Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Books

Tuesday November 21 2017

When it comes to showing off my photos, I am currently in full-on retro mode, and my latest little retrospective is of a few more photos I took when I was At the 2010 Farnborough Air Show, those being a rather greater number of photos which I posted from that show at the time, at Samizdata.

All four of these photos here feature the Avro Lancaster, and the final one also features a Lancaster and also the mighty Avro successor to the Lancaster, the Vulcan:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

It was a great day.  And it got me thinking quite a bit more about the Avro Lancaster, and in particular about its highly distinctive and recognisable shape.

Monday November 20 2017

Ten years ago today, in a posting entitled Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance, I showed a photo, of some magazines on display:

image

But all I showed of that photo was the magazines bit, because, as the above title makes clear, that was the bit I was interested in:

image

Funny.  Still.

But now, the bit at the bottom, where the maps are, seems just as interesting, because, now, so very dated.

image

Celebrity romance has, with arrival of social media, just got that bit more public, having been very public even in 2007.  But those maps!  Where have all the maps gone?  Gone to smartphones every one.

Which just goes to show: If in doubt, take the photo! The more trivial and ephemeral it may seem at the time, the more likely it is to be of interest in a decade’s time.

Sunday November 05 2017

Instapundit’s Ed Driscoll quotes two early paragraphs of a review by Theodore Dalrymple of a book about Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, aka Le Corbusier.  I like these paragraphs, from near the end:

Jeanneret’s pronouncements, and the belief in them, led to the construction of a thousand urban hells, worse in some ways than traditional slums because they were planned and because they were specifically designed to eliminate spontaneous and undirected human contact or social life. Jeanneret hated what he called derisively the street, because the street was messy, it was unofficial and unofficiated. He hated it as an obsessively house-proud woman hates dust.

But the puzzle remains: How was such a man able to obtain and retain such a hold over other men’s minds, or at least over important men’s minds? I have no complete answer, though I suspect that the First World War had much to do with it. Without that cataclysm, Jeanneret would have been a crank, or a mere antisocial misfit; but so great was the emotional and intellectual dislocation understandably brought about by the war that almost anything seemed worthy of notice or consideration afterwards, anything that was different from what went before. And so Jeanneret had his chance.

As regulars here will know, I absolutely do not share Dalrymple’s hatred of all architectural modernism.  And I even like some of Le Corubusier’s buildings, the more quirky and individual ones, although I am sure not having to live or work in them helps a lot.  But what happened to the world at the hands of the architects, and in particular the city planners, sho were influenced by Le Corbusier was appalling.

The book that Dalrymple was reviewing is cripplingly expensive, but I might just buy it anyway, on a kind of “vote with my wallet” basis.

Monday September 18 2017

Today I finally got to the end of The Judgement of Paris.  I have now started making a list of some short bits of it that I hope to reproducing here.

Meanwhile, by way of a small celebration, here is a Parisian photo I took, in Paris, way back in February 2012:

image

It’s the Tour Eiffel, of course, photoed from under it.  Tour Eiffel is pronounced “Tour F L”, rather that “Tour I Fell”.  Which reassures me that I know how to pronounce the leading historical character, Ernest Meissonier, in the above book.  “May sonni eh” rather than “My sonni eh”.

Anyway, a big and very interesting interruption has stopped interrupting me and my life, and I’m very glad about that.

Monday September 11 2017

My recent life has been seriously deranged by this book, which is about French painting and painters during the nineteenth century.  It’s by Ross King.  Never heard of him until I acquired and started to read this book of his, but the loss was entirely mine.  (Sounds more like a boxing promotor than an Art write.) This is one of the most engrossing books about Art I have ever encountered.

I am learning about several subjects that greatly appeal to me.  There’s French painting, obviously, which I have always wanted to know more about, in particular the rise to pre-eminence of Impressionism, which is what this book is about.  There are fascinating little titbits about the rise of sport, the 1860s being one of the most important decades for that, because of railways.  There’s French nineteenth century history in general, which this book, bless it, contains a lot of.  In particular there is stuff about the 1870 war against the Prussians, and then the Paris Commune.  There is French geography also, French geography being something that many of the more affluent French (including the more affluent artists) were getting to grips with properly for the first time, again because of those railways.  There is a glorious few pages about a big bunch of artists going on strike!  There are huge gas balloons.  This is not the sort of book about paintings that is only about the paintings.  Which means that it is much better than most books about paintings, because it explains their wider context.  It explains what the paintings are of, and why.

