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How did the slime mould cross the maze?

Adrian Woolfson: The Future of Emergence, 21 March 2002

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software 
by Steven Johnson.
Allen Lane, 288 pp., £14.99, October 2001, 0 7139 9400 2
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The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture 
by Mark Taylor.
Chicago, 340 pp., £20.50, January 2002, 0 226 79117 3
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... thought. ‘When I imagine the shape that will hover above the first half of the 21st century,’ Johnson begins, ‘what comes to mind is not the coiled embrace of the genome, or the etched latticework of the silicon chip.’ It is instead the images of computer programs that use the underlying logic of emergence to generate complex, and in some instances ...

Across the Tellyverse

Jenny Turner: Daleks v. Cybermen, 22 June 2006

Doctor Who 
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Doctor Who: A Critical Reading of the Series 
by Kim Newman.
BFI, 138 pp., £12, December 2005, 1 84457 090 8
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... shows such as The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and discussed, with much enthusiasm, in Steven Johnson’s book Everything Bad Is Good for You: Why Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter.* As Johnson explains, the key to these new markets is syndication, selling the same thing over and over on different ...

Levittown to Laos

Thomas Sugrue: The Kennedy Assassination, 22 July 2010

The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After 
by Steven Gillon.
Basic Books, 294 pp., £15.99, November 2009, 978 0 465 01870 3
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... November 1963, just over two hours after an assassin’s bullet killed President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, took the oath of office in a hastily improvised ceremony aboard Air Force One. The jowly LBJ stood side by side with the grieving widow, her jacket and blouse stained with Kennedy’s blood and brain matter. An official ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean, 3 July 2008

... of Cecil B. DeMille with taste, imperial godfather to the Star Wars movies and much of the work of Steven Spielberg. There is nothing wrong with this evocation except that it invites us to forget Lean’s earlier, quieter or darker films, which notably include Brief Encounter (1945), a black and grey masterpiece, and Oliver Twist (1948), an extraordinary ...

The Fame Game

Alan Brien, 6 September 1984

Hype 
by Steven Aronson.
Hutchinson, 198 pp., £5.95, May 1984, 0 09 156251 1
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Automatic Vaudeville 
by John Lahr.
Heinemann, 241 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 434 40188 9
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Broadway Babies: The People who made the American Musical 
by Ethan Mordden.
Oxford, 244 pp., £19, August 1984, 0 19 503345 0
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... Steven Aronson’s Hype, a guide to the latest techniques of mass manipulation, may have less impact on British readers than it has had on American. The word is a recent coinage, but since the days of Dickens’s American Notes or, even earlier, of Fanny Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, we have been accustomed to associate the practice of hype with what many Brits still call the Yank ...

Fat is a manifest tissue

Steven Shapin: George Cheyne, 10 August 2000

Obesity and Depression in the Enlightenment: The Life and Times of George Cheyne 
by Anita Guerrini.
Oklahoma, 304 pp., $25.95, February 2000, 0 585 28344 3
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... Everywhere they talked about Cheyne and his diet. He was favourably quoted in Tom Jones; Samuel Johnson commended his books; John Wesley’s Primitive Physick copied out whole sections of Cheyne’s work; and his patients included Pope, Gay, Beau Nash, Richardson, the Methodist Countess of Huntingdon, Robert Walpole’s adolescent daughter, Catherine (who ...

Trust me

Steven Shapin: French DNA, 27 April 2000

French DNA: Trouble in Purgatory 
by Paul Rabinow.
Chicago, 201 pp., £17.50, October 1999, 0 226 70150 6
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... Offering) on Nasdaq, and in September it entered into a research collaboration with an arm of Johnson and Johnson. The larger politics of nationalism, ideology and economic competition was stimulated by the smaller politics of organisational identity. What kind of place was the CEPH? What was its form and what were the ...

Too early or too late?

David Runciman, 2 April 2020

... the coronavirus outbreak quite a few commentators compared Trump to the fictional mayor in Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s mayor refuses at first to accept that a shark is responsible for the fatal attacks – he claims the first was a boating accident. When the evidence becomes hard to refute he still declines to shut the resort. Only when another swimmer gets ...

