05081 3
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... that runs from Plato through Gall, Kant and the faculty psychologists, to Freud and Chomsky. It, too, has its proprietary metaphors, which are frequently architectural. The mind is like a building (Steven Mithen thinks it’s like a cathedral). Entrance and egress are variously constrained, and so are the paths through the interior. There are public places and private places, and places where the ...
4 September 1986
Bird of Passage: Recollections of a Physicist 
by Rudolf Peierls.
Princeton, 350 pp., £21.20, January 1986, 0 691 08390 8
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A Life in Science 
by Nevill Mott.
Taylor and Francis, 198 pp., £15, April 1986, 0 85066 333 4
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Stallion Gate 
by Martin Cruz Smith.
Collins Harvill, 287 pp., £10.95, May 1986, 0 00 222727 4
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Day of the Bomb: Hiroshima 1945 
by Dan Kurzman.
Weidenfeld, 546 pp., £14.95, February 1986, 0 297 78862 0
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Assessing the Nuclear Age 
edited by Len Ackland and Steven​ McGuire.
Chicago, 382 pp., £21.25, July 1986, 0 941682 07 2
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...  as tough and proud as a bull, and let the chorus remind us of an even more distant war to be won or lost. And don’t ever forget the villain who is secretly betraying them all. Martin Cruz Smith is an enthralling storyteller, but uses the authentic drama of Los Alamos only as the dynamic setting for a more earthy melodrama in which the historical characters are little more than cardboard ...

It’s like getting married

Barbara Herrnstein Smith: Academic v. Industrial Science

12 February 2009
The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation 
by Steven​ Shapin.
Chicago, 468 pp., £15, October 2008, 978 0 226 75024 8
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... of scientists? And what basis is there, anyway, for our notions of either the character of scientists or the nature of ‘science itself’? In posing these questions and seeking to answer them, Steven Shapin has produced a work of exceptional originality, power and significance. He has also given readers much to chew over in regard to contemporary developments and perennial issues. The Scientific ...

Jours de Fête

Mark Thornton Burnett

9 January 1992
Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage 
by François Laroque, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Cambridge, 423 pp., £45, September 1991, 0 521 37549 5
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... comment about theatre audiences, reference to folio and quarto variants in Shakespeare, consideration of New Historicist interpretations of the period by Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose, Steven Mullancy and Peter Stallybrass (among others) and a chapter on Othello. This is less a translation than a new study in its own right. One of the great virtues of Shakespeare’s Festive World is the ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?

21 March 2013
Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... to Richard Swinburne in Oxford, to David Deutsch in Headington, to John Leslie in Canada, to Derek Parfit, again in Oxford. He meets Roger Penrose in New York, has phone conversations with Steven Weinberg and John Updike. These conversations become a way of evoking possibilities as much as seeking answers, and some of these possibilities are fascinating, whatever our scepticism may be about ...

Do you Floss?

Lawrence Lessig: The sharing economy

18 August 2005
The Success of Open Source 
by Steven​ Weber.
Harvard, 312 pp., £19.95, August 2004, 0 674 01292 5
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Democratising Innovation 
by Eric von Hippel.
MIT, 208 pp., £19.95, May 2005, 0 262 00274 4
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... by Microsoft. But they all work (and some work quite hard) to make Microsoft richer by solving its customers’ problems. Microsoft knows this. In one of its two buildings devoted to research, Marc Smith, the head of the Community Technologies Group, leads a team that studies what goes on within these groups. The company has developed elaborate technologies to measure the ‘health’ of these and ...

Heart and Hoof

Marjorie Garber: Seabiscuit

4 October 2001
Seabiscuit: The Making of a Legend 
by Laura Hillenbrand.
Fourth Estate, 399 pp., £16.99, May 2001, 1 84115 091 6
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... to bittersweet triumph, it becomes clear that the book can readily be compared to works like Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend (David Shipman), Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend (Steven Bach), or biographies of the Kennedys. It is characteristic of many such books that they begin far back, with early antecedents, and in the case of Seabiscuit there are many to account for, from ...

Against the Pussyfoots

Steven​ Shapin: George Saintsbury

10 September 2009
Notes on a Cellar-Book 
by George Saintsbury, edited by Thomas Pinney.
California, 348 pp., £20.95, October 2008, 978 0 520 25352 0
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... Saintsbury’s complex allusion to Swift’s imitation of Horace, Dryden’s Maiden-Queen, and to the Roman province that now produces port. Of the 1888 and 1889 vintages of the Graves Château Smith Haut Lafitte: ‘They were charming. Browning’s “A Pretty Woman” is the poem that reminds me most of them.’ Of Dutch gin (since Saintsbury’s alcoholic tastes and cellar stores were catholic ...
5 June 1997
Last Dinner on the ‘Titanic’: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner 
by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley.
Weidenfeld, 128 pp., £9.99, April 1997, 1 86448 250 8
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The ‘Titanic’ Complex 
by John Wilson Foster.
Belcouver, 92 pp., £5.99, April 1997, 0 9699464 1 4
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Down with the Old Canoe 
by Steven​ Biel.
Norton, 300 pp., £18.95, April 1997, 9780393039658
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... It confirmed not just the idea of the difference between the sexes, but also the innate nobility of the upper classes, for a world on the brink of the Great War. The survivor statistics offered by Steven Biel tell something of the gender story: 94 per cent of first-cabin women and children survived compared to 31 per cent of first-cabin men; 81 per cent of second-cabin and 47 per cent of steerage ...
4 September 1997
The End of Science 
by John Horgan.
Little, Brown, 324 pp., £18.99, May 1997, 0 316 64052 2
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... the plight of the poet, and ‘irony’ is the only escape. Among the ‘ironic’ scientists are numbered many of the best-known figures (and popularisers) of our day, such as Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg and Roger Penrose, not to mention all the proponents of superstring theory. But Horgan has also found some more fitting targets for his scorn. The expansion of science, the increasingly ...

Seeing Things Flat

Jenny Turner: Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’

9 September 2010

by Tom McCarthy.
Cape, 310 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 224 09020 9
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... press based in Paris, picked it up four years later; the LRB became an early and enthusiastic adopter.* The book gathered a buzz, went to America, won a prize from the Believer, then in 2008 Zadie Smith wrote about it in the New York Review of Books, in tandem with Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Smith immediately got the point of the McCarthy project, its vehemence, its attack on the plushy ...

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