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Diary

Thomas Laqueur: My Dead Fathers

7 September 2006
... recently I knew relatively little about that ‘Vater’, though I grew up with a picture of his black granite tombstone in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, an Elysium of the burgher dead: ‘Walter Laqueur MD’ is inscribed in Jugendstil characters, the same lettering in which ‘Dr Laqueur’ appears on the plaque that was once outside his radiology office and is now on my gate in Berkeley. There ...
8 November 1990
Making sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Harvard, 352 pp., $27.50, October 1990, 0 674 54349 1
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... The other day I came across an article by Professor Laqueur, written some fourteen years ago, which makes a striking and dismaying contrast to the book he has just published. The contrast is fairly significant of the destructive potential of the New ...

Back from the Underworld

Marina Warner: The Liveliness of the Dead

16 August 2017
The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Princeton, 711 pp., £27.95, October 2015, 978 0 691 15778 8
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... indulgences and remission of sins, but the liveliness of the dead in their claims on us and their presence in the world didn’t dim.Secularism, reason, scepticism don’t bring disenchantment, ThomasLaqueur argues in this monumental study, the harvest of more than ten years’ concentrated exploring of archives, tombstones, battlefields and furnace design. Laqueur principally scrutinises ...

Simply Doing It

Thomas Laqueur

22 February 1996
The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain 1650-1950 
by Roy Porter and Lesley Hall.
Yale, 414 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 300 06221 4
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... The Facts of Life is symptomatic of the tensions to be found in its sources: it is an elusive book, offering vistas of liberation and oppression. In all but their barest outline the facts of life are not really facts, and ‘sexual knowledge’ does not, by and large, come to be known; while ‘creation’ is so protean a notion here as to encompass everything from 18th-century advice on married love ...

Lectures about Heaven

Thomas Laqueur: Forgiving Germany

7 June 2007
Five Germanys I Have Known 
by Fritz Stern.
Farrar, Straus, 560 pp., £11.25, July 2007, 978 0 374 53086 0
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... origins of disease and a skilled and popular consultant. The ancestral world of the Sterns was not so far from what would in Britain be called ‘Victorian’. Not surprising, perhaps, given how much Thomas Carlyle took from German literature and philosophy; how important Goethe was for George Eliot; how much Matthew Arnold admired German education. It is also telling how compatible a veneration for ...

Too Much

Barbara Taylor: A history of masturbation

6 May 2004
Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation 
by Thomas Laqueur.
Zone, 501 pp., £21.95, March 2003, 1 890951 32 3
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... and parents and doctors looked forgivingly on infantile autoeroticism. How did a universal sexual act become a site of such debilitating fear and shame? Why, in the course of the 18th century, as ThomasLaqueur asks in this rich and lively history, did a practice tolerated by the ancients and largely ignored by Judeo-Christian moralists, come to be seen as the height of erotic depravity? Laqueur ...

Diary

Thomas Laqueur: Memories in German

4 December 2003
... t understand a question – she often missed what people said if they spoke quickly or with a thick mountain accent – she should simply answer ‘yes.’ Beckley and Bluefield abounded with Toni Laqueur malapropisms; but she fitted in. My father was clueless. He somehow translated my high school graduation as Abitur, an occasion for much ceremony and for a punch bowl of champagne and alcohol-soaked ...

Closing Time

Thomas Laqueur

18 August 1994
How We Die 
by Sherwin Nuland.
Chatto, 278 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 6169 8
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... If we expect an easy or painless death we are in for a big disappointment. Dying for the great majority of us, he insists, is a ‘messy business’. Contrary to what Sir William Osler or Dr Lewis Thomas might lead us to believe, death is ‘glutted with mental suffering and physical distress’. There was, he claims, ‘a nice Victorian reticence in denying the probability of a miserable prelude to ...

Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography

21 September 2016
When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... from the way this jumble of sentences hides the autobiography’s subject. Why does he, Kalanithi, really turn to the church? At moments like this I wanted to demand that he be more like his hero Thomas Browne. (Kalanithi is buried with a copy of Religio Medici.) The great attraction of Browne’s text is that it – like Montaigne’s Essays – reveals worlds within the writer himself. ‘There ...
11 October 2018
... Negroes together for the killing of white people’. Roughly 25 per cent of lynchings were on the pretext of rape of a white woman, and many more on the excuse of some supposed contact with one. ‘Thomas Miles, Sr … lynched in Shreveport, Louisiana for allegedly writing a note to a white woman’; ‘David Walker, his wife and five children lynched in Hickman, Kentucky, in 1908 after Mr Walker was ...

The Old Country

Thomas Laqueur: The troublesome marriage of Poles and Jews

4 June 1998
Heshel's Kingdom 
by Dan Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 242 pp., £15.99, February 1998, 0 241 13927 9
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Shtetl: The History of a Small Town and an Extinguished World 
by Eva Hoffman.
Secker, 269 pp., £15.99, January 1998, 0 436 20482 7
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... Talmudic wilds’ – the phrase is Osip Mandelstam’s, used admiringly by Jacobson. Rabbi Heshel Melamed, who died well before his grandson’s – our author’s – birth, has something of the Thomas Hardy character about him: ‘existlessness’ is his lot. He survives in a picture, a travel document, an address book, a case for a pair of glasses and the glasses themselves, through which ...

The Past’s Past

Thomas Laqueur

19 September 1996
Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History 
by Jay Winter.
Cambridge, 310 pp., £12.95, September 1996, 0 521 49682 9
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... We understand explicitly, as Nietzsche remarked in the Genealogy of Morals, what earlier generations felt in their bones: ‘Only that which does not cease to hurt remains in memory.’ Remembering and mourning demand that the past is somehow kept present; they demand recollection as the pain of immediate loss diminishes. And yet we – that is, we moderns – are also acutely aware of just how utterly ...

In and Out of the Panthéon

Thomas Laqueur: Funerals, politics and memory in France

20 September 2001
Funerals, Politics and Memory in Modern France 1789-1996 
by Avner Ben-Amos.
Oxford, 425 pp., £55, October 2000, 0 19 820328 4
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Monumental Intolerance: Jean Baffier, a Nationalist Sculptor in Fin-de-Siècle France 
by Neil McWilliam.
Pennsylvania State, 326 pp., £58.95, November 2000, 0 271 01965 4
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... As Lévi-Strauss might have said, ‘the dead are good to think with.’ But the thoughts they give rise to are seldom as reassuring as one might hope. The dead, and memories of the dead, as both these books suggest, are disruptive, unruly and unpredictable. In his erudite study, Avner Ben-Amos has three cracks at analysing the way French society from the Revolution to the present has tried to come ...

Unquiet Bodies

Thomas Laqueur: Burying the 20th Century

6 April 2006
Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism 
by István Rév.
Stanford, 340 pp., £19.95, January 2005, 0 8047 3644 8
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... I should say at the outset that I know István Rév; that I have walked with him through the cemeteries of Budapest and have seen in his company some of the graves he writes about. He is a remarkable man, the product of a culture and a time in which one either drowned or saved oneself through erudition, wit, irony and an unremitting conversation with history. I once told him that I envied the political ...

Something Fine and Powerful

Thomas Laqueur: Pearl Harbor Redux

25 August 2011
Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq 
by John Dower.
Norton/The New Press, 596 pp., £22, October 2010, 978 0 393 06150 5
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... In June 2001, John Dower, a historian of Japan, wrote a comment piece in the New York Times about the blockbuster movie Pearl Harbor. The problem with it, he thought, was not its predictable romantic digressions or historical errors but its moral obtuseness. Like earlier films on the subject, it was ‘a paean to patriotic ardour and an imagined American innocence … sanitised to an attractive level ...

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