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A Magazine of Wisdom

Linda Colley, 4 September 1997

Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature 
by Nicholas Robinson.
Yale, 214 pp., £30, October 1996, 0 300 06801 8
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The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke. Vol. III: Party, Parliament and the American War 1774-80 
edited by Warren Elofson and John Woods.
Oxford, 713 pp., £75, September 1996, 0 19 822414 1
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Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire 
by Frederick Whelan.
Pittsburgh, 384 pp., £39.95, December 1996, 0 8229 3927 4
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... Edmund Burke is easily the most significant intellectual in politics these islands ever produced. Infinitely more profound and productive than his nearest 18th-century equivalent, Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, he was also far more prominent in national politics over a much longer span than John Milton or the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury in the 17th century, J ...

Strutting

Linda Colley, 21 September 1995

All the Sweets of Being: The Life of James Boswell 
by Roger Hutchinson.
Mainstream, 238 pp., £17.50, May 1995, 1 85158 702 0
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’ 
edited by Marshall Waingrow.
Edinburgh, 518 pp., £75, March 1995, 0 7486 0471 5
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Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia 
by Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 245 pp., £30, April 1995, 0 19 818259 7
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... There is a sinister painting by the 18th-century artist Francis Hayman of a couple frolicking on a seesaw. A youth soars triumphantly into the air, but his hold seems precarious. His female companion descends smilingly to the ground, only to tumble back into the lascivious arms of another man. Altogether an appropriately ambivalent emblem, one might think, for the vicissitudes that James Boswell would experience throughout his life, and the turbulence of his reputation since his death ...

Not Like the Rest of Us

Linda Colley: The Clinton Succession, 16 August 2007

A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton 
by Carl Bernstein.
Hutchinson, 628 pp., £25, June 2007, 978 0 09 192078 4
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Hillary Clinton: Her Way: The Biography 
by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta.
Murray, 438 pp., £20, June 2007, 978 0 7195 6892 3
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... Hillary Clinton is manifestly a beneficiary and exemplar of a massive, historically recent and still ongoing transformation. ‘I represented a fundamental change in the way women functioned in our society,’ she wrote in Living History (2003); and, at one level, her life has indeed been a succession of hard-won firsts, and of admirable striving against prejudice, condescension and limited expectations ...

Wide-Angled

Linda Colley: Global History, 26 September 2013

The French Revolution in Global Perspective 
edited by Suzanne Desan, Lynn Hunt and William Max Nelson.
Cornell, 240 pp., £16.50, April 2013, 978 0 8014 7868 0
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... What is history for? What do we want it to do? In 1731, an obscure Kentish schoolmaster named Richard Spencer offered some answers. Properly to ascertain his position in geographical space, he reasoned, required not a single map, but access to a global atlas, one that would allow him to ‘see what London and the adjacent parts are in the kingdom; what the kingdom is in Europe, and what Europe is in the universe ...

Can history help?

Linda Colley: The Problem with Winning, 22 March 2018

... We are​ , all of us, saturated with information on change. There is 24-hour news. Twitter, Facebook and other online platforms transmit the latest occurrences across the globe. Those of us old-fashioned enough still to want newspapers can scan their online versions at any time. Yet this blizzard of material easily produces a sense of overload, even powerlessness, a feeling that we are simultaneously being told too much, yet can grasp too little ...

In Disguise of a Merchant

Linda Colley: Company-States, 30 July 2020

Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World 
by Andrew Phillips and J.C. Sharman.
Princeton, 253 pp., £25, June, 978 0 691 20351 5
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... Last​ summer, in the world we have lost, I took a long Uber ride through Bristol. It was long because my Ethiopian driver was eager to tell me how much his country had changed in recent years, and how much of this was because of China. In the last decade, Chinese companies were responsible for more than 350 construction projects in Ethiopia – airports, railway stations, shopping malls, service agencies and more – helping it become the fastest growing economy in Africa ...

Strong Government

Linda Colley, 7 December 1989

The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1788 
by John Brewer.
Unwin Hyman, 289 pp., £28, April 1989, 0 04 445292 6
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Cambridge in the Age of the Enlightenment: Science, Religion and Politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution 
by John Gascoigne.
Cambridge, 358 pp., £32.50, June 1989, 0 521 35139 1
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Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World 
by C.A. Bayly.
Longman, 295 pp., £16.95, June 1989, 0 582 04287 9
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... Anyone seeking to make sense of British history from the last quarter of the 17th century to the first quarter of the 19th must confront two closely-related questions. How did this small island, so sparsely-populated in comparison with its major rivals, manage to become the prime European and imperial power? And how was it able to remain fundamentally cohesive while it did so? Other polities succumbed to successful invasions from without or to major convulsions within: but Great Britain after 1688 did neither ...

