An Honourable Englishman
The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper
By Adam Sisman
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400069767, 672pp.)
Publication Date: December 6, 2011
Categories: Historical - General
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He was one of the most gifted scholars of his generation—a brilliant writer, high-society star, and cultural force who moved easily between aristocratic houses and the humble haunts of literary bohemia. He developed a lucid prose style that he used to scathing effect, earning notoriety for his sharp attacks on other historians. Now this superb biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, universally acclaimed overseas, makes its anticipated American debut.
With incisive knowledge of the man and access to never-before-published letters, Adam Sisman paints a fascinating portrait of this charismatic, contentious, contradictory character. Sisman examines Trevor-Roper’s middle-class upbringing in a house so empty of affection that it caused, as he put it, his “almost physical difficulty in expressing emotion.” He traces Trevor-Roper’s career from his early academic triumphs to his later failure to produce the big book expected of him.
Sisman also provides riveting new details of the high drama of Trevor-Roper’s World War II intelligence work—in which he boldly blew the whistle on bureaucratic infighting that imperiled British code-breaking—and the exclusive investigation of Hitler’s death that inspired his bestselling postwar triumph, The Last Days of Hitler. As never before, Trevor-Roper’s personal life is explored, including his passionate affair with an older, married woman. Finally, An Honourable Englishman reveals the truth behind his public substantiation of the false Hitler diaries in 1983, a misstep (encouraged by his impatient employer Rupert Murdoch) that forever tainted his reputation.
Profoundly bright and brutally acerbic, Hugh Trevor-Roper was a literary lion like no other, and in An Honourable Englishman he receives the absorbing biography he deserves.
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.
“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