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Stinking Rich

Jenny Diski: Richard Branson, 16 November 2000

Branson 
by Tom Bower.
Fourth Estate, 384 pp., £17.99, September 2000, 1 84115 386 9
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... or speak on a Virgin mobile. Among these hold-outs, I wouldn’t be surprised, might have been Tom Bower, who tells us that halfway through writing this biography he found himself in receipt of a writ for defamation after an article he wrote in the Evening Standard. One way or another Virgin gets into your life, though Virgin Writs is not, so far as I ...

An Even Deeper Bunker

Tom Vanderbilt: Secrets and spies, 7 March 2002

Body of Secrets: How America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ Eavesdrop on the World 
by James Bamford.
Century, 721 pp., £20, May 2001, 0 7126 7598 1
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Total Surveillance: Investigating the Big Brother World of E-Spies, Eavesdroppers and CCTV 
by John Parker.
Piatkus, 330 pp., £10.99, September 2001, 0 7499 2226 5
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... surveillance’, as John Parker calls it. Yet it mattered little – Atta’s driver’s licence may not have been in order but there were some 200,000 outstanding traffic warrants in Broward County. The attacks of 11 September both reinforced and exploded the fashionable myth that the US has become a place where the Internet knows everyone’s ...

How to Run a Caliphate

Tom Stevenson, 20 June 2019

... agency, a department of minerals and a central birth registry. Its motor vehicle authority issued licence plates carrying the IS logo. Its department of alms and social solidarity redistributed wealth to the poor. Its department of health brought in sanitation regulations that stipulated more frequent bin collections than in New York. It wasn’t that ...

The Stuntman

David Runciman: Richard Branson, 20 March 2014

Branson: Behind the Mask 
by Tom Bower.
Faber, 368 pp., £20, February 2014, 978 0 571 29710 8
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... oligarch. This is not to say that where they are bad, he is good. If even half the things in Tom Bower’s new biography are true, Branson is far from being good. He is playing the same game as his Russian counterparts, but it’s the looking-glass version. Where they do their best to avoid the glare of publicity, he thrives on it. The oligarchs who got ...

Golden Boy

Alison Weir, 18 February 1988

Quiet Rage: Bernie Goetz and the Shootings on the New York Subway 
by Lillian Rubin.
Faber, 265 pp., £4.95, October 1987, 0 571 14944 8
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... electronic repair business. He was mugged and badly beaten in 1981, whereupon he applied for a gun licence which was refused – one of the many grievances that increased his feeling of being a loner. Goetz senior, significantly, died a few months before the shooting. There you have it – Tin Man with no heart and little sense of proportion. According to ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... to argue, the judge has already decided the case for us.” ’ Fearful that he would lose his licence to practise law in New York State because he got caught stealing from a client, Cohn applied for membership of the Connecticut bar. An associate asked him how on earth he would answer the questions on ethics. Cohn replied: ‘When I take the ethics ...

Why the birthday party didn’t happen

Michael Wood, 10 March 1994

Short Cuts 
directed by Robert Altman.
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Short Cuts: The Screenplay 
by Robert Altman and Frank Barhydt.
Capra/Airlift, 144 pp., £12.99, October 1993, 0 88496 378 0
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Short Cuts 
by Raymond Carver, introduced by Robert Altman.
Harvill, 157 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 00 272704 8
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... from a world beyond the borders of our expectations. Lily Tomlin is a waitress, for example, and Tom Waits is a working and then an out-of-work chauffeur. Altman thinks highly of their performances, which were ‘so superb’ that he felt the other actors might have trouble in living up to them; but they are actually one of the weak things in the ...

Untouched by Eliot

Denis Donoghue: Jon Stallworthy, 4 March 1999

Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems 
by Jon Stallworthy.
Carcanet, 247 pp., £14.95, September 1998, 1 85754 163 4
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... our libations to the moon.’ Sometimes the narrative wearies of itself. ‘The voice was that of Tom Brown Stevens, an ancient historian of engaging eccentricity, who had come to the groves of Academe from an unusual direction ... The great day found him seated at his host’s right hand, a fountain of wit and well-honed stories.’ But the poems rarely ...

