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Bouvard and Pécuchet

C.H. Sisson, 6 December 1984

The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters: Correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis. 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 193 pp., £13.50, April 1984, 0 7195 4108 5
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... so much the first over, as a gentle limbering up, a few balls off the wicket to see whether the arm will still go over.’ It is written, like most of those that follow, on a Sunday from the farmhouse near Henley-on-Thames where the publisher retreats at weekends from Soho Square to be with his family and occasionally to mow the lawn, but above all to ...


Mike Davis: California Burns, 15 November 2007

... this way and that, losing more leaves with every swoop, and branches were torn away. Later I found arms of eucalyptus trees in the corral, red sap, like blood, at the severed places . . . We seemed to be watching a big fire whose flames were yellow instead of red, and it was consuming our land while we looked helplessly down. Luckily, the Santa Ana abates ...

Adored Gazelle

Ferdinand Mount: Cherubino at Number Ten, 20 March 2008

Balfour: The Last Grandee 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 479 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 7195 5424 7
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... Churchill. One may disapprove of spin, but there are limits. Balfour’s teacher at Eton, William Johnson, described him as ‘fearless, resolved and negligently great’. The sting is in the ‘negligently’; Johnson, author of the ‘Eton Boating Song’, was also the author of the famous and equally sharp judgment on ...

Do Not Scribble

Amanda Vickery: Letter-Writing, 4 November 2010

The Pen and the People: English Letter-Writers 1660-1800 
by Susan Whyman.
Oxford, 400 pp., £30, October 2009, 978 0 19 953244 5
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Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters 
by Dena Goodman.
Cornell, 408 pp., £24.50, June 2009, 978 0 8014 7545 0
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... and using any form of written communication at all is rank idiocy. Long before Freud, Samuel Johnson suggested that the impression of artless intimacy given by letters could be a sham. ‘There is indeed no transaction which offers stronger temptations to fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse … A friendly letter is a calm and ...


R.W. Johnson, 2 December 1993

The Downing Street Years 
by Margaret Thatcher.
HarperCollins, 914 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 00 255049 0
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... some considerable grounds, that the whole programme drove a coach and horses through the SALT and ABM treaties, Once again her luck held. SDI might have launched a terrible and frenzied new phase in the arms-race. Instead it turned out to be the straw which broke the Soviet camel’s back, something that Thatcher could not ...

Otherwise Dealt With

Chalmers Johnson: ‘extraordinary rendition’, 8 February 2007

Ghost Plane: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Rendition Programme 
by Stephen Grey.
Hurst, 306 pp., £16.95, November 2006, 1 85065 850 1
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... assessment of the impact of the American president’s decision to authorise the CIA, his private army, to use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on people captured or put in its custody. On the first subject, Grey is extremely informative, if not always as smart as he seems. On the second, his reluctance to condemn the CIA outright leaves a nasty taste ...


Sean Wilsey: Going Slow, 17 July 2008

... sitting on it was searing pain. Adding to the discomfort, Charlie kept subtly shoving me, until my arm was fully extended to reach the Bakelite knob on top of the gear stick, my left hip pressed into the door, and he was at the wheel. Michael broke his silence and said: ‘I found out a couple of days ago I’m one of the six finalists to design a memorial for ...

After the Referendum

LRB Contributors, 9 October 2014

... The historical precedents for such a campaign are hardly inspiring. Never since the Jacobite army reached as far south as Derby during the ’45 Rising has the British establishment been so reduced to such an extraordinary and risible state of panic. It seems to me that there are only two possibilities which can restore stable amity between the ...
... busy. Nonetheless, I asked for her when I thought she might be free. In the meantime, my left arm felt like a Francis Bacon painting. The CT scanners must have thought I was someone who liked making a racket. When they stuck the needle into me, I started to yelp. I yelped my way through the little tunnel as my insides were scanned. I yelped as the scan ...

Why the bastards wouldn’t stand and fight

Murray Sayle: Mao in Vietnam, 21 February 2002

China and the Vietnam Wars 1950-75 
by Qiang Zhai.
North Carolina, 304 pp., $49.95, April 2000, 0 8078 4842 5
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None so Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam 
by George Allen.
Ivan Dee, 296 pp., $27.50, October 2001, 1 56663 387 7
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No Peace, No Honour: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam 
by Larry Berman.
Free Press, 334 pp., $27.50, November 2001, 0 684 84968 2
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... ally it had solemnly sworn to defend. ‘If we are driven from the field in Vietnam,’ President Johnson had pledged in July 1965, ‘then no nation can ever have the same confidence in American promises or American protection. We will stand in Vietnam.’ Uncomfortable precedents indeed for America’s allies in a new open-ended crusade against another ...

Unhappy Childhoods

John Sutherland, 2 February 1989

Trollope and Character 
by Stephen Wall.
Faber, 397 pp., £17.50, September 1988, 0 571 14595 7
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The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope 
by R.H. Super.
Michigan, 528 pp., $35, December 1988, 0 472 10102 1
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Dickens: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 607 pp., £17.95, November 1988, 0 340 48558 2
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Charlotte Brontë 
by Rebecca Fraser.
Methuen, 543 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 9780413570109
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... I suspect, which he has kept out of sight. It clearly troubles the biographer, and unsteadies his aim even in those areas where his research is soundest. The main theme of An Autobiography’s account of Trollope’s early years at the Post Office is his superior Colonel Maberley’s unwavering and unjust hostility. Even after three decades, Trollope’s ...

It was going to be huge

David Runciman: What Remained of Trump, 12 August 2021

Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency 
by Michael Wolff.
Bridge Street, 336 pp., £20, July, 978 1 4087 1464 5
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... to do his bidding and reverse the result of the election it would have taken a monumental strong-arm operation of persuasion and coercion, the sort to make even Lyndon Johnson quail. Instead, he threw the case to people who didn’t even know the phone numbers of the people they needed to call. It really was one of those ...


Marilyn Butler, 22 January 1981

Three-Quarter Face 
by Penelope Gilliatt.
Secker, 295 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436179587
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Show People 
by Kenneth Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77842 0
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When the lights go down 
by Pauline Kael.
Boyars, 592 pp., £8.95, August 1980, 0 7145 2726 2
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... of Mencken, not to mention Svetonius’s Lives of the Caesars; and into the garbage goes Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, perhaps the finest book of profile-essays ever written ... I am not, of course, claiming a place for myself among the masters I have named above. (Although, when Lamb is at his most whimsical, I sometimes think I could go a couple ...
Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga 
edited by Andrew Wawn.
Hisarlik, 342 pp., £35, October 1994, 1 874312 18 4
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Heritage and Prophecy: Grundtvig and the English-Speaking World 
edited by A.M. Allchin.
Canterbury, 330 pp., £25, January 1994, 9781853110856
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... is, had only the ‘Brutus legend’ to guide him to his own history; four centuries later, Dr Johnson was little better informed. Some antiquarians may have noted that the names of the days of the week bore witness to a pagan history (though an Anglo-Saxon, not a Scandinavian one). But neither Vikings nor sagas existed in learned or popular ...


Gary Indiana: In Havana, 23 May 2013

... Cuban government’s blessing, in makeshift boats that sank. The so-called freedom flights Lyndon Johnson and Fidel agreed on to relieve the drowning problem brought a massive influx of unskilled labour to South Florida and New Jersey, while draining the island of professional and technical resources. Rioting arrivals from the Mariel boatlift cost Bill ...

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