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Thomas Meaney: In Cologne

4 February 2016
... It takes​ a moment to get your bearings at anti-asylum demonstrations in Germany these days. It still seems strange to see neo-Nazis and Pegida protesters waving French flags. The other day I got caught up in one of their barricades outside the central railway station in Cologne. The defenders of the fatherland wore black, carried placards with crossed out mosques, and had reserved their space well ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Meaney: Coetzee’s Diaries

20 May 2015
... My​ only talent is for comedy,’ Coetzee writes to himself. His writer’s diaries – six small notebooks he kept in the 1970s and 1980s, now housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin – are full of musings and mock preparations: 5 October 78. This man [the magistrate of Waiting for the Barbarians] is going to bore everyone. I will have to make the relation with ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Meaney: Ersatz Tyrants

3 May 2017
... Timothy Snyder​ , a historian of Modern Eastern Europe at Yale and the most rhetorically gifted defender of the anti-Russian US foreign policy establishment, must have been rubbing his eyes in wonder last year as the theatrics of the Republican primary gave way to the rise of an ersatz Führer. How to describe those private security men ejecting protesters from rallies if not as the first recruits ...

The Hagiography Factory

Thomas Meaney: Arthur Schlesinger Jr

8 February 2018
Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian 
by Richard Aldous.
Norton, 486 pp., £23.99, November 2017, 978 0 393 24470 0
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... For​ close to half a century, Arthur Schlesinger Jr was perhaps the most recognisable liberal intellectual in America. With his tortoiseshell glasses, bow ties, and neatly stencilled hair, he played for the literary side of Kennedy’s best and brightest, which was meant to balance out the number-crunching prowess of Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids. In his dozens of books of American history – ...

So it must be for ever

Thomas Meaney: American Foreign Policy

13 July 2016
American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers 
by Perry Anderson.
Verso, 244 pp., £14.99, March 2014, 978 1 78168 667 6
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A Sense of Power: The Roots of America’s Global Role 
by John A. Thompson.
Cornell, 343 pp., £19.95, October 2015, 978 0 8014 4789 1
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A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s 
by Daniel J. Sargent.
Oxford, 369 pp., £23.49, January 2015, 978 0 19 539547 1
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... case of military action, executioner,’ he writes. So it has been since 1945, so it must be for ever. At the opposite end of the strategy spectrum from Kagan, Anderson has found a curious specimen. Thomas Barnett is a former Naval Academy instructor, and a self-declared economic determinist who delivers TED talks to the military top brass about the limits of American power. His work, Anderson writes ...

In the Centre of the Centre

Thomas Meaney: The German Election

20 September 2017
... that thousands of refugees in Hungary were trying to make their way to Austria. The leaders of Hungary and Austria were demanding to know: should they use force to stop them, or let them proceed? Thomas de Mazière, her interior minister, was at home ill. Seehofer, still furious at Merkel’s failure to attend the celebration of what would have been the CSU deity Franz-Josef Strauss’s 100th ...

Half-Finished People

Thomas Meaney: Germany Imagines Hellas

11 October 2012
The Tyranny of Greece over Germany 
by E.M. Butler.
Cambridge, 351 pp., £23.99, March 2012, 978 1 107 69764 5
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... One of the first things the Germans did after marching into Greece in 1941 was to resume the excavations that had been interrupted by the onset of war. Each sector of the military pitched in: the Luftwaffe photographed classical sites; the Wehrmacht cordoned off ruins; the Kriegsmarine salvaged pieces of an ancient frieze sunk near Piraeus. There were excited communiqués to Berlin: the chief Nazi ...

Little Old Grandfather

Thomas Meaney: Djilas and Stalin

18 May 2016
Conversations with Stalin 
by Milovan Djilas, translated by Michael Petrovich.
Penguin, 160 pp., £9.99, January 2014, 978 0 14 139309 4
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... Milovan​ Djilas was second only to Tito in the communist hierarchy of postwar Yugoslavia. In the war years, he had gained a reputation as a warrior-intellectual who could think dialectically under machine-gun fire. In Tito’s government, he served as minister without portfolio and styled himself as the state philosopher. His colleagues in the Central Committee learned to forgive his eccentricities ...