Milk and Lemon

Steven Shapin: The Excesses of Richard Feynman, 7 July 2005

Don’t You Have Time to Think? The Letters of Richard Feynman 
edited by Michelle Feynman.
Allen Lane, 486 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 7139 9847 4
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... to have got the better of him. Most writers received a formulaic response. Feynman told Lyndon Johnson that the presidential telegram made his day; he gave his former senior colleagues a version of an Oscar speech, saying how he couldn’t have done it without them; he thanked his school and university teachers for their excellent service; he solicited ...

Pretence for Prattle

Steven Shapin: Tea, 30 July 2015

Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World 
by Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger.
Reaktion, 326 pp., £25, May 2015, 978 1 78023 440 3
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... source of gossip, the place that manufactures scandal, slander, falsehoods and lies’. Even Dr Johnson – who enjoyed his tea very much – acknowledged that sociable tea-taking might be ‘a pretence for assembling to prattle’. Women were prone to prattling and gossip, but ‘effeminate’ men could do it too. And the tea table was that sort of place ...

Pissing in the Snow

Steven Rose: Dissidents and Scientists, 18 July 2019

Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science 
by Audra J. Wolfe.
Johns Hopkins, 302 pp., £22, January 2019, 978 1 4214 2673 0
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... wave of campus activism against the Vietnam War was building. In damage-limitation mode, President Johnson declared a deadline for the CIA to end its secret subsidies to private US organisations, leaving a clutch of ‘orphan’ charities, several of which ended up being openly funded through the State Department. As for Encounter, with the CIA’s ...

Smarter, Happier, More Productive

Jim Holt: ‘The Shallows’, 3 March 2011

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember 
by Nicholas Carr.
Atlantic, 276 pp., £17.99, September 2010, 978 1 84887 225 7
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... scoff at such claims. The brain is not ‘a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience’, Steven Pinker has insisted. Its wiring may change a bit when we learn a new fact or skill, but its basic cognitive architecture remains the same. And where is the evidence that using the internet can ‘massively remodel’ the brain? The only germane study that ...

Mrs Straus’s Devotion

Jenny Diski, 5 June 1997

Last Dinner on the ‘Titanic’: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner 
by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley.
Weidenfeld, 128 pp., £9.99, April 1997, 1 86448 250 8
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The ‘Titanic’ Complex 
by John Wilson Foster.
Belcouver, 92 pp., £5.99, April 1997, 0 9699464 1 4
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Down with the Old Canoe 
by Steven Biel.
Norton, 300 pp., £18.95, April 1997, 9780393039658
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... the upper classes, for a world on the brink of the Great War. The survivor statistics offered by Steven Biel tell something of the gender story: 94 per cent of first-cabin women and children survived compared to 31 per cent of first-cabin men; 81 per cent of second-cabin and 47 per cent of steerage women survived against 10 per cent and 14 per cent ...

Hedonistic Fruit Bombs

Steven Shapin: How good is Château Pavie?, 3 February 2005

Bordeaux 
by Robert Parker.
Dorling Kindersley, 1244 pp., £45, December 2003, 1 4053 0566 5
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The Wine Buyer’s Guide 
by Robert Parker and Pierre-Antoine Rovani.
Dorling Kindersley, two volumes, £50, December 2002, 0 7513 4979 8
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Mondovino 
directed by Jonathan Nossiter.
November 2004
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... and temperamental … Nothing is more subjective and individual as personal taste.’ Hugh Johnson sticks with the crudity of stars (one star = ‘plain, everyday quality’; four stars = ‘grand, prestigious, expensive’) and tries to persuade himself that ‘the whole unreal business’ may eventually go away. It’s an American ...

Keep him as a curiosity

Steven Shapin: Botanic Macaroni, 13 August 2020

The Multifarious Mr Banks: From Botany Bay to Kew, the Natural Historian Who Shaped the World 
by Toby Musgrave.
Yale, 386 pp., £25, April, 978 0 300 22383 5
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... portrait and William Parry did an ensemble piece of Mai, Solander and Banks. Mai met the king, Dr Johnson and Fanny Burney; a play about him was performed at the Theatre Royal; he learned to play chess and backgammon, and many agreed with Mrs Thrale’s comment about the ‘savage’s good breeding’. Banks delighted in showing him off: an aristocratic ...

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