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Operation Backfire

Francis Spufford: Britain’s space programme, 28 October 1999

... home on the bus. His girlfriend’s father, a metalwork teacher, helped out with the engine chambers; the fuel injectors were made from the little plastic tubes inside biros. When Scott-Scott went for his interview at the Armstrong Siddeley Rocket Department a few years later, they worried that there’d been a security leak. The contract for Black ...

Was it because of the war?

Rogers Brubaker: Building Europe, 15 October 1998

Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe 
by Thomas Ertman.
Cambridge, 379 pp., £45, April 1997, 0 521 48222 4
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... by contrast, they were organised along status group rather than territorial lines, with separate chambers for each order or ‘estate’. Such assemblies were structurally much weaker and unable to prevent absolutism. The second factor I have already mentioned: the timing of states’ initial encounters with sustained geopolitical competition. On Ertman’s ...

Short Cuts

Adam Shatz: The Four-Year Assault, 21 January 2021

... notably the ‘QAnon shaman’, Jake Angeli, a tattooed, shirtless man who strutted through the chambers of the Capitol with horns on his head and red, white and blue paint on his face. And then there were the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and militia members, the ‘fine people’ of Charlottesville. For all their shouts of ‘USA, USA,’ they represented ...


Philip French, 6 June 1996

The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives 
by Sebastian Faulks.
Hutchinson, 309 pp., £16.99, April 1996, 0 09 179211 8
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... his cast of mind was playful and the Fifties were a time to exercise it, when everyone was reading Stephen Potter’s Gamesmanship and Lifemanship, books that treated life as a comic contest for which people devised or divined concealed rules. It was the decade, too, of what one might call ludic taxonomy. From Arthur Koestler’s 1942 essay we learnt to divide ...

Keeping up the fight

Paul Delany, 24 January 1991

D.H. Lawrence: A Biography 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Macmillan, 446 pp., £19.95, August 1990, 0 333 49247 1
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D.H. Lawrence 
by Tony Pinkney.
Harvester, 180 pp., £30, June 1990, 0 7108 1347 3
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England, My England, and Other Stories 
by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Bruce Steele.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £37.50, March 1990, 0 521 35267 3
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The ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ Trial (Regina v. Penguin Books Limited) 
edited by H. Montgomery Hyde.
Bodley Head, 333 pp., £18, June 1990, 0 370 31105 1
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by James Hanley.
Deutsch, 191 pp., £11.99, August 1990, 0 233 98578 6
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D.H. Lawrence: A Literary Life 
by John Worthen.
Macmillan, 196 pp., £27.50, September 1989, 0 333 43352 1
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... for her disdainful self-righteousness; she ‘cruelly victimised’ her hapless rival, Jessie Chambers; and so the character-assassination goes on. Meyers portrays Lydia as a toxic personality; and because she set out to dominate everyone around her, it was only rough justice when her husband ‘physically dominated’ her in return. But what does ...

Lamb’s Tails

Christopher Driver, 19 June 1986

All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present 
by Stephen Mennell.
Blackwell, 380 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 631 13244 9
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Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the 14th Century including ‘The Forme of Cury’ 
edited by Constance Hieatt and Sharon Butler.
Oxford, for the Early English Text Society, 224 pp., £6.50, April 1985, 0 19 722409 1
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The English Cookbook 
by Victor Gordon.
Cape, 304 pp., £12.50, November 1985, 0 224 02300 4
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... for granted elsewhere. They order these things somewhat better in the Council of Europe, where Stephen Mennell, a disciple of Norbert Elias, began work on All Manners of Food. The slow-baked book that has finally emerged reads like a series of essays on pertinent food topics in cultural history rather than a comprehensive account of what has been ...

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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... and mass killings. Yet it still gives me an eerie feeling to read about people like George Orwell, Stephen Spender and Raymond Aron, to say nothing of less admirable characters of the Melvin Lasky stripe, taking part in surreptitiously subsidised anti-Communist ventures – magazines, symphony orchestras, art exhibitions – or in the setting up of foundations ...

Small Special Points

Rosemary Hill: Darwin and the Europeans, 23 May 2019

Correspondence of Charles Darwin: Vol. 26, 1878 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt, James Secord and the editors of the Darwin Correspondence Project.
Cambridge, 814 pp., £94.99, October 2018, 978 1 108 47540 2
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... root & flourish in [his] own time’. More than that, he was liked. Among scientists perhaps only Stephen Hawking has given his admirers such a strong feeling that they knew him personally. Strangers wrote with random queries, such as why do pigeons fly in circles, and anecdotes of animal behaviour: R.M. Middleton of West Hartlepool explained how he had ...

