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Most Curious of Seas

Richard Fortey: Noah’s Flood

1 July 1999
Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History 
by William Ryan and Walter Pitman.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., £17.99, February 1999, 0 684 81052 2
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... so profoundly traumatic that its retelling lasted for more than a thousand years, handed down in the oral tradition before it was ever inscribed in clay. Even today, guslars still sing it. This, Ryan and Pitman tell us, was the true Flood, the historical event that we know as the Noachian Deluge. The Flood was the result of an inundation of a huge freshwater lake which became, in a matter of ...

Diary

Christian Lorentzen: Homo Trumpiens

3 November 2016
... Hey, everybody,​ how about it, huh?’ Paul Ryan said, coming onto a stage decorated with hay bales and pumpkins in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on the afternoon of 9 October. ‘Man, good day! Good to see you, what a beautiful day, huh? Welcome to Fall ...

Not Making it

Stephen Fender

24 October 1991
The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and how it changed America 
by Nicholas Lemann.
Macmillan, 410 pp., £20, August 1991, 0 333 56584 3
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... its bad news seemed prophetic. By attributing its findings to such a remote historical cause, it made the ghettos’ ‘tangle of pathology’ (his phrase) seem intractable. Secretary of Labour William Wirtz remembers advising Moynihan not to use it ‘until we can suggest what to do with it’. The report, as Wirtz put it, ‘was very long on detail about the problem and very short on what to do ...
20 June 1996
John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism 
by Alan Ryan.
Norton, 414 pp., $30, May 1995, 0 393 03773 8
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... with Foucault that truth will always be intertwined with power, and that subjectivity is a social construction. Yet he was as romantic and visionary as any philosopher who has ever lived. As Alan Ryan says, ‘the dominant tone of 20th-century cultural criticism has been exactly at odds with Dewey’s.’ That tone has grown drier and more brittle as the century has grown older. Dewey was ...

Living It

Andrew O’Hagan: The World of Andy McNab

24 January 2008
Crossfire 
by Andy McNab.
Bantam, 414 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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Strike Back 
by Chris Ryan.
Century, 314 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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... representation of the world as seen by many decorated soldiers. That is the reason men who don’t ordinarily read have come in great numbers to love the insiderish bravado of McNab and Chris Ryan. Their books are driven by stereotype and cartoon violence, by idiocy, prejudice and unreality, which is why they are inadvertent masterpieces of social realism, for in their garish video-game ...
16 October 1980
An Examination of Sir William​ Hamilton’s Philosophy 
by John Stuart Mill, edited by J.M. Robson.
Routledge, 625 pp., £15.95, February 1980, 0 7100 0178 9
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... It is a long time​ now since any undergraduate class used Mill’s An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, first published in 1865, as a set text. But it has happened. George Santayana, who graduated from Harvard College in 1886, has described in Persons and Places the teaching of ...
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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... of women are not much troubled with sexual feelings.” ’ I wonder how Steven Marcus feels about the reputation acquired in the last twenty-five years by the fairly minor Victorian medical figure, William Acton, whom he rescued from oblivion in The Other Victorians. Whatever he feels, he has released a genie of formidable energy. Laqueur doesn’t give a footnote for his quotation from Acton: that ...

Alphabetophile

Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams

6 September 2017
Attrib. and Other Stories 
by Eley Williams.
Influx, 169 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 910312 16 2
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Frit 
by Eley Williams.
Sad, 35 pp., £6, April 2017
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... demanded to be consulted, and come to their own unconventional arrangements. It all makes for alphabetophile writing. In the reader, it produces a kind of constructive estrangement from words. Think William Gass, Lydia Davis or Anne Carson, and you won’t be too wrong. Now I feel like someone who thinks there’s a shower on the way, and then it rains for ten days straight. Williams is just full of ...