I particularly like that the role of the media is well described.  Tom Wolfe did not (with this book) invent that.  Art critics, then as now, were a big part of the Art story.

But, although I know that I will be a much improved human being when I have finished reading this book, I am finding the actual reading of it rather tough going.  For starters, there’s a lot of it, nearly four hundred closely printed pages, and my eyesight isn’t what it was.  But worse, there are constant references to people and to things that a better educated person than I would already know a bit about.  Who, for instance, was Charles Blanc?  I feel I ought to have known this kind of thing, at least a bit.  And then there’s the difference between Manet and Monet, which is all explained, concerning which about the only thing I knew beforehand was that they were indeed two distinct people.  But, I feel I should have known more about exactly which of them painted exactly what.  I could have whistled it all up from the www, but I do most of my reading away from my computer, because that way my computer does not then distract me.  Ross King never assumes any knowledge, and introduces everyone and everything very politely, but I am still struggling to keep up.

Another problem is that this book is packed with little stories about excitements of this or that diverting sort, any one of which could have been the basis of an entire book, but in this book often get just one or two paragraphs.  (I’m thinking of those titbits about sport, especially horse racing.) Accordingly, I find myself wanting to stop, to contemplate whatever fascinating little yarn I have just read, rather than dutifully ploughing on.

But plough on I am determined to do.  Until I finish, you here must make do with inconsequential postings, based on things like my inconsequential photos, which I happen to have been trawling back through in recent days.  But when I finally do finish this book, there may be some rather better stuff here.  I promise nothing, but I have in mind to pick out some of those diverting little stories, and maybe also sprinkle in some pertinent paintings.

I also hope (but promise nothing) to do a more considered review of this book for Samizdata.

Monday September 04 2017

A few weeks ago, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the First World War.  Patrick’s short intro, and the recording, are here.  (It would appear that Croziervision is now back in business.)

The “If only” of my title is because we talk about the question of “what if” WW1 had never started.  What might have happened instead?  The unspoken assumption that has saturated our culture ever since is that it would surely have been far, far better.  But what if something else just as bad had happened instead?  Or even: something worse?

We discuss the reasons for such pessimism.  There was the sense of economic unease that had prevailed since the dawn of the century, resulting in a time not unlike our own.  And, there was the fact that Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all embarked upon their various journeys from monarchy to democracy, and such journeys are always likely to be, says Patrick, bloodbaths.  Whatever happened in twentieth century Europe, it surely would not have been good.

Friday June 30 2017

Last night I sent out the reminder emails concerning my meeting tonight, the first of the ones listed in the previous posting, and I hoped for a few more replies saying: I’ll be there.  So far: nothing.  So now I am worried there won’t be enough people, and I will look like a plonker.  This morning I woke up, but then went back to sleep and had a scary and absurdly over-the-top warning dream about what a disaster tonight is going to be.  The plot line was: I went out shopping for stuff, and didn’t even get back in time myself.  Maybe the message was: relax.  It’ll be bad.  But it won’t be this bad.

So, now I face a day of fretting, and a day of making optimistic preparations for what could be a fiasco that won’t need them.  So, what did I just do?  I dashed off a Samizdata posting about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and what a bad thing this is.

This is not as crazy as it sounds.  If there is one thing that will totally ruin by last-Friday-of-the-month meetings it is the universal (but unstated-to-my-face) understanding that I am now a person of zero significance, the significance of whose meetings is likewise: zero.  But, I like these meetings, so long as people attend them in sufficient numbers, and I would miss them if I stopped doing them.  So, I need to put myself about more, on Samizdata and generally.  Even though what I really like doing is reading books about people like Chopin, listening to music by people like Chopin, wandering around London and posting pretty pictures of it here, waffling about them, and troubling nobody.

When you get old, you have to go on being what you are and doing what you do, even if you’d rather not.

Sunday June 25 2017

I’ve been reading Adam Zamoyski’s book about Chopin.  So far, I love it.  And I love learning so much about a fascinating man, of whom I knew just about nothing besides his music, and the fact that he was Polish and is a very big deal in Poland, but that he lived mostly in France.

