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Excuses for Madness

M.F. Burnyeat: On Anger

17 October 2002
Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity 
by William Harris.
Harvard, 480 pp., £34.50, January 2002, 0 674 00618 6
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... or two for flattening. But the bishops had reason to speak out. It would be going too far to say that 11 September undid centuries of Christian teaching and made revenge respectable again, just as WilliamHarris is over the top when he opines: ‘In the United States, views about revenge seem to have sunk to a level appropriate to a neolithic village.’ But it is troubling how much public talk of ...

Short Cuts

William​ Davies: Jordan Peterson

2 August 2018
... going, cheer now.’ Uproarious cheer. ‘OK, we’ll keep going.’ He feigns surprise at this outcome, sinks back into his black leather regency armchair and turns again to his interlocutors, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray. I’d cheered for the first option, not least because I was interested to know how on earth it was going to work. The O2 was less than a third full, but even so, that’s an ...

Ironed Corpses Clattering in the Wind

Mark Kishlansky: The Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

17 August 2006
Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms 
by Tim Harris.
Penguin, 506 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 14 026465 5
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Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685-1720 
by Tim Harris.
Allen Lane, 622 pp., £30, January 2006, 0 7139 9759 1
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... whose grandfather Isaac had been the Presbyterian alderman and mayor of London. The Duke of Monmouth had an illegitimate child with Elizabeth Waller, the daughter of the Parliamentarian general, Sir William. The experiments of the 1650s were swept away as king, lords and bishops were thrust back into power with hardly a shot fired. The armies of the Commonwealth melted away, its tortured succession of ...

It’s good to be alive

Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Science does ethics

9 February 2012
Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition and Complexity Are Revolutionising Our View of Human Nature 
by Douglas Kenrick.
Basic, 238 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 0 465 02044 7
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Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values 
by Sam Harris.
Bantam, 291 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 593 06486 3
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The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice 
by Peter Corning.
Chicago, 237 pp., $27.50, April 2011, 978 0 226 11627 3
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... on a sound understanding of what people are really like, not on some fairy-tale version of what we would like them to be.’ That, at any rate, is what Douglas Kenrick has to tell us. Sam Harris begins The Moral Landscape in much the same way: ‘The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human ...

Bright Blue Dark Blue

Rosemary Hill: ‘Weatherland’

5 November 2015
Weatherland 
by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 432 pp., £24.95, September 2015, 978 0 500 51811 3
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... and temperature, the stuff of art and conversation, weather would seem to be a relatively late development. Seasons, the overarching and background reality of life, are older, although as Alexandra Harris explains, ‘spring’ was invented only in the late Middle Ages. Before all that there was just climate and what people thought about it is all but unknowable. In the temperate zones, where the ...
30 August 1990
People of the Black Mountains. Vol. II: The Eggs of the Eagle 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 330 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7011 3564 6
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In the Blue Light of African Dreams 
by Paul Watkins.
Heinemann, 282 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 09 174307 9
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Friedrich HarrisShooting the hero 
by Philip Purser.
Quartet, 250 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7043 2759 7
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The Journey Home 
by Dermot Bolger.
Viking, 294 pp., £13.99, June 1990, 0 670 83215 4
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Evenings at Mongini’s 
by Russell Lucas.
Heinemann, 262 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 434 43646 1
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... how the uchelwr really saw the alien invader, as lord to lord?’ – and he contrives a sneaky assassination of the Vikings’ leader. Moving on 300 years, Williams tells of the fairly notorious William de Braos, the Lord of Brecon in King John’s time: he was said to be always prating of God and putting on pious airs, but he invited the leading Welsh princes to a party at Abergavenny and killed ...