The Inevitable Pit

Stephen Greenblatt: Isn’t that a Jewish name?, 21 September 2000

... been no comparable drawing power among groups whose European populations were not sent to the gas chambers. That is, the descendents of Swedish, Italian, French, Russian, German, Greek, Polish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese immigrants, all present in huge numbers in the United States, also fairly quickly lost their languages. (The only great exceptions here ...

Where will the judges sit?

Stephen Sedley: What will happen to the Law Lords?, 16 September 1999

The House of Lords: Its Parliamentary and Judicial Roles 
edited by Brice Dickson and Paul Carmichael.
Hart, 258 pp., £30, December 1998, 1 84113 020 6
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Constitutional Futures: A History of the Next Ten Years 
edited by Robert Hazell.
Oxford, 263 pp., £17.99, January 1999, 0 19 829801 3
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The Law and Parliament 
edited by Dawn Olivier and Gavin Drewry.
Butterworth, 219 pp., £15.95, September 1998, 0 406 98092 6
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Crown Powers: Subject and Citizens 
by Christopher Vincenzi.
Pinter, 343 pp., £47.50, April 1998, 1 85567 454 8
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... crystal-ball job or a set of optimistic exhortations, and volumes on the two Parliamentary chambers have been either self-congratulatory or merely descriptive accounts of unsatisfactory procedures and bad habits. In that short time the landscape has been changed not only by a general election but by Nolan. Some years ago I sat in embarrassment at an ...

As God Intended

Rosemary Hill: Capability Brown, 5 January 2012

The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-83 
by Jane Brown.
Chatto, 384 pp., £20, March 2011, 978 0 7011 8212 0
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... 1716 coincided almost exactly with the early stirrings of the landscape movement. A year earlier, Stephen Switzer, one of the first promoters of the picturesque style, published The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener’s Recreation and when Brown was three, Alexander Pope, who believed that ‘all gardening is landscape painting,’ began work on the house and ...

Oh, the curse!

David Runciman: A home run, 19 February 2004

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Cape, 342 pp., £16.99, January 2004, 0 224 05042 7
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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game 
by Michael Lewis.
Norton, 288 pp., $24.95, June 2003, 0 393 05765 8
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... that the Red Sox lost game seven as well. Bill Buckner moved to Idaho. Oh, the curse! Yet, as Stephen Jay Gould points out in an essay in this posthumous collection of his baseball writings, it was not Buckner’s fault that the Red Sox lost the Series. When Buckner made his mistake, Boston had already blown their lead (on a wild pitch, though almost no ...

Like ink and milk

John Bayley, 10 September 1992

‘Sons and Lovers’: The Unexpurgated Text 
by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Helen Baron and Carl Baron.
Cambridge, 675 pp., £70, September 1992, 0 521 24276 2
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D.H. Lawrence: The Early Years, 1885-1912 
by John Worthen.
Cambridge, 464 pp., £14.95, September 1992, 0 521 43221 9
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‘Sons and Lovers’ 
by Michael Black.
Cambridge, 126 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 521 36074 9
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... a spy is arrested’ was set up in type but never printed: the Westminster’s editor, Stephen Spender’s uncle, was mildly pro-German in 1912, and he also turned down a piece called ‘In Fortified Germany’. But the third and fourth articles made it – Lawrence’s debut as a travel writer – and they already exhibit their author’s hedgehog ...

Muldoon – A Mystery

Michael Hofmann, 20 December 1990

Madoc – A Mystery 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 261 pp., £14.99, October 1990, 0 571 14489 6
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... about ‘the Welsh prince, long believed by his countrymen to have discovered America in 1170’ (Chambers Biographical Dictionary). Muldoon’s ‘Madoc’ is thus a ‘remake’ – a notion that crops up in the opening prose poem in the collection. The title is from Southey, the principal character is Coleridge, and the prevailing spirit is not unlike that ...

Blowing Cigarette Smoke at Greenfly

E.S. Turner: The Beastliness of Saki, 24 August 2000

The Unrest-Cure and Other Beastly Tales 
by Saki.
Prion, 297 pp., £8.99, May 2000, 9781853753701
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... selection, the latest in a series of Prion Humour Classics which includes Saki’s contemporaries Stephen Leacock, Jerome K. Jerome and the Grossmiths. Saki lends a caustic distinction to that company. His real name was Hector Hugh Munro and he was born in Burma in 1870, the son of an inspector-general of the Burma police. Two years later his mother died ...

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