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Irishtown

D.A.N. Jones, 1 November 1984

Ironweed 
by William Kennedy.
Viking, 227 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 670 40176 5
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In Custody 
by Anita Desai.
Heinemann, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 9780434186358
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Flaubert’s Parrot 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 190 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 241 11374 1
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... all in the literary-prize-winning league, tell us of areas with which we are probably unfamiliar. William Kennedy’s Ironweed is about Albany, capital of the State of New York. Julian Barnes writes about the France of Gustave Flaubert, as discussed in an irrational, pedantic manner by a British admirer of Flaubert’s work. Anita Desai, daughter ...

Cityscapes

Stephen Wall, 1 September 1988

Quinn’s Book 
by William Kennedy.
Cape, 289 pp., £11.95, June 1988, 0 224 02580 5
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In the Country of Last Things 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 188 pp., £9.95, June 1988, 0 571 14965 0
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... initial display of their subject’s narrative potential. The technique goes back to Scott, and William Kennedy’s Quinn’s Book is orthodox enough in providing a sensational set-piece in its opening pages. He hasn’t deserted his habitual location of the town of Albany but has gone back to how it was in 1849, the date of a freak accumulation ...

Monster Doss House

Iain Sinclair, 24 November 1988

The Grass Arena 
by John Healy.
Faber, 194 pp., £9.95, October 1988, 0 571 15170 1
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... he demand, beyond the desirability of a strong quote for the dust-wrapper, any comparison with William Burroughs and Junkie. We are told by MacCabe that Healy’s reading habits favoured trash-factory crime fiction. Therefore, it is presumed, he dropped naturally into ‘the hard-boiled cadences of a Hammet [sic] detective novel’. It is regrettable that ...

Lumpers v. Splitters

Ferdinand Mount: How to Build an Empire, 31 March 2016

British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t 
by Bernard Porter.
I.B. Tauris, 216 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 1 78453 445 5
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Heroic Failure and the British 
by Stephanie Barczewski.
Yale, 267 pp., £20, February 2016, 978 0 300 18006 0
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... America and Australia. The process was more like a feudal one, comparable to the way in which William the Conqueror handed out estates to his troops and his favourites. Conversely, if a colony didn’t need capitalism to flourish, nor did capitalism need an overarching colonial structure. All over South America, British entrepreneurs built railways and ...

Spies and Secret Agents

Ken Follett, 19 June 1980

Conspiracy 
by Anthony Summers.
Gollancz, 639 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 575 02846 7
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The Man Who Kept the Secrets 
by Thomas Powers.
Weidenfeld, 393 pp., £10, April 1980, 0 297 77738 6
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... argument is remarkably simple. There is a tape-recording of the gunfire which killed President Kennedy. The third and fourth shots are too close together to have come from a single gun. Two guns means two gunmen, and two gunmen make a conspiracy. But who was in the conspiracy? Well, Lee Harvey Oswald was. It is now fairly clear that he did not shoot the ...

A Resonance for William Styron

Gabriele Annan, 7 November 1985

Savage Grace 
by Natalie Robins and Steven Aronson.
Gollancz, 473 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 575 03738 5
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... There are some known names: Cecil Beaton, Jasper Johns, James Jones, John Mortimer, Patricia Neal, William Styron, Andy Warhol. Among the rest are antique dealers, decorators, magazine editors, a ‘freelance music co-ordinator for fashion shows’, a princess ‘internationally concerned with matters of spiritual evolution’, an extraordinarily large ...

The Fire This Time

John Sutherland, 28 May 1992

... four would be tried by their peers – that much was certain. The Clarence Thomas hearings and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial had introduced cable subscribers to something called the ‘Court Channel’. This service gives non-stop live coverage to high-profile trials. Cameras were allowed into the King trial, and every minute of the daytime ...

When you die you’ll go to hell

Wendy Steiner, 27 May 1993

Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes 
by Helen Benedict.
Oxford, 309 pp., £22.50, February 1993, 0 19 506680 4
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Reproducing Rape: Domination through Talk in the Courtroom 
by Gregory Matoesian.
Polity, 256 pp., £45, February 1993, 0 7456 1036 6
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... assumptions about the role of rape in our culture. Both present America in a state of crisis. William Kennedy Smith, Mike Tyson and Clarence Thomas are just the tip of the iceberg; the statistics are horrific. Rape is increasing four times faster than any other crime. Anywhere from 20 to 44 per cent of girls in their early teens can expect to suffer ...

