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Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography [Hardcover]

Adam Sisman
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 July 2010

Hugh Trevor-Roper's life is a rich subject for a biography - with elements of Greek tragedy, comedy and moments of high farce. Clever, witty and sophisticated, Trevor-Roper was the most brilliant historian of his generation. Until his downfall, he seemed to have everything: wealth and connections, a chair at Oxford, a beautiful country house, an aristocratic wife, and, eventually, a title of his own. Eloquent and versatile, fearless and formidable, he moved easily between Oxford and London, between the dreaming spires of scholarship and the jostling corridors of power. He developed a lucid prose style which he used to deadly effect. He was notorious for his acerbic attacks on other historians, but ultimately tainted his own reputation with a catastrophic error when he authenticated the forged 'Hitler Diaries'.

Adam Sisman sheds new light on this fascinating and dramatic episode, but also shows that there was much more to Hugh Trevor-Roper's career than the fiasco of the Hitler Diaries hoax that became his epitaph. From wartime code-breaking to grilling Nazis while the trail was still fresh in 1945 (and finding Hitler's will buried inside a bottle), to his wide-ranging interests, his snobbery and his malice, his formidable post-war feuds with Evelyn Waugh, Tawney, Toynbee, Taylor and many others, and his secret and passionate affair with an older, married woman. A study in both success and failure, Adam Sisman's biography is a revealing and personal story of a remarkable life.

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Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography + One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper + The Wartime Journals
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (8 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297852140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297852148
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Selected in January as one of a dozen "Hottest Books" of the forthcoming year (SUNDAY TIMES)

richly rewarding on every level (Selina Hastings THE INDEPENDENT)

Sisman tells the story of Trevor-Roper with authority and relish..a perfect biography (Robert Harris SUNDAY TIMES)

detailed, judicious and entertaining, a great treat for those of us who enjoy bitchy don anecdotes (David Sexton EVENING STANDARD)

a fascinating biography, which deserves parity of esteem with Leslie Mitchell's Maurice Bowra (Eric Christiansen THE SPECTATOR)

This is an excellent biography.. beautifully written and admiringly presented (Anthony Howard NEW STATESMAN)

How lucky for 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)

Sisman provides a gripping narrative of how Trevor-Roper came to authenticate Hitler Diaries..This biography is bursting with similarly compelling episodes from Trevor-Roper's life (Tristram Hunt DAILY TELEGRAPH)

wonderfully complete and beautifully crafted (Craig Brown MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Excellent.. such a man makes a good story (Charles Moore DAILY TELEGRAPH)

The great achievement of Sisman's work lies in the way he skilfully places Trevor-Roper's position as perhaps the foremost historian of the mid-20th century into a proper perspective (Mark Bostridge FINANCIAL TIMES)

This is a fine and serious biography which, on page after page, has made me laugh out loud (Noel Malcolm SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Adam Sisman's fascinating authorised biography.. takes us behind this impressive facade to illuminate the man and his work... engrossing (Brendan Simms THE INDEPENDENT)

the thoroughness, fairness and frankness of this biography are exemplary.. consistently engrossing (Stefan Collini THE GUARDIAN)

The book I most enjoyed reading last week was Adam Sisman's exceptionally astute biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper (DJ Taylor INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

detailed, judicious and entertaining (David Sexton THE SCOTSMAN)

provides enough exotic truffles to sate the appetites of the historical obsessives , but he also provides plenty of food for more normal tastes (THE ECONOMIST)

a multi-dimensional portrait of a rebellious conformist who struggled to balance ambition and intellectual fastidiousness with his love of convivilality (Roddy Matthews INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

One of the numerous merits in Sisman's life is that it captures the ebullience of its subject.. compulsive reading (Toby Barnard IRISH TIMES)

excellent (Dominic Sandbrook LITERARY REVIEW)

a wonderfully rich, fluent narrative (Derwent May THE TIMES)

Adam Sisman convinces me that Hugh Trevor-Roper was a major historian (Edward Pearce TRIBUNE)

carefully fair and gracefully written (Neal Ascherson LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS)

he has now been memorialised by an author who displays in no short measure the scupulousness which Trevor-Roper expected from himself and demanded in others (THE HERALD)

his book is a remarkable achievement, clearly organised and written with obvious relish (John Saumarez Smith COUNTRY LIFE)

Adam Sisman's magnificent biography is just as riveting (as The Last Days of Hitler), partly because its subject is a gift for the biographer (Susan Hill THE LADY)

This is a richly comic tale, brilliantly told by Adam Sisman (Roger Lewis SUNDAY EXPRESS)

Sisman's biography is shrewd and sympathetic (Richard Vinen TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)

Excellent...delicious schadenfreude. (Paul Kirkley CAMBRIDGESHIRE JOURNAL)

This is a fluently written biography, with occasional sentences worthy of a subject who was amonth the greatest stylists of his generation. (Kevin Sharpe HISTORY TODAY)