Little Englander Histories

Linda Colley: Little Englandism, 22 July 2010

A Mad, Bad & Dangerous People? England 1783-1846 
by Boyd Hilton.
Oxford, 757 pp., £21, June 2008, 978 0 19 921891 2
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Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1780-1939 
by James Belich.
Oxford, 573 pp., £25, June 2009, 978 0 19 929727 6
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... What is ‘national history’, and what is it for? Who and what should be included in it? And where does it take place? For all that it may appear to offer a uniquely intelligible account of a clearly demarcated political and geographical space, national history is intrinsically problematic. Territorial and maritime boundaries are usually porous. The frontiers of virtually all self-proclaimed nations have fluctuated considerably over the centuries, while claims to a single, all- embracing nationhood are often contested from within, and/or sporadically overwhelmed or denied from without ...

Tory Phylogeny

John Brewer, 2 December 1982

In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714-1760 
by Linda Colley.
Cambridge, 383 pp., £25, February 1982, 0 521 23982 6
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Dynamics of Change: The Crisis of the 1750s and English Party Systems 
by J.C.D. Clark.
Cambridge, 640 pp., £37.50, May 1982, 0 521 23830 7
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... speaking of his old enemies, the Hanoverian Tories, who have now been rescued from ignominy by Linda Colley. Her book brilliantly rehabilitates the 18th-century Tory Party and lambastes the ‘vulgar judgments’ of those historians who have dismissed it as an insignificant political presence. The Hanoverian Tory has usually been depicted as an ...

On the Coalition

LRB Contributors, 10 June 2010

... Where are the new sorts of political actor? Where, crucially, are the really new political ideas? Linda Colley For the first time in my voting life, I couldn’t see that it would be better for the Labour Party to be elected rather than the Tories. A Labour Party that felt intensely relaxed about the filthy rich while presiding over a widening chasm ...

Liking it and living it

Hugh Tulloch, 14 September 1989

Namier 
by Linda Colley.
Weidenfeld, 132 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 297 79587 2
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Hume 
by Nicholas Phillipson.
Weidenfeld, 162 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 297 79592 9
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... history could exert a crippling hold which only the historian, as therapist, could break. One of Linda Colley’s many triumphs is to encompass the immense complexity of Namier’s personality in such a brief space. Another is to tread with tact over many sensitive areas: the matter of academic anti-semitism and ostracism, Namier’s sometimes paranoid ...

The Real Price of Everything

Hilary Mantel: The Many Lives of Elizabeth Marsh, 21 June 2007

The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History 
by Linda Colley.
HarperPress, 363 pp., £25, June 2007, 978 0 00 719218 2
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... by fire and hurricanes. Earthquakes and their effects are an image to keep in mind when reading Linda Colley’s recent work. What we call, in Eurocentric fashion, the ‘Lisbon earthquake’ of 1755 killed over 100,000 people in the Iberian peninsula and Morocco, and caused tsunamis in the west of Ireland and in Barbados. Her 2002 ...

Imperial Project

Richard Drayton, 19 September 1996

Kew: The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens 
by Ray Desmond.
Harvill/Royal Botanical Gardens, 466 pp., £25, November 1995, 1 86046 076 3
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... Thompson – have helped an emerging nation make sense of itself. There are now good reasons, as Linda Colley and Chris Bayly have suggested, to bring the Empire to the centre of domestic history and to show how a wider world changed our experience of taste, style and kinship. In an empire, as Gibbon knew, it is often difficult to tell who conquered ...

Scribbles in a Storm

Neal Ascherson: Who needs a constitution?, 1 April 2021

The Gun, the Ship and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World 
by Linda Colley.
Profile, 502 pp., £25, March, 978 1 84668 497 5
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... these documents seemed profoundly exotic.’ In spite of where she came from, which was England, Linda Colley became many years ago the first English intellectual to explain to her nation just how exotic ‘Britishness’ was. Now, with the same pioneering enthusiasm, she has produced a book about constitutions. Not the unwritten playground rules that ...

Blame it on the French

John Barrell, 8 October 1992

Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 
by Linda Colley.
Yale, 429 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 300 05737 7
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... Linda Colley’s new book is an attempt to discover and analyse the ingredients of British national identity as it was forged in the 18th century – ‘forged’ in the double sense of made up (for communities are imagined and imaginary things) and fashioned in the fire of battle. It is also an attempt to recover and understand the patriotism of ‘ordinary British people’, a patriotism she refuses to regard simply in terms of ideology, or as the result, for many, of variously mediated and unmediated forms of coercion, or as a primarily irrational response by the British to the experience of finding themselves members of the new nation created by the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 ...

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