White Power

Thomas Meaney

1 August 2019
Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America 
by Kathleen Belew.
Harvard, 330 pp., £23.95, April 2018, 978 0 674 28607 8
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Revolutionaries for the Right Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War 
by Kyle Burke.
North Carolina, 337 pp., June 2018, 978 1 4696 4073 0
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... In the spring​ of 1975, as America’s war in Vietnam drew to its grim conclusion, a new magazine targeted readers who did not want it to end. Soldier of Fortune was founded by Robert K. Brown, a former Green Beret based in Boulder, Colorado, who made the profitable discovery that his publication could double as an employment agency for mercenaries and a weaponry catalogue. The magazine’s classified ...

Who’s your dance partner?

Thomas Meaney: Europe inside Africa

7 November 2019
The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent 
by Stephen Smith.
Polity, 197 pp., £15.99, April, 978 1 5095 3457 9
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... The Sahara​ is one of the few places on earth no one has been foolish enough to try to conquer. There have, however, been attempts, over the centuries, to govern it. In Ghat, one of the last Libyan towns in the Fezzan before the desert takes over, there are vestiges of efforts to bring the land to order: Bedouin trails that date from the Middle Ages; a rough-hewn fortress, started by the Ottomans ...

In Whose Interest?

Thomas Meaney: Truman’s Plan

6 December 2018
The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World 
by A.J. Baime.
Doubleday, 431 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 85752 366 2
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The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War 
by Benn Steil.
Oxford, 606 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 875791 7
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... Like Stalin​ , Harry Truman was a product of the criminal underworld. The Kansas City of his youth was known for its card sharks and conmen. Jesse James was not long dead and the murder rate outstripped Chicago’s. But it was also a town preoccupied with respectability. Farm boys on the make wore suits, mob bosses dined early with their families in ersatz châteaux and the legendary jazz scene – ...

The Swaddling Thesis

Thomas Meaney: Margaret Mead

6 March 2014
Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War 
by Peter Mandler.
Yale, 366 pp., £30, March 2013, 978 0 300 18785 4
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... In​ 1957, in a remote village on the south coast of Bali, the young anthropologist Clifford Geertz was watching a cremation ceremony spill down a hillside when the crowd suddenly parted, ‘as in a DeMille movie’, and there, propped up on her walking stick, stood Margaret Mead. She was on her way to India for ‘a World Conference on some sort of World Problem’, and had tracked down Geertz and ...
2 February 2017
Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World 
by Steven Kemper.
Chicago, 480 pp., £31.50, January 2015, 978 0 226 19907 8
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Tamil: A Biography 
by David Shulman.
Harvard, 416 pp., £25, September 2016, 978 0 674 05992 4
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The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War 
by Rohini Mohan.
Verso, 368 pp., £16.99, October 2015, 978 1 78168 883 0
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... Independence​ was handed to Ceylon’s elite on a platter. ‘Think of Ceylon as a little bit of England,’ Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the first native governor-general, said. This was a point of pride. Don Stephen Senanayake, the country’s first prime minister, remarked: ‘There has been no rebellion in Ceylon, no non-cooperation movement and no fifth column. We were among the peoples who gave ...
3 January 2019
... Self-denying master of Europe, Germany knows that Brexit is a wake-up call of some kind, but it still takes what Hegel described as the valet’s perspective on the future of the continent. ThomasMeaney GreeceTwo years ago, David Cameron saw himself out of office, respecting the result of the referendum he had unwisely called. For three years now, Alexis Tsipras has clung to power in Athens ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John Williams Made it Work

9 December 2019
The Man who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, ‘Stoner’ and the Writing Life 
by Charles Shields.
Texas, 305 pp., £23.99, October 2018, 978 1 4773 1736 5
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Nothing but the Night 
by John Williams.
NYRB, 144 pp., $14.95, February 2019, 978 1 68137 307 2
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... In​ the summer of 1963, between the appearance of Thomas Pynchon’s first book and the Beatles’ second long-player, John Williams, a professor at the University of Denver, sent his agent in New York a draft of his latest novel, which detailed the ...

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