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Send more blondes

Bernard Porter: Spies in the Congo, 20 October 2016

Spies in the Congo: The Race for the Ore that Built the Atomic Bomb 
by Susan Williams.
Hurst, 369 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 84904 638 1
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... for the Congolese people working for them were dire. There’s a sickening description in Susan Williams’s book, from an American observer in the 1940s, of the flogging of a Congolese man with a chicotte – ‘a whip made of leather thongs tipped with metal’ – for stealing a pack of cigarettes from a Belgian. ‘The black’s skin from ...

Poison is better

Kevin Okoth: Africa’s Cold War, 15 June 2023

White Malice: The CIA and the Neocolonisation of Africa 
by Susan Williams.
Hurst, 651 pp., £25, September 2021, 978 1 78738 555 9
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Cold War Liberation: The Soviet Union and the Collapse of the Portuguese Empire in Africa, 1961-75 
by Natalia Telepneva.
North Carolina, 302 pp., £37.95, June, 978 1 4696 6586 3
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... costly war that followed Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975. In almost every case, as Susan Williams explains in White Malice, the US, attended by the former colonial powers, fought hard to influence the turn of events; before long, as Natalia Telepneva shows in Cold War Liberation, her account of decolonisation in Portuguese Africa, Moscow ...

You’re only interested in Hitler, not me

Susan Pedersen: Shirley Williams, 19 December 2013

Shirley WilliamsThe Biography 
by Mark Peel.
Biteback, 461 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 1 84954 604 1
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... Mark Peel organises his serviceable authorised biography of Shirley Williams around an ostensible conundrum. Why didn’t Williams achieve more politically? Why did the polarising, hectoring Margaret Thatcher, rather than the consensus-seeking, appealing Williams, become Britain’s first woman prime minister? This is a common question ...

Streets Full of Suitors

Jonah Miller: Early Modern Women, 21 August 2014

City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London 
by Eleanor Hubbard.
Oxford, 297 pp., £24.99, September 2014, 978 0 19 872204 5
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Women, Work and Sociability in Early Modern London 
by Tim Reinke-Williams.
Palgrave, 225 pp., £60, April 2014, 978 1 137 37209 3
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... where we dwell’ and ‘We are London Gentle-women borne.’ Both Eleanor Hubbard and Tim Reinke-Williams emphasise that ‘sexual behaviour was not the only activity which determined female identity and reputation.’ They use court records to examine the lives of 17th-century London women who married and raised children but also worked and socialised. Poor ...

At City Hall

Susan McKay: Belfast Protests, 7 February 2013

... Unionist leaders of starting the trouble in a bid to unseat her. The Alliance councillor Noel Williams called the protests a ‘full frontal attack on democracy’. Long said they had the ‘dynamics of a pogrom’, and reminded those involved that they were wrapping themselves in a flag under which people from Northern Ireland and elsewhere had fought ...

Leaf, Button, Dog

Susan Eilenberg: The Sins of Hester Thrale, 1 November 2001

According to Queeney 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Little, Brown, 242 pp., £16.99, September 2001, 0 316 85867 6
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... stolen from a nurse’s work-basket and fraudulently labelled, a poem about sunsets written by Mrs Williams all by herself with no help at all from Dr Johnson, a tuft of hair looking like something ‘plucked from the rump of a squirrel’ and purporting to come from the head of Mr Pope, together with an empty space reserved for a promised monkey’s paw. Here ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Living’, 1 December 2022

... Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, the second from Akira Kurosawa’s film Ikiru, the third from Susan Sontag’s notebooks. We could find many more examples. Why do we process this difficult thought so easily? Is that part of what it’s about?Oliver Hermanus’s new film, Living, is a brilliant treatment of this theme, an essay on its mixed familiarity and ...

Locum, Lacum, Lucum

Anthony Grafton: The Emperor of Things, 13 September 2018

Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector 
by Susan Nalezyty.
Yale, 277 pp., £50, May 2017, 978 0 300 21919 7
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Pietro Bembo on Etna: The Ascent of a Venetian Humanist 
by Gareth Williams.
Oxford, 440 pp., £46.49, August 2017, 978 0 19 027229 6
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... some of them might yield emendations. Pietro, Poliziano noted, helped him do this work. As Gareth Williams shows, Pietro also made a collation of his own, in some respects more detailed than the master’s, parts of which he would eventually publish. That Bembo wrote what his contemporaries thought to be convincing Ciceronian Latin was due in large part to ...

