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... One of the things that used to surprise Westerners about China was the willingness of individuals to suffer the inhumane treatment meted out by their superiors. For years on end they would patiently submit to frightful indignities, so that one despaired of their ever rebelling. But when it did all boil over, the deferential bowers and scrapers would whip themselves into a frenzy of extreme violence ...


Dick Wilson, 27 October 1988

Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 494 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 241 12547 2
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Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform 
by Orville Schell.
Pantheon, 384 pp., $19.95, June 1988, 9780394568294
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The Star Raft: China’s Encounter with Africa 
by Philip Snow.
Weidenfeld, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 297 79081 1
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Ancestors: Nine Hundred Years in the Life of a Chinese Family 
by Frank Ching.
Harrap, 528 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 245 54675 8
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... The idea of China is elusive. Not only was its civilisation different from those that shaped the West, but it flowed earlier and more continuously – and mutual contact was tenuous. The picture of China that we carry in our heads is a misleading collage. It builds first on the exaggerated respect paid to Chinese institutions by the French Enlightenment in the 18th century, and is then overlaid by the risible images of China’s feeble response to Western imperialism in the 19th century, and now in the 20th century by the figure of that extraordinary half-god, half-demon, Mao Zedong ...

Tam, Dick and Harold

Ian Aitken, 26 October 1989

Dick Crossman: A Portrait 
by Tam Dalyell.
Weidenfeld, 253 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79670 4
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... it is a great deal deader in this segment of the population than in any other. That the Attlee and Wilson governments had such a heavy complement of Oxbridge intellectuals owed as much to the fact that deference still existed at the grass roots of the Labour Party in the Thirties and Forties as it did to the willingness of graduates to put themselves ...


Dick Taverne, 21 February 1980

by Jo Grimond.
Heinemann, 316 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 434 30600 2
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... the loyalties of those who seek a party of conscience and reform. Even after his death, when Wilson built on the foundations which Gaitskell had laid, Labour looked an acceptable alternative for Conservative defectors. It must be doubtful whether anything Grimond might have done, whether by a campaign of Thorpean razmataz, or for that matter by a ...

Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

Crossman: The Pursuit of Power 
by Anthony Howard.
Cape, 361 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 02592 9
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... On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Then Harold Wilson raised the issue of Anthony Howard. He has just been appointed by the Sunday Times to be the first Whitehall correspondent in history, looking into the secrets of the Civil Service rather than leaking the secrets of the politicians ...

1966 and all that

Michael Stewart, 20 December 1984

The Castle Diaries. Vol. II: 1964-70 
by Barbara Castle.
Weidenfeld, 848 pp., £20, October 1984, 0 297 78374 2
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... are still hard at it on 31 December. We are surely fortunate that Barbara Castle – like the late Dick Crossman – is in the second category. And when Mrs Castle keeps a diary, she doesn’t mess about: she really keeps a diary. The indefatigability of her labours was first revealed four years ago, when she published her diaries for the period from 1 January ...

China’s Crisis

Mark Elvin, 5 November 1992

The Dragon’s Brood: Conversations with Young Chinese 
by David Rice.
HarperCollins, 294 pp., £16.99, April 1992, 0 246 13809 2
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Time for telling truth is running out 
by Vera Schwarcz.
Yale, 256 pp., £20, April 1992, 0 300 05009 7
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The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis 
by W.F.J. Jenner.
Allen Lane, 255 pp., £18.99, March 1992, 0 7139 9060 0
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Beyond the Chinese Face: Insights from Psychology 
by Michael Harris Bond.
Oxford, 125 pp., £8.95, February 1992, 0 19 585116 1
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Chinese Communism 
by Dick Wilson and Matthew Grenier.
Paladin, 190 pp., £5.99, May 1992, 9780586090244
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... books is the sense they give that the study of China is alive and well. The same cannot be said of Wilson and Grenier’s Chinese Communism. It is not in any obvious sense a bad book; it is certainly not an ill-informed book; it is written quite carefully and clearly. But it is a dead book suggestive of a mummified Pekinology. ‘For all their ...

