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Omnipresent Eye

Patrick Wright: The Nixon/Mao Show, 16 August 2007

Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 384 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 7195 6522 7
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... and walks towards his welcoming host for the first of many carefully held handshakes. That, as Margaret MacMillan confirms, is more or less what took place at Beijing airport on Monday, 21 February 1972. It’s also the opening scene of John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, premiered in Houston in 1987, and staged again at the London Coliseum over a few ...

The First Calamity

Christopher Clark: July, 1914, 29 August 2013

The War That Ended Peace 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Profile, 656 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 1 84668 272 8
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July 1914: Countdown to War 
by Sean McMeekin.
Icon, 461 pp., £25, July 2013, 978 1 84831 593 8
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... historical ‘forces’, but of short-term realignments and shocks to the international system. Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace and Sean McMeekin’s July 1914 both bear the imprint of these perspectival shifts. They are both attentive to the play of contingency in crises that involved multilateral interactions among numerous sovereign ...

What We Have

David Bromwich: Tarantinisation, 4 February 1999

The Origins of Postmodernity 
by Perry Anderson.
Verso, 143 pp., £11, September 1998, 1 85984 222 4
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The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-98 
by Fredric Jameson.
Verso, 206 pp., £11, September 1998, 1 85984 182 1
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... or diverts the mind (but not into thought). Broader traits were added as opinion-makers in the lesser arts fell into step. The Post-Modern is a matter of façade, they said, without any promise of depth. It soaks up and squeezes out but does not judge the commercial culture it is compelled to treat as a second nature. This claim, too, had been made first ...

Two Men in a Boat

Ian Aitken, 15 August 1991

John Major: The Making of the Prime Minister 
by Bruce Anderson.
Fourth Estate, 324 pp., £16.99, June 1991, 9781872180540
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‘My Style of Government’: The Thatcher Years 
by Nicholas Ridley.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 09 175051 2
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... His hero reached his conclusion all by himself, he insists. On the other hand, he didn’t tell Margaret about his conversion. If he had, says Anderson, ‘she would have lost all faith in his judgment of foreign affairs, and in her own favourable assessment of his merits.’ But when Mr Major returned to the Treasury as Chancellor, this time stepping over ...

Clean Clothes

Rosalind Mitchison, 17 March 1988

Scottish Lifestyle 300 Years Ago 
by Helen Kelsall and Keith Kelsall.
John Donald, 224 pp., £10, September 1986, 0 85976 167 3
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Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 
by Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall.
Hutchinson, 576 pp., £25, April 1987, 0 09 164700 2
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A Lasting Relationship: Parents and Children over Three Centuries 
by Linda Pollock.
Fourth Estate, 319 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 947795 25 1
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... class seem to have been kept for sport or warfare. The Kelsalls point out from the diary of a lesser laird, George Home of Kimmerghame, that the enthusiasm for gardening and for household tasks meant organising other people to do things: planting, pruning and protecting plants were all things for which orders were given. We are a long way before the ...

An Enemy Within

Paul Foot, 23 April 1987

Molehunt: The Full Story of the Soviet Mole in MI5 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 208 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 297 79150 8
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... enemies change. From 1940 to 1945, for instance, the enemy was Germany, Italy and (to a slightly lesser degree) Fascism. Russia (together with the Communism which that country purported to represent) was an ally. The small group of university-educated Communists, who thought that the best way to advance the cause of peace and socialism was to infiltrate the ...


Richard Gott: Víctor Jara’s Chile, 17 September 1998

... frontier the following morning, and for a payment of $200, Brunson and Humphrys were happy to let lesser mortals onto the flight. The news at the Reuters office was less encouraging. A message had arrived from their correspondent in Santiago, suggesting that I would be ill-advised to come. My name was on a ‘wanted’ list. We flew in to Santiago’s old ...

Zip the Lips

Lorna Scott Fox: A novel plea for silence, 2 June 2005

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Chatto, 376 pp., £17.99, May 2005, 9780701176754
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The Man of Feeling 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Vintage, 135 pp., £7.99, February 2005, 0 09 945367 3
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... for building a monumental thesis on the belief that ‘what awaits everyone to a greater or lesser extent’ is ‘tale-telling, treachery, back-stabbing, denunciation, calumny, defamation, accusation’. This is repeatedly stated rather than shown, and Fever and Spear reads like an incantatory essay. The Spanish jury who awarded it the Salambó Prize ...

