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Ernest Gellner, who died on 5 November 1995, was one of the great polymaths of the century. Many of his twenty books were concerned with philosophy, sociology and anthropology. Yet at the core of his work was an historical question.
Edmund Dell has moved from his highly praised account of the early years of the Callaghan administration, which he observed and in which he participated as a government minister, to the last years of the Attlee administration.
'Never before has such a comprehensive study on Morris been published, and ... it will stand as the standard work on Morris long after the exhibition it commemorates is over.' The book/catalogue that accompanies the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert M useum marking the centenary of Morris's death makes a large claim for itself.
This is a very puzzling book. To judge by its title and some of its contents, its subject is the attempt to create a world order on the basis of two competing principles, adumbrated respectively in the West and in Russia. Those two principles are summed up in the figures of Montesquieu and Marx, whose ideas on social order are briefly set out in the first two chapters.
The title was inspired by the birth, during the writing of this volume, of a child named after the author. A second volume will bring the survey to the present and to some glimpses of that young woman's prospects. The prospect presented here is that of the sleepy young knitter of the 18th century pictured on the cover and of generations before her.