Toot Sweet

Ian Aitken, 27 May 1993

Tired and Emotional: The life of George Brown 
by Peter Paterson.
Chatto, 320 pp., £20, May 1993, 0 7011 3976 5
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... of Westminster or patrolled the corridors of power in Whitehall during the six years of the first Wilson Government acquired a fund of George Brown stories. The fact that many were so preposterous as to be incredible did not mean that they were untrue. Even when they redounded to Brown’s credit, which they occasionally did, it was quite possible that they ...

He had it all

Alex Harvey: Fitzgerald’s Decade, 5 July 2018

Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald 
by David S. Brown.
Harvard, 424 pp., £21.95, May 2017, 978 0 674 50482 0
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‘I’d Die for You’ and Other Lost Stories 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Scribner, 384 pp., £9.99, April 2018, 978 1 4711 6473 6
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... of money, public adulation and staggering self-belief. ‘I really believe,’ he wrote to Edmund Wilson, whom he had met at Princeton, that ‘no one else could have written so searchingly the story of the youth of our generation.’ But he was already anticipating his later failure. ‘I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings ...

Bill and Dick’s Excellent Adventure

Christopher Hitchens, 20 February 1997

Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the Nineties 
by Dick Morris.
Random House, 382 pp., $25.95, January 1997, 9780679457473
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... of him in terms of lip-biting regret. In fact, let’s have Bill’s dust-jacket endorsement of Dick in full: I think he is, first of all, brilliant, tactically and strategically. Secondly, with me he’s always been very straightforward and honest, the bad news as well as the good and, if possible, the bad news first. Thirdly, he knows how I think, and he ...


Tom Crewe: The Queen and I, 1 August 2019

... like a moth beating against a bulb, briefly altering the light. In 1832, Carlyle reviewed John Wilson Croker’s new edition of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, and emphasised, as Hermione Lee has noted, how biography, by recording ‘many a little Reality’, can make the reader see the world as it existed around the central figure, its depths and ...

Adjusting the Mechanism

Colin Burrow: Robert Graves, 11 October 2018

Robert Graves: From a Great War Poet to ‘Goodbye to All That’, 1895-1929 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 461 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 1 4729 2914 3
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The Reader over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose 
by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge.
Seven Stories, 613 pp., £30, September 2017, 978 1 60980 733 7
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... he hated. He got through by learning to box, by falling in love with a boy he referred to as ‘Dick’ (actually called George Harcourt Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone, later 3rd Baron Derwent), and by joining a poetry society run by some charismatic masters. He said in his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, written in 1929 when he was only 34, that by the end of ...


Frank Kermode: American Books, 1 April 1983

... Pléiade editions, might have occurred to anybody, but seems to have been first mooted by Edmund Wilson in 1961, when there was already some concern about the inaccessibility of many important American books. The idea was taken up, but in a form Wilson deplored, for the grant money went to minutely, indeed pedantically ...

Letting it get out

Bernard Williams, 18 October 1984

Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation 
by Sissela Bok.
Oxford, 332 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 19 217733 8
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TheSecrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today 
edited by Des Wilson, foreword by David Steel.
Heinemann, 166 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 9780435839390
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... Sissela Bok’s book illustrates, it is a deep and nearly universal desire of those in power; Des Wilson’s collection of articles powerfully documents and eloquently attacks its special intensity in this country, the most officially secretive among democracies. Sissela Bok’s thoughtful book is not concerned only with official secrets, though they get a ...

Scoutmaster General

Peter Clarke, 24 September 1992

Tony Benn 
by Jad Adams.
Macmillan, 576 pp., £20, July 1992, 0 333 52558 2
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The End of an Era: Diaries, 1980-1990 
by Tony Benn, edited by Ruth Winstone.
Hutchinson, 704 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 09 174857 7
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... was not everyone’s cup of tea. When Benn became Postmaster General, his cynical colleague Dick Crossman wrote that ‘even among us in the Cabinet he doesn’t inspire conviction, partly because, although I doubt whether he is a believer, he has at times a kind of mechanical nonconformist self-righteousness about him.’ Others called him the ...

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