The Irresistible Itch

Colin Kidd: Vandals in Bow Ties, 3 December 2009

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters 
by Alexander Brown.
Continuum, 214 pp., £12.99, September 2009, 978 1 84706 399 1
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... Ever since the rise of Margaret Thatcher, personal responsibility has been the irresistible itch that the Conservative Party dare not scratch – at least not in public. Notwithstanding the party’s boosterish slogans of enterprise, freedom and low taxation, many of its elderly members – and some of its politicians – have long held to a more cautious ethos of middle-class respectability, restraint and downright frugality ...

Trouble at the Fees Office

Jonathan Raban: Alice in Expenses Land, 11 June 2009

... to Members’ Allowances, it’s not surprising that most MPs seem to have followed the example of Margaret Beckett, who confessed: ‘I just grabbed together the relevant things and bunged them into the Fees Office and left it to them to sort it out.’ So Gerald Kaufman, having spent £8865 on a Bang & Olufsen 40” BeoVision LCD TV, described by its ...

Little Philadelphias

Ange Mlinko: Imagism, 25 March 2010

The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists 
by Helen Carr.
Cape, 982 pp., £30, May 2009, 978 0 224 04030 3
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... it is difficult now to find a copy of H.D.’s poems in an American bookshop, much less any of her lesser colleagues circa 1912. It is as if modernist poems had to die to give birth to modernist history; or, in a depressingly common reversal of priorities, the poems are relics with which to reconstruct lives. To me, an ex-Philadelphian, it seems that one ...

Chasing Kites

Michael Wood: The Craziness of Ved Mehta, 23 February 2006

The Red Letters: My Father’s Enchanted Period 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 190 pp., £15.99, November 2004, 0 9543520 6 8
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Remembering Mr Shawn’s ‘New Yorker’ 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 414 pp., £19.99, November 2004, 9780954352059
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Dark Harbour 
by Ved Mehta.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 272 pp., £17.99, November 2004, 0 9543520 4 1
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... In a famous poem by Hopkins, a child called Margaret is rebuked for grieving over the fall of leaves. Leaves fall; stuff happens; we get over it; or, to stay with Hopkins’s idiom, the heart ‘will come to such sights colder/By and by’. The child will one day find better reasons for her tears, including the fate of humankind, falling and falling again since its first lapse in Eden: ‘You will weep and know why ...

War within wars

Paul Addison, 5 November 1992

War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard 
edited by Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill.
Oxford, 322 pp., £35, July 1992, 0 19 822292 0
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... up the greater Churchill, who stood for national unity in the Second World War, against the lesser Churchill who was only too eager to put down strikes, and who – as depicted by Howard – was, of course, an indirect representation of Margaret Thatcher. It was not to be expected that Michael Howard’s achievements ...

Special Place

Sean Wilentz, 19 April 1990

America’s Rome. Vol I: Classical Rome 
by William Vance.
Yale, 454 pp., £19.95, September 1989, 0 300 03670 1
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America’s Rome. Vol II: Catholic and Contemporary Rome 
by William Vance.
Yale, 498 pp., £19.95, September 1989, 0 300 04453 4
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... tried to regain the kind of holistic perspective that came naturally to Tocqueville and many lesser 19th-century observers. Unfortunately, they paid an enormous price: for with all of their genre-blurring in search of The American, they ended up obscuring the things that divided Americans from one another, as well as the ways American culture had ...

Don’t blame him

Jenny Wormald, 4 August 1994

Elizabeth I 
by Wallance MacCaffrey.
Edward Arnold, 528 pp., £25, September 1993, 9780340561676
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... of Britain (‘Great’ not as a qualitative description, but merely to distinguish it from Lesser Britain, or Brittany) did nothing to reassure or restore the morale of his new subjects. The inevitable happened. People began to look back to a different past, the one presided over by Gloriana rediviva; and the Queen’s own strenuous self-propaganda in ...

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