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Notes on the Election

David Runciman, 5 March 2015

... Davis not muffed his lines is almost as tantalising as the question of what might have happened if John Smith had lived. Davis’s campaign had been showing signs of weakness, but the conference speeches decisively shifted the narrative, turning him into the politician who had over-reached and Cameron into the natural-born leader. A Davis-led Conservative ...

Burke and Smith

Karl Miller, 16 October 1980

Sydney Smith 
by Alan Bell.
Oxford, 250 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 19 812050 8
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Burke and Hare 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Polygon, 300 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 904919 27 7
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... Sydney Smith and William Burke lived at the same time and in the same country: but at opposite ends of the spectrum of class, ends which rarely met, except in court. Such people were strangers to one another, foreigners, and could hate and suspect one another in the style that has been reserved for foreigners. Smith and Burke lived for a while in the same place, Edinburgh – the city of Calvin and caller air, of metaphysics and foul smells, according to Smith, who claimed, in a typical tease, that he had to detach a passer-by ‘blown flat against my door’ by the prevailing winds, and ‘black in the face ...

Global Morality Play

Helen Pfeifer: Selimgate, 1 July 2021

God’s Shadow: The Ottoman Sultan Who Shaped the Modern World 
by Alan Mikhail.
Faber, 479 pp., £10.99, June, 978 0 571 33194 9
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... the Ottoman-controlled Aegean. In the years that preceded the founding of Jamestown in Virginia, John Smith had fought Ottoman armies in Eastern Europe and spent time as an Ottoman captive. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the conceptual frameworks that European colonisers applied to the Americas derived from their encounters with Muslims at ...

The natives did a bunk

Malcolm Gaskill: The Little Ice Age, 19 July 2018

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America 
by Sam White.
Harvard, 361 pp., £23.95, October 2017, 978 0 674 97192 9
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... the Jamestown site, believes this ‘is where the British Empire began’ – but then, recalling John Seeley’s famous dictum, this was to be an empire acquired ‘in a fit of absence of mind’ rather than as the result of state-sponsored design. The Virginia Company’s leaders, in England and America, were baffled, not least by the humid ...

Hopeless Warriors

Michael Gorra: Sherman Alexie’s novels, 5 March 1998

The Lone Ranger and Tonto in Fistfight Heaven 
by Sherman Alexie.
Vintage, 223 pp., £6.99, September 1997, 9780749386696
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Reservation Blues 
by Sherman Alexie.
Minerva, 306 pp., £6.99, September 1996, 0 7493 9513 3
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Indian Killer 
by Sherman Alexie.
Secker, 420 pp., £9.99, September 1997, 0 436 20433 9
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... For the girl has agreed to adoption: the baby is given to the Smiths of Seattle. They name him John, a choice that Alexie uses to signal a well-meaning lack of imagination, and when John Smith grows up, Indian-born but raised by whites, he will become the chief suspect in the search for the Indian Killer. It’s not ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith, 17 September 1981

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... Pandas are peculiar bears, which spend most of their days munching bamboo. To do this, they strip off the bamboo leaves by passing the stalks between their flexible thumb and the remaining fingers. But how can a panda have an opposable thumb, when in bears the thumb lies parallel to the fingers, and inseparable from them? In fact, the panda does not have a proper thumb at all: it has five parallel digits just like other bears ...

Richly-Wristed

Ian Aitken, 13 May 1993

Changing Faces: The History of the ‘Guardian’, 1956-88 
by Geoffrey Taylor.
Fourth Estate, 352 pp., £20, March 1993, 1 85702 100 2
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... irritated journalists on other newspapers. Part of the story he has to tell is how people like John Cole – yes, the same John Cole – and his successor as News Editor. Jean Stead, dragged the paper more or less reluctantly into mainstream, news-oriented journalism. Coming from what at the time was probably the most ...