The Voice from the Hearth-Rug

Alan Ryan: The Cambridge Apostles

28 October 1999
The Cambridge Apostles 1820-1914: Liberalism, Imagination and Friendship in British Intellectual and Professional Life 
by W.C. Lubenow.
Cambridge, 458 pp., £35, October 1998, 0 521 57213 4
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... of the background, and much more of the emotional style than one would have expected. Poets certainly occur, but schoolmasters and headmasters abound: not just raffish Etonian schoolmasters such as William Cory Johnson and Oscar Browning, but solid, sober headmasters in the High Victorian style, such as Montagu Butler and J.E.C. Welldon at Harrow, afforced by Kennedy at Shrewsbury, Farrar at ...

Astride a White Horse

Declan Kiberd: Bridget Clearly

6 January 2000
The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story 
by Angela Bourke.
Pimlico, 240 pp., £10, August 1999, 0 7126 6590 0
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... and bronchitis. The cause of her nervous excitement can only be guessed at. Some local people claimed that she had been unfaithful to Cleary, who was often away at Clonmel. One possible lover was William Simpson, a man hated by many locals because he worked as a ‘heavy’ for the landlord. Bridget, always a defiant individualist, did his shopping when local grocers refused to serve him. (This may ...

Effervescence

Alan Ryan

9 November 1989
Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as Linguistic Event 
by Steven Blakemore.
University Press of New England, 115 pp., £10, April 1989, 0 87451 452 5
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The Impact of the French Revolution on European Consciousness 
edited by H.T. Mason and William​ Doyle.
Sutton, 205 pp., £17.95, June 1989, 0 86299 483 7
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The French Revolution and the Enlightenment in England 1789-1832 
by Seamus Deane.
Harvard, 212 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 0 674 32240 1
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... will, it sprawls a good deal – from Châteaubriand’s melancholy reflections on the infirmities of human nature to Dickens’s surprisingly thoughtful reflections on 1789, 1830 and 1848, and from William Doyle’s opening attempt to divine the ruling principles of the Revolution at one end of the book to Norman Hampson’s engagingly self-mocking attempt to draw out its lessons at the other. But a ...

Demented Brothers

Declan Kiberd: William​ Trevor

8 March 2001
The Hill Bachelors 
by William​ Trevor.
Viking, 245 pp., £15.99, October 2000, 0 670 89256 4
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... people. He does not want to say so and is quietly tolerant of people who do not understand. The Protestant is eager to proclaim an evangel of some kind, and therefore must be aggressive. A story in William Trevor’s new collection, The Hill Bachelors, treats these themes in a surprising but apposite way. ‘Of the Cloth’ describes the declining days of a Church of Ireland clergyman, the Rev. Grattan ...
12 May 1994
Pictures of Perfection 
by Reginald Hill.
HarperCollins, 303 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 00 232392 3
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... the destruction, ivory to dust, which allows Peter and Harriet to grow in time together. The whole is bound together by the rich Renaissance epigraphs, from Shakespeare, Burton, Spenser, and Dekker, William Turner and Pierre Erondell, Drayton and Sidney, which like the buildings of the university town marshal a reader’s progress and whisper, in their proportions and through their gargoyles, of older ...

Keep quiet about it

Alan Ryan: Henry Sidgwick’s Anxieties

2 June 2005
Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe 
by Bart Schultz.
Cambridge, 858 pp., £40, June 2004, 0 521 82967 4
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... the view that our minds were attuned to the structure of the universe, both as to the nature of reality and as to the basis of ethics. The most impressive representative of this view was the Rev. William Whewell, master of Trinity, and a formidable historian and philosopher of science. Mill was deeply contemptuous of intuitionism; it seemed to him to confuse entrenched mental habits with the truth ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: Colourisation

22 March 2018
... this time of Lewis Powell, one of the men who conspired with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln, and who on the same night made a savage attempt on the life of his secretary of state, William H. Seward. The shoppers were asked when they thought it had been taken. Powell is leaning against the pocked metal of his cell onboard the USS Saugus, where he was being held, his manacles just in ...

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