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Frank Kermode: Wordsworth at Sea, 6 February 2003

The Wreck of the ‘Abergavenny’ 
by Alethea Hayter.
Macmillan, 223 pp., £14.99, September 2002, 0 333 98917 1
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... primarily from the circumstance that its captain was John Wordsworth, brother of the more famous William and Dorothy. His death in 1805 at the outset of what was to have been his last voyage before he retired (at 34) caused convulsions of sorrow at Grasmere, where he had intended to join the family circle. The chief mourner was of course ...


Frank Kermode: What Went On at the Arts Council, 4 December 1986

... off. So Shaw had to deal with a mutinous directorate as well as with a difficult chairman, Sir William Rees-Mogg, and a series of unsympathetic ministers. He has lost no time in his retirement in giving an account of what went on. Apart from the business of deciding what is culturally valuable and what isn’t, the Council’s main concern is of course ...

A Betting Man

Colin Kidd: John Law, 12 September 2019

John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the 18th Century 
by James Buchan.
MacLehose, 513 pp., £14.99, August 2019, 978 1 84866 608 5
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... is no evidence,’ James Buchan writes, ‘he ever returned.’ Law was born in 1671, the son of William Law, a master goldsmith who, like other goldsmiths of his time, drifted from metallurgy into finance, becoming a lender to clients. Success in this sphere enabled the purchase of an estate at Lauriston in 1683. His family background must have helped ...

Cocoa is blood and they are eating my flesh

Toby Green: Slavery and Cocoa, 11 April 2013

Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa 
by Catherine Higgs.
Ohio, 230 pp., £24.95, June 2012, 978 0 8214 2006 5
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... then forbidden to leave the estates that had ‘bought’ them. The serviçais were paid not in cash but vouchers, which they could only use at the estate store to buy poor quality goods and rum. This ‘voucher-wage labour’ was also common in the British-run nitrate mines of northern Chile. Casement reported that the Angolan serviçais were being treated ...

Crimes of Passion

Sam Sifton, 11 January 1990

Missing Beauty: A True Story of Murder and Obsession 
by Teresa Carpenter.
Hamish Hamilton, 478 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 241 12775 0
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Wasted: The Preppie Murder 
by Linda Wolfe.
Simon and Schuster, 303 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 671 64184 0
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... Decent people, Teresa Carpenter would assert, aren’t always what they seem. In 1982 William Douglas was working as a cell biologist at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts. He was an associate professor on the tenure track, a gifted scientist, and a successful grant-getter. He was married and he lived a quiet suburban life just outside the city with his wife and three children ...

Prussian Chic

James Sheehan: Frederick the Great, 28 July 2016

Frederick the Great: King of Prussia 
by Tim Blanning.
Allen Lane, 648 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 84614 182 9
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... have been more surprised at Frederick’s posthumous reputation than his father, King Frederick William I (1713-40). The Hohenzollern dynasty was unusually lucky; for almost three centuries, they managed to produce relatively healthy, relatively sane males, who all lived long enough to avoid the struggles for succession of so many of Europe’s ruling ...

How to Get Rich

Laleh Khalili: Who owns the oil?, 23 September 2021

The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources 
by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy.
Random House Business, 410 pp., £20, February, 978 1 84794 265 4
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... century, futures contracts at the Chicago Board of Trade for grain, timber and meat surpassed cash trades. As the historian William Cronon wrote in Nature’s Metropolis (1991), ‘one could buy, sell and settle up price differences without ever worrying about whether anything really existed to back up ...

Introspection and the Body

P.N. Johnson-Laird, 5 March 1987

William James: His Life and Thought 
by Gerald Myers.
Yale, 628 pp., £30, October 1986, 0 300 03417 2
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... American mother of the mid-19th century: a provider of piety and apple pie. Of the five children, William and Henry inherited their father’s scruples and way with words. Unfortunately they each usurped the other’s vocation: the diffident intellectual became a novelist, the practical man of the world a philosopher. Henry, as Rebecca West observed, wrote ...

