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An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper Hardcover – December 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“It’s an excellent book: crisp and merciless yet funny and full of sympathy. . . . Mr. Sisman has an ideal biographical style: inquisitive and open, serious yet not severe. I’d read him on anyone.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“It’s easy to recommend this superb biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914–2003) as one of the best books of the year. . . . Every page offers high-order literary entertainment. . . . Detailed, funny and beautifully paced, An Honourable Englishman is one of the fullest and most intelligent biographies of a modern scholar ever written. Its readers are in for a treat.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
A marvelous evocation of man, place and time.”—Norman Stone, The Wall Street Journal
Excellent.”—G.W. Bowersock, The New York Review of Books

An excellent biography, thorough and measured.”—Anthony Grafton, New Republic
Superb . . . lucid and engaging.”—Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest
First-rate . . . Sisman’s narrative of this disaster proceeds in tick-tock style and with all of the suspense of a detective novel. The tale is hard to read without cringing, but impossible to put down. The book as a whole is masterful.”—Jeffrey Collins, The New Criterion
Empathetic, illuminating.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This superb biography romps through the life of one of 20th-century Britain’s most notorious, controversial, and influential historian-journalists. . . . Using never-before-exploited resources, NBCC award-winner Sisman, the much-praised biographer of Trevor-Roper’s fellow historian and competitor, A.J.P. Taylor, savors, as he makes us savor, a parade of juicy stories about his subject’s life and career.”—Publishers Weekly

“By miles the best biography I have read this year.”—Max Hastings

A perfect biography.”—Robert Harris, The Sunday Times (London)
“How lucky for [Hugh] Trevor-Roper, and for us, that the ideal biographer was here. It is impossible to praise Sisman’s book too highly.”—A. N. Wilson, The Observer
“This is a fine and serious biography which, on page after page, has made me laugh out loud.”—Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph
I was completely beguiled by Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman.”—D. J. Taylor, New Statesman
A veritable treasure trove for connoisseurs of academic intrigue, duplicity, arrogance and hubris.”—Tom Devine, The Glasgow Herald
“Superb . . . surpassed anything I read this year.”—James McGuire, Irish Times

About the Author

Adam Sisman’s first book was a biography of Trevor-Roper’s rival A. J. P. Taylor. He has also written Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson (winner of the National Books Critics Circle award for biography) and The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781400069767
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069767
  • ASIN: 1400069769
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau on January 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914 to 2003). As a young man he was a remarkable mixture of a sharp, critical and versatile intellect, a witty and stylish writer, a waspish commentator on contemporaries, a heavy drinker of wine, with occasional oafish behaviour, and physically immensely energetic: he would go for long walks through countrysides to whose beauties he was always intensely sensitive; he rode to hounds with many a spill, one of which would eventually break his back in 1948 and put an end to that pursuit. (Sisman does not explain how he could afford his expensive life-style before the war). Amidst all this he produced his first book, a life of Archbishop Laud (published in 1940).

When the war broke out, his poor eye-sight disqualified him from active service. Instead, like many of his Oxford contemporaries, he worked in intelligence. In this field Britain was superior to Germany, though both countries suffered from personal and institutional rivalries and lack of communication within the intelligence organizations. T-R was very frustrated by them, and was thoroughly insubordinate.

After the war T-R was asked to investigate what actually happened to Hitler at the end. At the time many stories circulated that Hitler had escaped and was still alive. T-R not only tracked down witnesses to what had happened, but was able to authenticate Hitler's Will. With the publication of "The Last Days of Hitler" in 1947, he shot to international fame (and to prosperity). He would henceforth be a regular contributor to quality newspapers and periodicals and indeed frequently travel abroad for the Sunday Times.

Back at Christ Church, Oxford, T-R soon became the intimidating Senior History tutor.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adam Sisman has written "An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper". It's not a short book and it's definitely written for the reader who has an inordinate interest in both history and History Lecturers. In other words, a history-jock, like me.

Hugh Trevor-Roper was the writer of both popular history and more academic history. By "popular" history, I mean work that is aimed at the interested amateur history readers out there. His second book - and one that brought him the most fame, was "The Last Days of Hitler", which we wrote in 1946. He was given access to Hitler's bunker in Berlin, and was allowed to interview those people who had served Hitler in his last few months. The book - which is still in print - gave a detailed view of Hitler's end, and was a best seller world-wide.

Hugh Trevor-Roger was born the middle child of three to a doctor and his wife in Northumberland, England, in 1914. Distantly related to members of the British upper-class, Hugh was sent off to a school when he was about 8 years old, leaving a rather love-less house and family behind. He was an immediate academic star throughout his schooling, which ended at Christ Church in Oxford. During the war he worked for the Secret Intelligence Service (the precursor to MI6) on the breaking of German codes, particularly those of the Abwehr. After the war, he remained in the Army and did "odd jobs" for military intelligence, like interviewing Nazis. He returned to Oxford and was a lecturer/tutor in the History department.

Highly skilled at playing the academic political games needed to succeed in the high-pressure world of Oxford, he rose in stature, both within the academic community and the wider world of British government affairs.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on April 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Rarely have I read such an enjoyable biography about a personality that I've found so distasteful. Sisman not only possesses considerable literary gifts, he knew Trevor-Roper personally, gained exclusive access to a treasure trove of primary sources, and was both willing and able to delineate his subject's strengths and weaknesses.

Trevor-Roper was a fine historian whose instincts were usually more correct than politically correct. He could be generous with his better students, and to a certain extent he mellowed with age. As Sisman emphasizes, Trevor-Roper was often bold, determined, and independently minded. Yet he also displayed "rashness, poor judgment, obstinacy, and, perhaps arrogance." (382) A colleague, Maurice Bowra, wrote in a private letter that Trevor-Roper was "a very clever man, a good writer, on the right side on all academic matters, and a sturdy fighter. On the other hand he is quite inhuman. He does not like anyone or wish to be liked; what he wants is to impress and be admired." (307)

At the end of his book, Sisman suggests that future generations will regard Trevor-Roper's involvement with the Hitler diaries fiasco a "mere footnote" to his respected historical career. (578) I have my doubts: hubris and nemesis have had a long run in Western Civilization, and the example of a respected historian falling prey to presumption is not a lesson that should be (nor probably will be) lost.

As for the biography itself, Sisman has done a remarkable job. American political scientist Wallace Stanley Sayre once wrote that academic politics was so bitter because the stakes were so low. Even so, Sisman makes interesting most of the Oxbridge variety.
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