Levittown to Laos

Thomas Sugrue: The Kennedy Assassination, 22 July 2010

The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After 
by Steven Gillon.
Basic Books, 294 pp., £15.99, November 2009, 978 0 465 01870 3
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... On 22 November 1963, just over two hours after an assassin’s bullet killed President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, took the oath of office in a hastily improvised ceremony aboard Air Force One. The jowly LBJ stood side by side with the grieving widow, her jacket and blouse stained with Kennedy’s blood and brain matter ...

The Unmaking of the President

Benjamin Barber, 7 October 1982

The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power 
by Garry Wills.
Atlantic/Little, Brown, 310 pp., $14.95, February 1982, 0 316 94385 1
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... he termed ‘the American adventure’ hope to continue. When, twenty years later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the first American President born in this century, stood and took the oath of office it seemed to many of his fellow countrymen that the stewardship of daring had finally found its vindicator. The great adventure was once again underway and this time the ...

Fear of Flying

Paul Kennedy, 21 November 1985

No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers 1902-1909 
by Alfred Gollin.
Heinemann, 468 pp., £18, October 1984, 0 434 29902 2
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... nearly always a little larger than life, are repeated: on page 300 we learn that General Sir William Nicholson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was both quarrelsome and disliked aeroplanes; on page 399, we learn again of his dislike of anything aeronautical; and on page 405 of his quarrelsomeness. Critical comments on how this or that earlier ...

Incandescences

Richard Poirier, 20 December 1979

The Powers that Be 
by David Halberstam.
Chatto, 771 pp., £9.95
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... less in the control of a single family: the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), created and run by William Paley; Time Inc, including Life, owned by Henry Luce; the Washington Post and Newsweek, run by Philip and then by Kay Graham; and the Chandler family’s Los Angeles Times. Beginning in the Thirties with President Roosevelt, who, more than any President ...

Those Genes!

Charles Wheeler, 17 July 1997

Personal History 
by Katharine Graham.
Weidenfeld, 642 pp., £25, May 1997, 9780297819646
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... took over the company when her husband shot himself in 1963. It was Philip Graham who induced John Kennedy to choose Lyndon Johnson as his running-mate in 1960. This was wise and far-reaching advice, for without Johnson on the ticket Kennedy would not have been elected. Consequently, without Graham’s intervention there ...

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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... 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 – several of which remain indispensable – Schlesinger was among the chief ...

Brief Shining Moments

Christopher Hitchens: Donkey Business in the White House, 19 February 1998

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 
by Taylor Branch.
Simon and Schuster, 746 pp., $30, February 1998, 0 684 80819 6
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-64 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 416 pp., September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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The Dark Side of Camelot 
by Seymour Hersh.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £8.99, February 1998, 9780006530770
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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson , Bobby Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade 
by Jeff Shesol.
Norton, 591 pp., £23.50, January 1998, 9780393040784
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The Year the Dream Died 
by Jules Witcover.
Warner, 512 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 446 51849 2
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Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot 
by Jerry Zeifman.
Thunder's Mouth, 262 pp., $24.95, November 1996, 9781560251286
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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Howard, 740 pp., £23.50, September 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection 
edited by David Barrett.
Texas A & M, 906 pp., $94, June 1997, 0 89096 741 5
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Taking Charge: The Johnson Whitehouse Tapes 1963-64 
edited by Michael Beschloss.
Simon and Schuster, 624 pp., £20, April 1998, 0 684 80407 7
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Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes 
edited by Stanley Kutler.
Free Press, 675 pp., $30, November 1997, 0 684 84127 4
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The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-63 
by Philip Nash.
North Carolina, 231 pp., £34.70, October 1997, 0 8078 4647 3
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... In Arthur Schlesinger’s court history, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which might without unfairness be called the founding breviary of the cult of JFK, there appears the following vignette. Schlesinger had been asked to carpenter a ‘White Paper’ justifying Washington’s destabilisation of Cuba, in which the high-flown rhetoric of the New Frontier might form a sort of scab over the fouler business of empire ...

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