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Among the quilters

Peter Campbell, 21 March 1991

by Michael Ignatieff.
Chatto, 313 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 7011 3509 3
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Health and Happiness 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 260 pp., £13.99, January 1991, 0 7011 3597 2
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by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 1 872180 08 6
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... Asya, the heroine of Michael Ignatieff’s novel of revolution and exile, is born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1900. As a child, she nearly drowns walking out over the thawing ice beneath which the River Vasousa roars. She has a vision there of a great skater. Her brush with death changes her and leaves her with a belief ‘even when fear had her in its clasp ...

Short Cuts

David Bromwich: Alexander Hamilton’s Worst Idea, 24 October 2019

... edifying subtext was supplied last February, in the congressional testimony by Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen: ‘Have you ever seen Mr Trump personally threaten people with physical harm?’ ‘No: he would use others.’ ‘He would hire other people to do that?’ ‘I’m not sure he had to hire them, they were already working there. Everybody’s ...

Country Life

David Cannadine, 5 November 1981

The Victorian Countryside 
edited by G.E. Mingay.
Routledge, 380 pp., £25, July 1981, 0 7100 0734 5
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... and Kegan Paul published The Victorian City: Images and Realities, edited by H.J. Dyos and Michael Wolff, a Wagnerian epic in which history went to town in exuberant, zestful and flamboyant fashion. Understandably, the two volumes won immediate and widespread acclaim as a tour de force of entrepreneurial inspiration and editorial skill: ‘a study in ...

Reasons for thinking that war is a good thing

Eric Foner: The death of Liberalism, 27 June 2002

The Strange Death of American Liberalism 
by H.W. Brands.
Yale, 200 pp., £16, January 2002, 0 300 09021 8
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... the Elder struck political gold during the 1988 Presidential campaign by castigating his opponent, Michael Dukakis, as a liberal, virtually no American politician will voluntarily accept the label. One unlikely exception is Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s new billionaire Republican Mayor, who during the campaign ...


Michael Rogin, 20 August 1998

Celebrity Caricature in America 
by Wendy Wick Reaves.
Yale, 320 pp., £29.95, April 1998, 0 300 07463 8
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... heads, as Reaves observes, use media-generated emblems of fame (Heywood Broun’s unkempt hair, Franklin P. Adams’s cigar, H.L. Mencken’s sneer) to bar access to their bearers’ interiors. Caricaturists were interested in public faces, not secret lives; their masks varied, personality by personality, unlike the Polynesian, African and Aztec ...

White Man’s Heaven

Michael Wood, 7 February 1991

Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin 
by James Campbell.
Faber, 306 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 571 15391 7
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James Baldwin: Artist on Fire 
by W.J. Weatherby.
Joseph, 412 pp., £17.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3403 6
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... a little given to the journalist’s tag, the flat, unneeded paragraph-clincher (‘So much for Franklin D. Roosevelt.’ ‘He always had a pleasant witticism’). However, both men write out of a great affection and concern for Baldwin; neither is uncritical; and they pick their way with subtlety through the minefields of colour. The man who emerges from ...

The Immortal Coil

Richard Barnett: Faraday’s Letters, 21 March 2013

The Correspondence of Michael Faraday Vol. VI, 1860-67 
by Frank James.
IET, 919 pp., £85, December 2011, 978 0 86341 957 7
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... He sent this to the newly appointed Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, Michael Faraday. Faraday replied immediately: Pickersgill’s report had ‘greatly excited’ his curiosity, not least because ‘the meteor or whatever else it might be’ had been witnessed by ‘men of philosophical & correct habits of observation’. Would ...


Christian Lorentzen: The Democratic Convention, 11 August 2016

... DNC speakers so hard their heads would spin, particularly one ‘very little guy’, presumably Michael Bloomberg, who’d implied that Trump was insane and incompetent and could brag of becoming richer than Trump without the help of his father. To my ear the most effective attack on Trump was Joe Biden’s line that it was perverse to hand over the US ...

Should we say thank you?

Hugh Wilford: The Overrated Marshall Plan, 30 April 2009

The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Postwar Europe 
by Greg Behrman.
Aurum, 448 pp., £25, February 2008, 978 1 84513 326 9
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Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower 
by Nicolaus Mills.
Wiley, 290 pp., £15.99, August 2008, 978 0 470 09755 7
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... attention than other writers on the subject to Marshall’s participation in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt’s public works project, the Civilian Conservation Corps, echoing Michael Hogan’s arguments about the influence on the ERP of New Deal-style ‘corporatism’, and betraying more than a hint of nostalgia ...

Seeing it all

Peter Clarke, 12 October 1989

The Time of My life 
by Denis Healey.
Joseph, 512 pp., £17.95, October 1989, 0 7181 3114 2
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... but unsuccessful; they left him roundly defeated for the leadership but narrowly elected as Michael Foot’s deputy by the end of 1981. ‘I felt myself compelled to agree with Michael in public on all issues at all times,’ Healey admits. It was hardly a happy position; and a less robust and pragmatic man might have ...


Alan Brinkley, 7 January 1988

Armed Truce 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hamish Hamilton, 667 pp., £14.95, November 1986, 0 241 11843 3
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The Wise Men 
by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.
Faber, 853 pp., £15.95, January 1987, 0 571 14606 6
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by Piers Brendon.
Secker, 478 pp., £12.95, January 1987, 0 436 06813 3
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by Michael Beschloss.
Faber, 494 pp., £14.95, November 1986, 0 571 14593 0
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... West to respond effectively to the threat. Thomas does not endorse the old right-wing attacks on Franklin Roosevelt (attacks newly popular among neo-conservatives) for ‘selling out’ Eastern Europe at Yalta. There was, he concedes, probably little the West could have done to prevent the Stalinisation of most of those unfortunate lands. Nevertheless, he is ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... The main vehicle for all of this was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, ‘run by CIA agent Michael Josselson from 1950 till 1967’. My first encounter (pun unintended) with the Congress was through The God that Failed, a compendium of confessions by well-known former Communists (and/or sympathisers) that included Gide, Silone and Koestler; it was ...

More than a Million Names

Mattathias Schwartz: American Intelligence, 16 June 2016

Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror 
by Michael Hayden.
Penguin, 464 pp., £21.99, February 2016, 978 1 59420 656 6
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... the case, a step that could have led to disciplinary measures. The final decision on this fell to Michael Hayden, the CIA director at the time. He chose not to. ‘It was a pretty easy call,’ he writes in Playing to the Edge, his new memoir. He doesn’t describe el-Masri as ‘innocent’, noting his ‘clouded past’, but does admit he was a ‘false ...

A Grand and Disastrous Deceit

Philippe Sands: The Chilcot Report, 28 July 2016

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry 
by John Chilcot.
HMSO, 12 vols, 6275 pp., £767, 1 4741 3331 2
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... the UK down or have an animus towards the prime minister or the attorney general. They included Franklin Berman QC, a former FCO legal adviser (‘nothing less than an overwhelmingly clear legal case will do,’ he said, and this was not such a case); Ralph Zacklin, a former head of legal affairs at the UN (the Iraq war was ‘an illegal act’ which ...

Loaded Dice

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 3 December 2015

Between the World and Me 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Text, 152 pp., £10.99, September 2015, 978 1 925240 70 2
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... Soon after​ Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, a book called The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was published, describing one New Jersey man’s dual existence as a top student at Yale and an incorrigible drug dealer.1 Peace was an alarmingly precocious black boy whose mother toiled in hospital kitchens to raise the money to send him to parochial schools, where he thrived ...

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