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The Unpredictable Cactus

Emily Witt: Mescaline, 2 January 2020

Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic 
by Mike Jay.
Yale, 297 pp., £18.99, May 2019, 978 0 300 23107 6
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... converts amino acids into compounds known as alkaloids. The evolutionary purpose of San Pedro’s most famous alkaloid, the psychoactive compound mescaline, is unknown, but humans have been aware of its effects for thousands of years. When boiled down into a brew and ingested, it activates an alternative experience of consciousness.‘No mind-altering ...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

... files on? Is there a filing cabinet in Washington that contains a rundown of Jonathan Franzen’s feud with Oprah Winfrey? Do the Feds keep track of how many words Joyce Carol Oates writes in a day? Do they monitor Karl Ove Knausgaard’s border crossings? Did they know who Elena Ferrante was before the editors of the New ...

Move Your Head and the Picture Changes

Jenny Turner: Helen DeWitt, 11 September 2008

Your Name Here 
by Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff.
helendewitt.com, 580 pp., £8, May 2008
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... talked about why, in much of his work, narrative is split into body-text and footnotes: There’s a way, it seems to me, that reality’s fractured right now, at least the reality that I live in. And the difficulty about … writing about that reality is that text is very linear and it’...

If I Turn and Run

Iain Sinclair: In Hoxton, 1 June 2000

45 
by Bill Drummond.
Little, Brown, 361 pp., £12.99, March 2000, 0 316 85385 2
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Crucify Me Again 
by Mark Manning.
Codex, 190 pp., £8.95, May 2000, 0 18 995814 6
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... stride in hallucinatory ordinariness, the celebrated living sculptures, Gilbert and George. It’s an English spring afternoon and they have dressed for it in country formal outfits: stout boots, long, brown chequerboard coats with too many buttons, furry headwarmers that flap down over their ears. They look worried – like posh herdsmen who have lost their ...

What is Labour for?

John Lanchester: Five More Years of This?, 31 March 2005

David Blunkett 
by Stephen Pollard.
Hodder, 359 pp., £20, December 2004, 0 340 82534 0
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... the middle of an election campaign which seems certain to win it at least four more. The party’s record in government evokes a range of responses on the left – from mild gloom to clinical depression, from irritation to rage, from apathy to horror – but one of the most consistent things it provokes is disorientation. This is a Labour government? This is ...

Hoogah-Boogah

James Wolcott: Rick Moody, 19 September 2002

The Black Veil 
by Rick Moody.
Faber, 323 pp., £16.99, August 2002, 0 571 20056 7
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... the reader, and finally the publisher, all together in a tiny whirlpool of pain.’ Rick Moody’s The Black Veil is the latest voyage to the bottom of the sink, a journey of self-discovery jinxed by dense fog and treacherous syntax. Moody is best known for his novels, Garden State (which is being released for the first time in the UK to piggyback on the ...

All I Can Stand

Thomas Powers: Joseph Mitchell, 18 June 2015

Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of the ‘New Yorker’ 
by Thomas Kunkel.
Random House, 384 pp., £22.50, April 2015, 978 0 375 50890 5
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... later. At the World-Telegram while Mitchell was still in his twenties, the paper liked his stories so much they put his photo up on the side of their delivery trucks. The year he turned thirty the city’s most ambitious magazine, the New Yorker, hired him away. Two years after that, in the annus mirabilis of 1940, Mitchell ...

Counter-Factuals

Linda Colley, 1 November 1984

The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism 
edited by Margaret Jacob and James Jacob.
Allen and Unwin, 333 pp., £18.50, February 1984, 0 04 909015 1
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Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 
by Roger Wells.
Alan Sutton, 312 pp., £16, May 1983, 9780862990190
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Radicalism and Freethought in 19th-Century Britain 
by Joel Wiener.
Greenwood, 285 pp., $29.95, March 1983, 0 313 23532 5
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For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution 
by Robert Dozier.
Kentucky, 213 pp., £20.90, February 1984, 9780813114903
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... political activists from Tom Paine to Friedrich Engels and historians from Elie Halévy to Edward Thompson have hailed 18th and 19th-century Britain as just the place for a revolution. For superficially – though only superficially – the conditions seem to have been almost ideal. From the Glorious Revolution in 1688 to Waterloo in 1815, Britain faced a ...

Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four: Facsimile Edition 
by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison.
Secker, 291 pp., £25, July 1984, 9780436350221
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Nineteen Eighty-Four 
by George Orwell, edited by Bernard Crick.
Oxford, 460 pp., £17.50, March 1984, 0 19 818521 9
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Inside the Myth. Orwell: Views from the Left 
edited by Christopher Norris.
Lawrence and Wishart, 287 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 85315 599 2
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The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell 
by George Woodcock.
Fourth Estate, 287 pp., £5.95, November 1984, 0 947795 05 7
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Orwell’s London 
by John Thompson.
Fourth Estate, 119 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 947795 00 6
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... would pay real money for them, and that universities would think it a privilege to turn a writer’s bits and pieces into an archive. The typescript used in the printing of Nineteen Eighty-Four is in the Orwell Archive at University College London. There are also preliminary drafts of the novel – pages of handwritten and typewritten material, with ...

Tortoises with Zips

David Craig: The Snow Geese by William Fiennes, 4 April 2002

The Snow Geese 
by William Fiennes.
Picador, 250 pp., £14.99, March 2002, 0 330 37578 4
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... and his alternation between dependence on home and an urge to hive off. Having Paul Gallico’s Snow Goose read to him at prep school, rediscovering the novella in a hotel when he was convalescing from a major operation in his mid-twenties: these experiences inspired him to follow the snow geese as they made their flight north-eastwards in the ...

Scoop after Scoop

Ian Jack: Chapman Pincher’s Scoops, 5 June 2014

Dangerous to Know: A Life 
by Chapman Pincher.
Biteback, 386 pp., £20, February 2014, 978 1 84954 651 5
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... gifted editor than Arthur Christiansen, and few more celebrated reporters than the paper’s defence and science correspondent, Chapman Pincher. Out of the Express’s triumvirate of black-glass offices in London, Manchester and Glasgow came a torrent of newsprint that set the popular tone for the last days of ...

Taking the hint

David Craig, 5 January 1989

The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, 1822 
by John Prebble.
Collins, 399 pp., £15, November 1988, 0 00 215404 8
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... special occasions such as the family banquet on Christmas Eve, the visit to the Sick Children’s Hospital to hear the King’s speech through the PA on Christmas afternoon, and visits to wealthy patients of my father’s some way up the twin river valleys from Aberdeen, I might well ...

Fitz

John Bayley, 4 April 1985

With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald 
by Robert Bernard Martin.
Faber, 313 pp., £17.50, February 1985, 0 571 13462 9
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... Lad was quaint in its time but became the more modern the more it caught on. FitzGerald’s version of Omar Khayyam, which became the most popular poem of the century, is sui generis in the same way. It also seems to stand outside its author. Although Professor Martin does the best that can be done with him, FitzGerald was not, from the literary point ...

A New Kind of Being

Jenny Turner: Angela Carter, 3 November 2016

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography 
by Edmund Gordon.
Chatto, 544 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 7011 8755 2
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... In​ 2006, the British Library bought a huge archive of Angela Carter’s papers from Gekoski, the rare books dealer, for £125,000.* It includes drafts, lots of them, a reminder that in the days before your computer automatically date-stamped all your files book-writing used to be a clerical undertaking. It has Pluto Press Big Red Diaries from the 1970s, and a red leatherette Labour Party one, tooled with the pre-Kinnock torch, quill and shovel badge ...

I am Prince Mishkin

Mark Ford, 23 April 1987

‘Howl’: Original Draft Facsimile 
by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Barry Miles.
Viking, 194 pp., £16.95, February 1987, 0 670 81599 3
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White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 89 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 81598 5
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... It’s over thirty years since the angry drumbeat of Howl first assembled the dissatisfied tribes of an expanding American subculture, and gave them a name and a voice. The first reading took place at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on 7 October 1955. Michael McClure who also read that night along with Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Philip Lamantia, describes the poem’s impact in Scratching the Beat Surface (1982): I hadn’t seen Allen in a few weeks and I had not heard Howl – it was new to me ...

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