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William IanMiller: Jon Elster

10 August 2000
Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 450 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 521 64487 9
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... just as often we lose the skills and talents to reinvent them or reinvent them looking more like triangles and squares. Elster’s first essay – ‘A Plea for Mechanisms’ – concedes, given the perversities and complexities of human motivation, the impossibility of lawlike generalisations in the social sciences and instead argues for a more modest means ...

Troll-Descended Bruisers

Tom Shippey: ‘Njal’s Saga’

1 July 2015
‘Why Is Your Axe Bloody?’: A Reading of ‘Njal’s Saga’ 
by William IanMiller.
Oxford, 334 pp., £55, July 2014, 978 0 19 870484 3
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... Europe. There are ‘legendary sagas’ such as The Saga of the Volsungs; biographies of the Norwegian kings, brought into one sweeping cycle in Snorri Sturluson’s mammoth Heimskringla (The Circle of the World); and a gloomy compilation called The Saga of the Sturlungs, which recounts the violent break-up of the Icelandic Commonwealth in 1262, just as, or ...
8 May 1997
The Anatomy of Disgust 
by William IanMiller.
Harvard, 313 pp., £16.50, April 1997, 0 674 03154 7
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... be someone ready to show that these truths are not universal. It’s just possible, however, that William Miller has cracked the problem with his simple but glorious statement: ‘One simply did not drink pus, even back then.’ If we want to find a common response on which all people at all times and all places can agree, then the pus-drinking activity ...

Don’t tread on me

Galen Strawson

6 October 1994
Humiliation and Other Essays on Honour, Social Discomfort and Violence 
by William IanMiller.
Cornell, 270 pp., £20.95, December 1993, 0 8014 2881 5
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... are the most often felt; their centrality may lie in the strength of our desire to avoid them. William Miller’s suggestion has a creeping plausibility – in the playground, among teenagers, among mid-life colleagues, in the retirement home. It has a serious claim to express a human universal, valid for all societies, with origins in the deep past ...

Composite Person

Alex Clark: Pat Barker

24 May 2001
Border Crossing 
by Pat Barker.
Viking, 216 pp., £16.99, April 2001, 0 670 87841 3
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... drama of the First World War into a series of minutely observed pairings between the neurologist William Rivers and his severely shellshocked charges. The most famous of them is Siegfried Sassoon, who was sent to a psychiatric hospital after he issued a public declaration against the continuation of the war. But much more striking is Billy Prior, who ...

A Very Modern Man

Edmund Gordon: William Boyd

8 March 2012
Waiting for Sunrise 
by William Boyd.
Bloomsbury, 368 pp., £18.99, February 2012, 978 1 4088 1774 2
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... Vienna. When a young man with unkempt dark hair approaches him at a rally and says of the politicians on stage: ‘They just don’t understand … Empty words, hot air,’ Lysander thinks him simply ‘a vagrant, a madman’ – but the reader will probably guess that he’s the 24-year-old Adolf Hitler. And, although Lysander has ‘a lot of native ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s

18 July 2013
Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... the often loud and uninhibited words of others – authors, newspapers, diarists, eminent politicians, Mass Observation respondents. Man, it seems, is an indignant animal. Kynaston has researched widely into such sources and digests them into a readable totality. If this is, in part, a scissors-and-paste project, it’s also one that stands on its own ...

Shareware

Ian Sansom: Dave Eggers

16 November 2000
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius 
by Dave Eggers.
Picador, 415 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 0 330 48454 0
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... might be able to start up if you could harness the force and energy of Ulysses or King Lear – a giant Ariane V, powered by a 170-ton liquid-propellant rocket motor assisted by twin 270-ton solid-fuel boosters, perhaps. Forcing one’s way beyond the countdown of air-kisses and back-slappings and venturing on into the book ...

Gutted

Steven Shapin

30 June 2011
A Modern History of the Stomach: Gastric Illness, Medicine and British Society, 1800-1950 
by Ian Miller.
Pickering and Chatto, 195 pp., £60, May 2011, 978 1 84893 181 7
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... 19th century’s most important scientific guinea pigs. In 1822, the illiterate young French-Canadian was working as a ‘voyageur’ for John Jacob Astor’s fur-trading company in northern Michigan. He was hanging out with a bunch of rowdies in the company store when a shotgun accidentally went off and he was hit below his left nipple. The injury was ...

The Ballad of Andy and Rebekah

Martin Hickman: The Phone Hackers

16 July 2014
... of the News of the World, then edited by Coulson, intercepted the voicemail messages of Princes William and Harry. Goodman was arrested, and the police found 15 confidential palace phone books at his house in Putney. They also found five thousand names mentioned in 11,000 pages of handwritten notes at the home and in the office of Glenn Mulcaire, the ...
7 November 1985
London Reviews 
edited by Nicholas Spice.
Chatto, 222 pp., £5.95, October 1985, 0 7011 2988 3
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The New Review Anthology 
edited by Ian Hamilton.
Heinemann, 320 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 31330 0
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Night and Day 
edited by Christopher Hawtree, by Graham Greene.
Chatto, 277 pp., £12.95, November 1985, 0 07 011296 7
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Lilliput goes to war 
edited by Kaye Webb.
Hutchinson, 288 pp., £10.95, September 1985, 9780091617608
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Penguin New Writing: 1940-1950 
edited by John Lehmann and Roy Fuller.
Penguin, 496 pp., September 1985, 0 14 007484 8
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... from the editor as part-payment. Perhaps contributors to the LRB could work the same trick on Karl Miller, who for this anthology hands over to Nicholas Spice, who in turn sensibly makes sure that Karl Miller’s long essay about the LRB heads the list of contents. This essay is to be relished, not least when it is most ...

Sinking Giggling into the Sea

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris

18 July 2013
The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson 
edited by Harry Mount.
Bloomsbury, 149 pp., £9.99, June 2013, 978 1 4081 8352 6
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... and the show opened with a huge nuclear explosion, following which, in the words of the producer William Donaldson, the audience was treated to a whole evening’s worth of ‘terrible gloomy stuff – the punchline of every sketch was people dying.’ Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly a strong influence on Peter Cook (one of the original cast members) and the ...

Karl Miller Remembered

Neal Ascherson, John Lanchester and Andrew O’Hagan

22 October 2014
... nearby Gilmerton, a working-class family whose older generation had worked in the pits of the Lothian coalfield around them.Karl grew up as an only child, or rather a sort of only orphan. But simple insecurity doesn’t seem to have bothered him. His granny and his aunts, austere but dependable, saw to that. So did the new welfare state rising around him. He ...
15 September 1988
In for a Penny: The Unauthorised Biography of Jeffrey Archer 
by Jonathan Mantle.
Hamish Hamilton, 264 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 241 12478 6
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... Then the first disaster: Archer sinks £272,000 – all of it borrowed money – in dud Canadian shares and is threatened with bankruptcy. He quits Parliament and vows, to some incredulity, that he will fashion a best-selling novel from his experience. This and later books sell amazingly well. Pluckily, he writes his way out of debt. He becomes ‘the ...

Going on the air

Philip French

2 May 1985
Orwell: The War Broadcasts 
edited by W.J. West.
Duckworth/BBC, 304 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 7156 1916 0
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... It is unlikely that the governor of Lubianka gaol has ever boasted to visitors that his notorious dungeons were chosen as the setting for Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. But for over thirty years successive generations of BBC producers escorting guests through the labyrinthine corridors of Broadcasting House past doors bearing inscrutably coded designations have cheerfully informed them that they’re in the building that inspired George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four ...

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