Devils Everywhere

David Wootton: The Terrors of the Night, 9 March 2006

At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime 
by Roger Ekirch.
Weidenfeld, 447 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 297 82992 0
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Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward 
by David Prerau.
Granta, 256 pp., £14.99, October 2005, 1 86207 796 7
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... Discoverie of Witchcraft, which Nashe read, is avowedly sceptical, but was published without a licence.) So his mockery of those, including himself, who are ‘benighted in an old wives’ tale of devils and urchins’ (urchins are goblins) has to be balanced by credulity. He starts by finding devils everywhere: in Tewkesbury mustard, in flint, in ...

Unmuscular Legs

E.S. Turner, 22 August 1996

The Dictionary of National Biography 1986-1990 
edited by C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 607 pp., £50, June 1996, 0 19 865212 7
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... appetites, exceptionally promiscuous, prone to taking lovers of both sexes. Yet all is not licence. Exceptional self-control was displayed by a medical scientist who, after an unhappy experience in America, stopped having love affairs in 1947. A noble philosopher made it plain to his wife that their mutually agreed freedom to have affairs with other ...

Mexxed Missages

Elaine Showalter: A road trip through Middle America, 4 November 2004

... from the Midwest and the South in RVs, SUVs and mini-vans. In our motel parking lot we count licence plates from 15 states, and at the shows there are busloads of customers back for their tenth or 12th trip. They are an odd mix: military groups, large neatly dressed families, senior citizens, toothpick-chewing bikers. The Red Hat Society is having a ...

Dark Places

John Sutherland, 18 November 1982

Wise Virgin 
by A.N. Wilson.
Secker, 186 pp., £7.50, October 1982, 0 436 57608 2
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The London Embassy 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 211 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 241 10872 1
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The frog who dared to croak 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 182 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 571 11989 1
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Vintage Stuff 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 220 pp., £7.50, November 1982, 0 436 45810 1
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Rogue Justice 
by Geoffrey Household.
Joseph, 174 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 7181 2178 3
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... the tyro Wilson of Kindly Light. (It also echoes the current offering of his Secker stablemate, Tom Sharpe, who is into public schools as well.) Alongside Giles’s extreme plight, the school comedy is discordant. But presumably that is another desired effect in this uneasy novel. As used to be said of Thomas Hardy, Wilson turns his screw of misery once too ...

Mongkut and I

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 30 January 1992

The Romance of the Harem 
by Anna Leonowens, edited by Susan Morgan.
Virginia, 285 pp., £10.50, August 1991, 0 8139 1328 4
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... insisted on the truthfulness of her tales should not necessarily cost her her novelist’s licence, since as Susan Morgan observes, ‘there is a long and honourable tradition in English fiction of insisting that a particular book is actually true.’ On the other hand, as Morgan also acknowledges, this particular romance happened to accuse a prominent ...

Paisley’s Progress

Tom Paulin, 1 April 1982

... soldier in the Parliamentary Army. Bunyan was also imprisoned for 12 years for preaching without a licence, and in 1966 Paisley was imprisoned for three months for demonstrating outside the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. In a statement he said, ‘It will take more than Captain O’Neill’s nasal twang to defy us’ – the class grudge is ...

Aubade before Breakfast

Tom Crewe: Balfour and the Souls, 31 March 2016

Balfour’s World: Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle 
by Nancy Ellenberger.
Boydell, 414 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 78327 037 8
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... any of this mattered. The activities favoured by the Souls gave the women of the group unheard-of licence to dispute with men, to be competitive, amusing and intellectually adroit, and to take from it an unguarded pleasure, free from the disabling fear of outside scrutiny. (The Souls also exercised in mixed company: golf, tennis and cycling were all preferred ...

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