Anglo-Saxon Aptitudes

John Gillingham, 17 November 1983

The Anglo-Saxons 
edited by James Campbell.
Phaidon, 272 pp., £16.50, July 1982, 0 7148 2149 7
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Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective 
by C.R. Dodwell.
Manchester, 353 pp., £35, October 1982, 0 7190 0861 1
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Anglo-Saxon Poetry 
edited by S.A.J. Bradley.
Dent, 559 pp., £10.95, August 1982, 0 460 10794 1
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The Anglo-Saxon World 
edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Boydell and Brewer, 275 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85115 169 8
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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: The Authentic Voices of England, from the Times of Julius Caesar to the Coronation of Henry II 
by Anne Savage.
Heinemann, 288 pp., £14.95, March 1983, 0 434 98210 5
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... other European country can point to anything like this. Though the country was conquered by Duke William of Normandy in 1066 the structures of the English state survived – and if the main point of governmental institutions is to perpetuate themselves, then those which the Anglo-Saxons founded have been remarkably successful. The six centuries of ...

Jobs and Sprees and Sorrows

William Fiennes, 16 April 1998

Joe Gould's Secret 
by Joseph Mitchell.
Cape, 200 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 0 224 05107 5
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... the Baptist, Polly Adler, Fiorello. He wanders from saloon to saloon cadging beers, sandwiches and cash. Most important, he adds to his work-in-progress, a mysterious book that he calls ‘The Oral History of Our Time’. This massive, encompassing volume, a distant cousin of the Key to All Mythologies, is already 11 times longer than the Bible, and possibly ...

Understanding Forwards

Michael Wood: William James, 20 September 2007

William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism 
by Robert Richardson.
Mariner, 622 pp., £15, September 2007, 978 0 618 43325 4
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... He was always around the corner and out of sight,’ Henry James wrote of his older brother William as a child. ‘He was clear out before I got well in.’ The philosopher C.S. Peirce said something similar about the grown man. ‘He so concrete, so living, I a mere table of contents.’ Josiah Royce, a life-long friend and Harvard colleague of William James, with whom he agreed philosophically scarcely ever, offered a fine parody of the pragmatism so closely associated with his companion’s name ...

Cronyism and Kickbacks

Ed Harriman: The economics of reconstruction in Iraq, 26 January 2006

US General Accountability Office 
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US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction 
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International Advisory and Monitoring Board 
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... and Budget. The Office won’t discuss the matter. Earlier this month, Brigadier-General William McCoy told reporters: ‘The US never intended to completely rebuild Iraq … This was just supposed to be a jump-start.’ According to American officials behind the sandbags and razor wire of the US embassy in Baghdad, life for ordinary Iraqis is on the ...

New-Model History

Valerie Pearl, 7 February 1980

The City and the Court 1603-1643 
by Robert Ashton.
Cambridge, 247 pp., £10.50, September 1980, 0 521 22419 5
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... important matter, so dear to the heart of Archbishop Laud, the City failed to raise the necessary cash. But this was not so. The City responded with enormous generosity. By 1636, the national fund amounted to nearly £56,000, most of it raised in London. The money enabled Inigo Jones to rebuild the west front of the cathedral and to restore the choir – work ...

Ethnic Cleansers

Stephen Smith, 8 October 1992

Four Hours in My Lai: A War Crime and its Aftermath 
by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim.
Viking, 430 pp., £17.99, May 1992, 0 670 83233 2
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Tiger Balm: Travels in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia 
by Lucretia Stewart.
Chatto, 261 pp., £10.99, June 1992, 0 7011 3892 0
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... the Embassy, but Tuan said foreigners were not allowed. He wouldn’t accept anything from me: not cash, not cigarettes, neither threats nor entreaties. But then he pointed to a door at the side of the building and held up three fingers – three minutes. The door was the entrance to a stairwell finished in drab lime. The stairs themselves were cordoned off by ...

If my sister’s arches fall

Laura Jacobs: Agnes de Mille, 6 October 2016

Dance to the Piper 
by Agnes de Mille.
NYRB, 368 pp., £11.99, February 2016, 978 1 59017 908 6
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... one of the theatre producer David Belasco’s first collaborators. He discouraged his sons William and Cecil from going into the theatre but they didn’t listen. William de Mille, Agnes’s father, became a successful New York playwright, known for dramas with a social conscience; Cecil became a Hollywood ...

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