I have, in particular, learned just exactly how Polish Chopin was, and was not.  His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French.  But when the Polish aristocrat for whom he worked went back to Poland, Nicholas went with him.  In Poland Nicholas married a Polish woman, and Frederick was thus born in Poland, but with his French-sounding name.  It sounds French because it was French.

So far, I have reached the stage where Chopin has played his first few concerts at which he performed, to great acclaim, his first few compositions, most of them for piano and orchestra.  (I am very fond of these pieces, the two piano concertos and the various other one movement works for piano and orchestra.)

As for how Chopin played, Zamoyski supplies this especially pleasing quote, from an unnamed Warsaw newspaper critic:

He emphasised but little, like one conversing in the company of clever people, not with the rhetorical aplomb which is considered by virtuosos to be indispensable.

But Chopin found it difficult working with orchestras, and I’m guessing that this is partly why that stopped, and he concentrated henceforth on solo works.  But as I think the above quote reveals, that probably suited his manner of playing better.

Just how Polish Chopin was and how he played
Photos of Jamie Bartlett speaking to Libertarian Home last night
A picture of a book about pictures
Marc Sidwell on experts
Pictures of James Tooley last night
Softening the brutalities of brutalism with colour
Some more Christmas cheer
Fantastic Beasts has an alcove in W.H. Smith all to itself
The painted word
The internet is for telling me what’s on the telly
The cuddly killer
Illness and coolness
Recent taxis with adverts photos
Trump
Wainwright on facadism
Simon Gibbs on computer programming - me on how Alex Singleton has not written himself out of a job
Anton Howes on the idea of (and the unstoppability of) technological innovation
Londres
How David Irving put himself on trial
Moving speaker – unmoving listeners, video holder and books
Shard - Guys - Tate Modern - Blackfriars Bridge - photoed during Magic Hour
Made-up London detectives in real London places
Amazon review of Inflation Matters
How bet hedging explains the perpetual terribleness of everything
Pete Comley talking about inflation on Friday February 27th
The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
BMdotcom What if? of the day
A feline Friday at Guido
Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square
On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
A cat book and a feline front page
The death of email?
Happy Friday (eventually)
Postrel goes for Gray
Confirming my String prejudices
Will England get lucky?
Compact Cats buried under London’s poshest homes
Building as ornament
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Well that’s a relief
Two bits of hospitality trivia
Alex Singleton at the ASI last night
Making sense of digital photography
Boris Johnson’s London
Scott Wiener on pizza boxes
Tough going in Australia
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
Guido in the Spectator (and in Free Life)
Cli-fi
Huge semi-submersible ships
Emmanuel Todd links
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
So painters also used to “take” pictures
Typing on the new smartphone
The mystery of the one good photo
Better a year late than never
The Qur’an is not science – science cannot be ignored
Classical CDs from Gramex
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
James Hamilton on self help and class
America 3.0
A review of Detlev Schlichter’s new book (multiplied by 4)
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
After the wedding
Pictures of Detlev Schlichter
The bike behind the theatre
Let us now trash infamous men
Julian Assange drove Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s cat Herr Schmitt crazy
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Bouncing bombs and spinning cricket balls
Lancaster
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
English will not last for ever shock
Happy hundredth
Mmmmm … bookshelves!
At the launch of Alchemists of Loss
Sleeping rough and reading an SF classic
As strong and sweet as the free market itself
God is not One
Molly Norris was just kidding!
You know where you are with a book - usually
Cat tales
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
In Alicante
Unravelling the puzzle – and making it into a movie
Trying to become an adequate interviewer of promising libertarians
Frank McLynn: “Counterfactual history is the essence of history …”
Under a hundred copies
Our shortening atten … ooh look!
What a difference a g makes
France falls in love with Hugh Laurie
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Reading Kasparov
The Rand revival - and some thoughts about Rand’s failure to understand architectural tradition
What-iffing
And here is a real quotation
Quota quotes from Wodehouse
On autobiographical ruthlessness
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
Redirect
Not the book I want to read right now - maybe later
Official bias
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
If the Jews have been running the world they haven’t been doing it very successfully
A poetic Hornby
Me elsewhere
An impulse posting about procrastination
You must enjoy reading!
Professor Wenger
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
Bookcase staircase many books electric book manybooks.net