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Plus or Minus One Ear

Steven Shapin: Weights and Measures, 30 August 2012

World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement 
by Robert Crease.
Norton, 317 pp., £18.99, October 2011, 978 0 393 07298 3
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... have local solutions, if indeed they were seen as problems at all. This is the point at which Robert Crease’s World in the Balance gets going. He is indebted to Kula, as is every recent historian writing about measurement and modernity, but he takes the story onwards, dealing in more detail with 19th and 20th-century metrology and its ...

Yodelling in Heaven

Glen Baxter, 21 March 1991

... It seems that the likes of Edward Larocque Tinker, Robert P. Swierenga and Colonel John S. ‘Rip’ Ford have all made valuable contributions to our knowledge of the cowboy world, and Richard Slatta’s Cowboys of the Americas* sets out to illuminate the structures and processes behind the historical underpinning behind those who wear spurs ...

To Stop the World from Ending

Frederick Seidel, 11 September 2014

... have to shave? How many times a lifetime? It’s distressing To think of all the pressing a pants-crease and undressing Required to make you look like you know how to behave. Not only does Baudelaire behave, but, in his chalk-stripe suit, carpeted stairs Look up at him like looking at a god or royalty. His rent-stabilised apartment feels a kind of loyalty ...

The Last Georgian

John Bayley, 13 June 1991

Edmund Blunden: A Biography 
by Barry Webb.
Yale, 360 pp., £18.50, December 1990, 0 300 04634 0
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... Quixote with eagle nose and jaw, who had persuaded the burly Yorkshireman as they set out for the crease together not to wear batting gloves, which were unsporting. No gesture was involved, but a certain amount of quiet conviction. John Betjeman and Joan Hunter-Dunn would have approved: indeed Betjeman was a great admirer of Blunden’s poetry. His English ...

So sue me

Michael Wood, 12 May 1994

A Frolic of His Own 
by William Gaddis.
Viking, 529 pp., £16, June 1994, 0 670 85553 7
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... laws, and everything’s laws’, as a character says. The chief frolickers in the novel are Oscar Crease, a (one-time) playwright and (casual) history instructor, described in the newspapers as ‘a wealthy recluse living on Long Island’; and his 97-year-old father, the judge giving the instructions to the jury in Virginia. Oscar’s girlfriend Lily thinks ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Ulysses v. O.J. Simpson, 28 July 2016

... Some, it turns out, have a further distance to migrate than others. One of Simpson’s lawyers, Robert Kardashian (you knew it was only a matter of time before the Kardashians came into it), played by David Schwimmer in the TV series, was perfectly certain in life of his friend’s innocence, yet, in TV-land, certainty is just a ...

Dead Man’s Coat

Peter Pomerantsev: Teffi, 2 February 2017

Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea 
by Teffi, translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg.
Pushkin, 352 pp., £16.99, May 2016, 978 1 78227 169 7
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Rasputin and Other Ironies 
by Teffi, translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France and Anne Marie Jackson.
Pushkin, 224 pp., £8.99, May 2016, 978 1 78227 217 5
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Subtly Worded 
by Teffi, translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson, Natalia Wase, Clare Kitson and Irina Steinberg.
Pushkin, 304 pp., £12, June 2014, 978 1 78227 037 9
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... including an infant son, but there’s no mention of this in her prose: the most the translator Robert Chandler has dug up is a letter from 1946, when she was 74, in which she tells her eldest daughter that had she stayed in the marriage ‘it would have been the end of her.’ This sort of silence on personal things is quite typical: she never mentioned ...

Nature made the house

William Fiennes: Barry Topez, 29 July 1999

Arctic Dreams 
by Barry Lopez.
Harvill, 464 pp., £7.99, January 1999, 1 86046 583 8
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About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory 
by Barry Lopez.
Harvill, 275 pp., £12, January 1999, 9781860465659
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... a bay), William Baffin (who became an island) and Vitus Bering (who became a strait). He describes Robert Peary claiming the North Pole for America, and how, to keep up the morale of his men, Richard Collinson erected a billiard table on the sea-ice of Cambridge Bay. The table was fashioned from snow blocks, the cushions from walrus skin stuffed with ...

Neutered Valentines

David Bromwich: James Agee, 7 September 2006

‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, ‘A Death in the Family’, Shorter Fiction 
by James Agee.
Library of America, 818 pp., $35, October 2005, 1 931082 81 2
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Film Writing and Selected Journalism 
by James Agee.
Library of America, 748 pp., $40, October 2005, 1 931082 82 0
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Brooklyn Is 
by James Agee.
Fordham, 64 pp., $16.95, October 2005, 0 8232 2492 9
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... things he wished he could do – ‘a dozen Chekhov-Shakespeare novels’, as one of his editors, Robert Phelps, summarised a characteristic resolution; a life of Jesus; a novel about the atom bomb – were to become an almost public constituent of his writing life. His criticism is marked by the same mixture of yearning and disappointed hopes. Agee’s ...
... now. At Stonor once I was helping him change some sheets and had put the bottom sheet on with the crease folding down, not up ... the fact that I find my mistake hard to describe indicates how finicky I found it. Bruce reproved me, explaining that the creases should always go the other way. I thought this pedantic and probably said so but I have always ...

The Coat in Question

Iain Sinclair: Margate, 20 March 2003

All the Devils Are Here 
by David Seabrook.
Granta, 192 pp., £7.99, March 2003, 9781862075597
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... funds, is where he has settled – between moonlight flits and hinted-at episodes in the tight crease between disenfranchised scholarship and accidental criminality. Refusing to allow the area he inhabits, the banishment, to become a noose, Seabrook has decided to celebrate it with a virtuoso exhibition of sardony. He champions the unloved and the ...

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