Rub gently out with stale bread

Adam Smyth: The Print Craze, 2 November 2017

The Print Before Photography: An Introduction to European Printmaking 1550-1820 
by Antony Griffiths.
British Museum, 560 pp., £60, August 2016, 978 0 7141 2695 1
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... needed prints of their works to spread their fame and standing. From 1829 until his death in 1837, John Constable grew increasingly preoccupied with printmaking and collaborated with the young engraver David Lucas to translate his oil sketches and paintings into 22 mezzotints, part of what would become known as English Landscape Scenery. Proofs survive, and ...

Boy or Girl

John Maynard Smith, 3 February 1983

The Theory of Sex Allocation 
by Eric Charnov.
Princeton, 355 pp., £29.80, December 1982, 0 691 08311 8
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... Why, in the great majority of animals, are there equal numbers of males and females? For John Arbuthnot, writing in 1710, it was evidence of the beneficence of God: ‘for by this means it is provided, that the species may never fail, nor perish, since every male may have its female, and of a proportionable age.’ But while that might do for man, it will hardly do for those many species in which there is no monogamous pair bond and no parental care, and in which one male can fertilise many females, and yet which have an equal sex ratio ...

Diary

Christopher Harvie: Cars and Cuckoo Clocks, 26 January 1995

... of a displaced society in which few of the traditional myths – Red Clydeside on one hand and John Buchanite Tory collectivism on the other – have still got any clout. Piecing together a history in which one has been involved, one tends to isolate symbols or epiphanies which offer metaphors of change: Yeats’s ‘monstrous familiar images’. Another ...

Lumpy, Semi-Dorky, Slouchy, Smarmy

John Lanchester, 23 August 2001

Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous 
by Don Foster.
Macmillan, 340 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 333 78170 8
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... the cops had in December consulted a New York psychiatrist called James Brussel, described by John Douglas as ‘the father of behavioural profiling’. Douglas is the FBI man who inspired Thomas Harris to invent the character Jack Crawford in the Hannibal Lecter novels, so he should know. This is the psychological portrait Brussel came up with of the Mad ...

John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

The Life of John Berryman 
by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 451 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 7100 9216 4
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Poets in their Youth: A Memoir 
by Eileen Simpson.
Faber, 272 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 571 11925 5
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... When John Berryman’s first full-length collection of poems, The Dispossessed, was published in 1948, Yvor Winters wrote a notice of it for the Hudson Review. Here Winters drew attention to Berryman’s ‘disinclination to understand and discipline his emotions’, and went on to suggest: ‘Most of his poems appear to deal with a single all-inclusive topic: the desperate chaos, social, religious, philosophical and psychological, of modern life, and the corresponding chaos and desperation of John Berryman ...

Diary

William Rodgers: Party Conference Jamboree, 25 October 1990

... restraint. It had been quite like an SDP Conference. The depression which settled over Labour with John Major’s sudden announcement of entry to the ERM and a cut of 1 per cent in interest rates is a measure of the fragility of its confidence, however. Mrs Thatcher had shot its fox, improbable fox though it may be. Neil Kinnock was harshly reminded that every ...

Purchase and/or Conquest

Eric Foner: Were the Indians robbed?, 9 February 2006

How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier 
by Stuart Banner.
Harvard, 344 pp., £18.95, November 2005, 0 674 01871 0
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... diminished. In Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), a pivotal Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that Indians had a ‘right of occupancy’, but were not full owners of their land as whites understood it. Nonetheless, to the end of the 19th century, even as the federal government forcibly expelled Indians from the eastern half of the ...

How to dislodge a leader who doesn’t want to go

Ross McKibbin: Where are the Backbenchers?, 8 July 2004

... proof against their leader’s displeasure. With the exception of Gordon Brown, and possibly John Prescott, no member of the present cabinet has such standing. Ministers have no power bases within the party or the country and are largely unknown to the electorate. They owe their places in the cabinet almost entirely to their relationship with Blair. As ...

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