Bourgeois Reveries

Julian Bell: Farmer Eliot

3 February 2011
Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper 
by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £19.95, October 2010, 978 0 500 25171 3
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... cut’ ever put his hand to a pitchfork, the incident has gone unreported. And yet in Romantic Moderns, her provocative critical survey of English cultural life between 1930 and 1945, Alexandra Harris points to Eliot’s lines in ‘East Coker’ about ‘Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth/Mirth of those long since under earth/Nourishing the corn.’ Harris argues that the poet was ...
21 November 1991
A Passion for Government: The Life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough 
by Frances Harris.
Oxford, 421 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 19 820224 5
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... burning all the letters she sent to both of them. For all these reasons, studies of this remarkable woman have in the past been numerous but in the main soft-centred, preoccupied – as Frances Harris puts it – with her ‘tempestuous personal relationships’. Harris’s own book, by contrast, is founded on careful research in some twenty-five different archives on both sides of the Atlantic ...

Strong Meat

John Lanchester

11 January 1990
The Bellarosa Connection 
by Saul Bellow.
Secker, 102 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 436 19988 2
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The War Zone 
by Alexander Stuart.
Hamish Hamilton, 207 pp., £11.95, March 1989, 0 241 12342 9
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A Touch of Love 
by Jonathan Coe.
Duckworth, 156 pp., £9.95, April 1989, 0 7156 2277 3
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Do it again 
by Martyn Harris.
Viking, 220 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82858 0
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... of Wykeham: his wife Susan; Malcolm, who makes a living writing articles and selling bits of gossip to the newspapers, and who has returned to Wykeham to live; Vivien, who now lectures at Wykeham; William, a charming ne’er-do-well antique dealer. Into this small circle intrudes Rachel, a 19-year-old student of Vivien’s, daughter of a Tory minister; she had a holiday fling with William not long ago ...
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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... biographical notes presumably contributed by themselves (if alive) like the entries in Who’s Who. 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 ...

Just William

Doris Grumbach

25 June 1987
Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice 
by Sharon O’Brien.
Oxford, 544 pp., £22.50, March 1987, 0 19 504132 1
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... of eight and 15. It was in these years, riding the prairie on her pony, that she acquired the material for her fine works on Nebraska. We know of her adolescent years before college from ‘Old Mrs Harris’, a story published much later in Obscure Destinies. It reflects the poignant discontent of Victoria (the young Willa), living too close to the crowded miseries of an always-pregnant mother, an ...

Puffed up, Slapped down

Rosemary Hill: Charles and Camilla

6 September 2017
Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life 
by Sally Bedell Smith.
Michael Joseph, 624 pp., £25, April 2017, 978 0 7181 8780 4
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The Duchess: The Untold Story 
by Penny Junor.
William​ Collins, 320 pp., £20, June 2017, 978 0 00 821100 4
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... career journalist, daughter of John Junor, the former editor in chief of the Sunday Express, and she is much closer to her material. She has written two lives of Charles and one each of Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as a group portrait of ‘the troubled life of the House of Windsor’. A year younger than Charles, she has herself become part of the story. Her joint biography of Charles ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine

3 December 1981
The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... comparable to the Victoria County Histories and the Survey of London. Year after year, at three-monthly intervals, the volumes plopped from the press, 63 in all, from Jacques Abbadie in 1885 to William Zuylestein in 1900, containing some thirty thousand pages on which 650 contributors recorded the details of 30,000 lives. And, as with the painting of the Forth Bridge, once this great Victorian ...

Sour Apple

José Harris

5 July 1984
H.G. Wells: Aspects of a Life 
by Anthony West.
Hutchinson, 405 pp., £12.95, June 1984, 0 09 134540 5
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Heritage 
by Anthony West.
Secker, 305 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 436 56592 7
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... life. There are severe indictments of many of Wells’s contemporaries, suggesting that Anthony West’s penchant for black and white judgments is not confined to his assessment of his parents. William Morris, for example, was a purveyor of ‘bogus archaisms and mock heroics’, Beatrice Webb was an ‘arrogant woman of limited intelligence’, Edmund Gosse was the ‘gentleman’s outfitter’ of ...

All hail, sage lady

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Crown’

15 December 2016
... for being a constant second. It’s not such an unusual story if you’re a woman, but for a 1940s naval officer striated with pride, it came to seem, if reports are true, like a life sentence. William Shawcross, in his expertly genuflecting biography of the queen mother, shows us a Duke of Edinburgh just after his wedding, a young man in love writing to his mother-in-law of the new unity he has ...

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