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Improving the Story

Frank Kermode: Philip Pullman’s Jesus, 27 May 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ 
by Philip Pullman.
Canongate, 245 pp., £14.99, April 2010, 978 1 84767 825 6
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... Obviously most of the material is drawn from the canonical gospels of Matthew and Luke, with Mark behind them and John ignoring them. They offer accounts of the infancy of Jesus that are often quite wildly at odds with one another, but anyone wanting to retell the tale can pick and choose, ignoring conflicts of testimony and adding more if desired. It ...

Still Life with Wineglass

R.F. Langley, 21 June 2001

... reminds me of wading birds, when their beaks meet their beaks as they feed on a mirror of mud and mark ‘Here’ as a point in the water that’s deep in the sky. Fetch me a folding chair. Set it up by the south door. This is etiquette. I am the ticket collector. Nothing comes in but thistledown which scarcely touches the floor and was never supposed to ...

Get knitting

Ian Hacking: Birth and Death of the Brain, 18 August 2005

The 21st-Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind 
by Steven Rose.
Cape, 344 pp., £20, March 2005, 0 224 06254 9
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... Steven Rose is a well-known public scientist who has dedicated his career to the study of brains. He has lived through the early days of the technical revolution that has involved increasingly powerful ways of imaging activity in the brain. But he is first of all a biologist. His guiding principle is that we cannot understand the human brain unless we understand how it came into being ...

Washed White

Michael Rogin, 10 June 1993

The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America 
by Sacvan Bercovitch.
Routledge, 424 pp., £40, November 1992, 9780415900140
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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 315 pp., £17.99, April 1993, 0 671 76956 1
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... the details, writes Wills. Lincoln, naming no units, no men, no landscape, no battle, no slavery, rose above the horrible particulars and ‘called up a new nation out of the blood and trauma’. ‘The act of bringing forth a new nation conceived in liberty is always an intellectual act for Lincoln,’ Wills writes – the italics ...

Book Reviewing

Stefan Collini: On the ‘TLS’, 5 November 2020

... to death as the TLS has ever come, but it has continued to have its ups and downs. Circulation rose through the 1920s to 30,000, then dropped sharply, down to 23,000 by 1934, and Richmond despaired of arresting the decline: ‘Even among my own relations I know three households that have given it up.’ He did not believe, however, that ‘“new ...

Out of the blue

Mark Ford, 10 December 1987

Meeting the British 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 53 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 571 14858 1
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Partingtime Hall 
by James Fenton and John Fuller.
Salamander, 69 pp., £7.50, April 1987, 0 948681 05 5
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Private Parts 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 72 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 9780701132064
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Bright River Yonder 
by John Hartley Williams.
Bloodaxe, 87 pp., £4.95, April 1987, 1 85224 028 8
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... to him about his self-absorption, he has eyes only for the way an apprentice had scrimshandered a rose’s exquisite petals not from some precious metal or wood or stone (‘I might just as well be eating alone’) but the tail-end of a carrot. The excessiveness of the poem’s final line both clinches the performance and dismantles the artifice. The carrot ...

No Crying in This House

Jackson Lears: The Kennedy Myth, 7 November 2013

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy 
by David Nasaw.
Allen Lane, 896 pp., £12.35, September 2013, 978 0 14 312407 8
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Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch 
by Barbara Perry.
Norton, 404 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 393 06895 5
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... self-made father with connections in Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington and London, and by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, a devout but fashionable Catholic mum, as at home on the golf links or the ski slopes as in Windsor Castle. After making millions in banking, real estate and film distribution, the father wants to devote his life to public service, and to ...

Taking leave

Mark Edmundson, 2 March 1989

Borrowed Time 
by Paul Monette.
Collins Harvill, 342 pp., £12.50, October 1988, 0 00 271057 9
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... gays from teaching in the California public schools, a grass-roots movement, led by Milk, rose and defeated the Bill by a two-to-one majority. Gay power was at its high-water mark. It was around that time that Monette and Horwitz moved west, to Los Angeles, where gays had won a measure of respect – if never quite ...

The trouble with the Enlightenment

Mark Lilla, 6 January 1994

The Magus of the North: J.G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism 
by Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy.
Murray, 144 pp., £14.99, October 1993, 0 7195 5312 1
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... in the political and cultural sphere ... forced by arrogant dictators, Frederick and Voltaire, he rose in rebellion and instituted a fierce campaign against reason’. Berlin himself is no enemy of reason, but he does feel an almost unbounded sympathy for those claiming to be victims of overweening pretension, even if that pretension is bred of rational ...

Why the richest woman in Britain changed her will 26 times

Mark Kishlansky: The Duchess of Marlborough, 14 November 2002

The Favourite: Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough 
by Ophelia Field.
Hodder, 575 pp., £20, June 2002, 9780340768075
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... the converse of his famous ancestor. Even allowing for party rancour, Swift was not far off the mark when he accused her of ‘sordid avarice, disdainful pride and ungovernable rage’. Mary Wortley Montague, who counted herself a friend, described Sarah as ‘eternally disappointed and eternally fretting’. Labels like ‘virago’ and ‘termagant’ may ...


Mark Mazower: In Thessaloniki, 22 November 2012

... As Yiannis Boutaris, the city’s charismatic mayor, approached the podium twenty young people rose from their seats chanting slogans. It was hard to read the black banner they tried to unfurl. The letters ‘YFANET’ meant nothing to me, but ‘No to the State’ provided a clue. Mainstream politics might be in retreat in Greece but anarchism is alive ...

Under the Ustasha

Mark Mazower: Sarajevo, 1941-45, 6 October 2011

Sarajevo, 1941-45: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Hitler’s Europe 
by Emily Greble.
Cornell, 276 pp., £21.50, February 2011, 978 0 8014 4921 5
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... friend sneaked me into the Unprofor headquarters in a villa in the centre of town. General Michael Rose was away in Pale, we were told, negotiating with the Serbs. We were shown into a bedroom, now used as Rose’s private office. A Royal Marine sat back in the general’s chair, feet on the desk, his head hidden behind a ...

Edgar and Emma

John Sutherland, 20 February 1986

World’s Fair 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Joseph, 275 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 7181 2685 8
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The Adventures of Robina 
edited by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 165 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 571 13796 2
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... July 1976. Edgar L. Doctorow was born in New York City on 6 January 1931 to David R. and Rose Doctorow, whom he has described as ‘old-fashioned social democrats’. His grandparents on both sides were Jewish immigrants from Russia. Doctorow grew up on Eastburn Avenue, in the Bronx. His mother was a pianist and his father had a store in the old ...

Sorrows of a Polygamist

Mark Ford: Ted Hughes in His Cage, 17 March 2016

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life 
by Jonathan Bate.
William Collins, 662 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 00 811822 8
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... generating both sophisticated psychoanalytical readings, such as those put forward by Jacqueline Rose in The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991), and the schlock movie Sylvia (2003), in which Hughes was played by Daniel Craig and Plath by Gwyneth Paltrow. From the early 1970s more or less until his death Hughes was a major hate figure for those he and his ...

Who do you think you are?

Jacqueline Rose: Trans Narratives, 5 May 2016

... and thereby denied them legal recognition of their gender. In 1986, female-to-male transsexual Mark Rees, in the first challenge to the ruling, lost his case at the European Court of Human Rights against the UK government for its non-recognition of his status as male, loss of privacy and barring his marriage to a woman. Only with the Gender Recognition Act ...

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