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Biting into a Pin-cushion

A.D. Nuttall: Descartes’s botch, 24 June 2004

Flesh in the Age of Reason 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 7139 9149 6
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... and a disgusting drip.’ The physicalist party, note, is not always for celebrating the body. Simon Schama in his introduction says that Porter ventures where most historians fear: into Greek metaphysics, Christian theology, Cartesian philosophy. My complaint is that he sets out on this brave journey but then does not go far enough. The broad ...

History as a Bunch of Flowers

James Davidson: Jacob Burckhardt, 20 August 1998

The Greeks and Greek Civilisation 
by Jacob Burckhardt, edited by Oswyn Murray, translated by Sheila Stern.
HarperCollins, 449 pp., £24.99, May 1998, 0 00 255855 6
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... Self as a ‘stylisation of freedom’, produced out of an ‘aesthetics of existence’. When Simon Schama, in the overture to The Embarrassment of Riches, finds himself rather unconcerned about the actual existence of ‘the drowning cell’, in which, according to travellers’ tales, the incorrigibly idle were required to pump themselves away from ...

Laundering Britain’s Past

Marilyn Butler, 12 September 1991

The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 1095 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 297 81207 6
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... of the Great Powers, 1988 (subtitle, ‘Economic Change and Military Conflict, 1500-2000’), or Simon Schama’s Citizens, 1989. At first glance it looks as if the reader gets a smaller return, a mere 15 years of history at a point when, on the face of it, nothing dramatic was happening. In fact, the big problems Johnson offers to explain prove ...

The History Boy

Alan Bennett: Exam-taking, 3 June 2004

... as history has become more popular both on the page and on the screen. The doyen of TV historians, Simon Schama, is in a league of his own and his political viewpoint not in the forefront, but the new breed of historian – Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts and Norman Stone – all came to prominence under Mrs Thatcher and share some of her ...

The Demented Dalek

Richard J. Evans: Michael Gove, 12 September 2019

Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry 
by Owen Bennett.
Biteback, 422 pp., £20, July 2019, 978 1 78590 440 0
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... of what he thought were like-minded professional historians to advise him. Niall Ferguson was one; Simon Schama was hired to convene a committee to produce a draft. But Gove wasn’t satisfied. Ferguson wanted the curriculum to have a global dimension, which wasn’t what Gove wanted at all; the proposals put forward by ...

What Nanny Didn’t Tell Me

Bernard Porter: Simon Mann, 26 January 2012

Cry Havoc 
by Simon Mann.
John Blake, 351 pp., £19.99, November 2011, 978 1 84358 403 2
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... goes like clockwork – no problems, no mistakes – though there’s a twist at the end. Simon Mann’s Cry Havoc might seem like a copy of this scenario – same place, roughly the same plot, thirty years later – but it’s much more fun because Mann’s attempted coup turned out to be, in his words, ‘a swashbuckling ...

Our Island Story

Stefan Collini: The New DNB, 20 January 2005

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison.
Oxford, sixty volumes, £7,500, September 2004, 9780198614111
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... nothing by those currently celebrated as the leading presenters of the nation’s history, such as Simon Schama or David Starkey (the payments for contributions, it should be said, were meagre). One cannot help wondering about the combination of self-restraint and sly wit which led Sir Keith Thomas, chairman of the dictionary’s supervisory committee ...

Stuck on the Flypaper

Frances Stonor Saunders: The Hobsbawm File, 9 April 2015

... he have recycled himself as a sympathiser, a non-party independent communist? Asked by his admirer Simon Schama in 2012 why he had never handed in his card, Hobsbawm said that he should answer ‘To hell with you.’ This was ‘a Cold War question’, he explained, and therefore ‘redundant’. So Hobsbawm remained in the party, a fact that still haunts ...

Out of the Great Dark Whale

Eric Hobsbawm, 31 October 1996

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 
by Orlando Figes.
Cape, 923 pp., £20, August 1996, 0 224 04162 2
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... Revolution and its legacy from neo-liberal historians and ideologues; outside France it produced Simon Schama’s passionate manifesto against violence in the form of a history of the Revolution as a catalogue of horrors. And historians today are a good deal nearer to the Russian Revolution than to the French, especially when we take into account the ...

He wouldn’t dare

David A. Bell: Bloodletting in Paris, 9 May 2002

Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris 1789-1945 
by Richard D.E. Burton.
Cornell, 395 pp., £24.50, September 2001, 0 8014 3868 3
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... opponents. Burton makes matters worse by drawing far too heavily, for the early period, on Simon Schama’s evocative Citizens (1989), which treated the French Revolution from start to finish as a ghastly, bloody mistake. He repeats many of Schama’s best stories, including the one about the giant ...

‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’

Hilary Mantel: Springtime for Robespierre, 30 March 2000

edited by Colin Haydon and William Doyle.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £35, July 1999, 0 521 59116 3
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... changed much since Orwell’s day. In the non-Francophone world, the bicentennial was dominated by Simon Schama’s Citizens, which does not challenge comfortable preconceptions. Schama uses his narrative skill and his wealth of illustration to confirm people in the belief they already hold, which is that the Revolution ...

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