Destined to Disappear

Susan Pedersen: ‘Race Studies’, 20 October 2016

White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations 
by Robert Vitalis.
Cornell, 272 pp., $29.95, November 2015, 978 0 8014 5397 7
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... he also notes the contributions of the historians E. Franklin Frazier (PhD Chicago 1931) and Eric Williams (PhD Oxford 1938), who taught at Howard before returning to Trinidad in the late 1940s. Of the main four, all but Tate – the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in this field – are today reasonably well known, something that can’t be said ...


Marilyn Butler: What Jane Austen Read, 5 March 1998

Jane Austen: A Life 
by David Nokes.
Fourth Estate, 578 pp., £20, September 1997, 1 85702 419 2
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Jane Austen: A Life 
by Claire Tomalin.
Viking, 341 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 670 86528 1
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... life. Here Tomalin makes some risky moves. Arbitrarily chosen characters from the novels – Lady Susan, Marianne Dashwood, Mary Crawford – speak for their author’s repressed desires. Unsupported guesses, strategically placed in the story, take the weight of the biographer’s argument. Of Austen’s first months in Bath, Tomalin remarks: ‘Jane was ...


Frank Kermode, 24 October 1991

Orwell: The Authorised Biography 
by Michael Shelden.
Heinemann, 563 pp., £18.50, October 1991, 0 434 69517 3
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... Here is a passage describing a crisis, late in Orwell’s life, when he was living in Jura. Susan Watson was a partly crippled woman who had come to look after him and his adopted son. All went well until Avril, Orwell’s sister, turned up and decided she wanted to stay. Susan Watson ‘may have felt overly sensitive ...

Little Lame Balloonman

August Kleinzahler: E.E. Cummings, 9 October 2014

E.E. Cummings: The Complete Poems, 1904-62 
edited by George James Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £36, September 2013, 978 0 87140 710 8
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E.E. Cummings: A Life 
by Susan Cheever.
Pantheon, 209 pp., £16, February 2014, 978 0 307 37997 9
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... the most admired by writers and critics. It wasn’t just the usual modernist suspects like Pound, Williams, Stevens and Marianne Moore who sang his praises, but other, very different kinds of poet too: Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, Octavio Paz, Louis Zukofsky and Charles Olson. As did any number of critics: Edmund Wilson, Harry Levin, Jacques Barzun, Lionel ...

‘A Naughty House’

Charles Nicholl: Shakespeare’s Landlord, 24 June 2010

... in the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate, and a woman from Whitechapel called Frances Williams. The charge was fornication. Though not in itself unusual, the charge had an extra twist, repeated with minor variations in most of the entries relating to it: ‘they were all 4 seene in bed together at one tyme.’ The documentation is scanty, and we ...


Charles Rzepka, 21 March 1991

The Puritan-Provincial Vision: Scottish and American Literature in the 19th Century 
by Susan Manning.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £32.50, May 1990, 0 521 37237 2
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... of a puritan-provincial ‘state of mind’ in tales that closely resemble my dream narrative. Susan Manning argues that themes of the pursuer becoming the pursued, of self-mirroring and doubling, of pilgrimages and impenetrable ‘centres’, are, in a special sense, Calvinistic, and reflect religious influences peculiarly strong in Scottish and American ...

In the Front Row

Susan Pedersen: Loving Lloyd George, 25 January 2007

. . . If Love Were All: The Story of Frances Stevenson and David Lloyd George 
by John Campbell.
Cape, 557 pp., £25, June 2006, 0 224 07464 4
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... the most influential female political secretary until Harold Wilson’s right-hand woman Marcia Williams, but you would never know it from this book. Campbell’s single-minded concentration on the private also unintentionally makes Lloyd George what he never was in life: boring. Love letters are riveting when written to oneself, but except in the hands of ...

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