The story of Tervor-Roper's rise and humiliating downfall inevitably provides a narrative line for Adam Sisman's superb new biogrpahy. (Jeffrey Collins THE NEW CRITERION)

Succeeds triumphantly in making the life of the arrogant don a riveting read...an irresistable story (Jane Ridley THE SPECTATOR)

entertainingly detailed (Bevis Hillier THE SPECTATOR)

combines enlightenment and entertainment about a great historian (Vernon Bogdanor NEW STATESMAN)

I was completely beguiled by Adam Sisman's HUGH TREVOR-ROPER (DJ Taylor NEW STATESMAN)

perceptive and brilliantly written (Francis King SPECTATOR)

this is an outstanding biography of a fascinating and brilliant man (Noel Malcolm SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

a veritable treasure trove for connoisseurs of academic intrigue, duplicity, arrogance and hubris (Professor Tom Devine THE GLASGOW HERALD)

a crackingly entertaining biography of the waspish historian (Craig Brown THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

by miles the best biography I have read this year (Max Hastings THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

a rewarding read (Andrew Holgate SUNDAY TIMES)

Adam Sisman's superb HUGH TREVOR-ROPER: THE BIOGRAPHY surpassed anything I read this year (James McGuire IRISH TIMES)

This full and frank biography provides an intriguing insight into one of Britain's greatest historians. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

(An) excellent biography. (Richard Rathbone CONTEMPORARY REVIEW)

Book Description

The first biography of the great historian whose career was made and unmade by Hitler.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulous, well written, entertaining 21 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Adam Sisman has written a scrupulous and entertaining biography of an exceptionally clever but flawed and rather repellent character. He does his best to indicate a warmer side to Hugh Trevor-Roper but ultimately I was left with a sense that he was a waspish, prickly and greedy individual, swayed by snobbish connections, a middle class boy seduced by the lure of being accepted into the world of his "betters". He was trapped into a marriage to an evidently neurotic woman, a daughter of Field Marshal Douglas Haig. As an aside, it is fascinating to see how her neuroses and snobberies were so similar to those of her own mother. This marriage, to a woman who wanted to live beyond the means afforded by an academic's salary, clearly forced Trevor-Roper into writing more high-paying journalism than he really wanted to, and his long-awaited 'magnum opus' on the English Civil War never appeared. There are many gems in this biography, not the least of which is the further evidence it gives of the internecine warfare within the British intelligence services during 1939-45. I never cease to be amazed that Britain managed to defeat Nazi Germany. And the revelations about the puerile and ultimately trivial back-stabbing world of Oxford University during Trevor-Roper's days are excellent. Far from being a meritocratic place, it was a world of fairly sordid nepotism, under the pretence of supposed scholarly dispute. Has it really changed? Great book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A huge amount of research has gone into this biography and the result is the most absorbing piece of new non-fiction I've read for ages. A historian of seventeenth-century England, Hugh Trevor-Roper made his name with The Last Days of Hitler, based on his research as a member of the British security services at the end of the war. Together with A.J.P. Taylor -- whose biography, A.J.P.Taylor: A Biography, Adam Sisman has also written -- Trevor-Roper became a post-war radio and literary personality as well as one of Britain's best known modern English historians. This book seems a very fair account of a long life that went by way of Berlin, Wormwood Scrubs and I Tatti, Bernard Berenson's villa outside Florence, amongst other places (Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, was published four years ago).

Nearly half of the book covers Trevor-Roper's time at Oxford, where he became Regius Professor of History. He showed no mercy in academic disputes, systematically stripping theories and reputations with a ruthlessness that worried his colleagues. He was emotionally reserved, something he acknowledged and attributed to the coldness of his upbringing, but Sisman also quotes Trevor-Roper's wit in his personal letters and shows his professional generosity, for he went to some trouble promoting deserving younger and unknown colleagues.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly entertaining and informative 8 July 2011
Mr Sisman has produced a masterpiece of autobiography which is highly entertaining and extremely well-researched. He presents Hugh Trevor Roper as a fascinating character - a highly intelligent and cultured individual who was driven in his academic research, but who ultimately failed to deliver the weight of publications which many of his peers achieved. HTR was clearly a compelling character: a loner in his childhood who ended up with few friends in his early adult life, although this was tempered by his being somewhat wild when at Oxford as an undergraduate; someone who didn't suffer fools in any way, and took extreme umbrage at those he thought were debasing academic research and historiological judgement; a social climber who mixed easily with the Great and the Good, and who (perhaps rather strangely and unexpectedly) married a much older divorcee with three children whom we couldn't stand when they were small, but with whom he developed good stepfatherly relations when they matured; and an academic politician-cum-controversialist who gave as good as he got in an endless series of rows, disputes and enmities, much of it conducted across the pages of various learned journals. The book, at 540 pages + notes, is weighty and thorough, and Sisman has made extensive use of HTR's correspondence and other source material, and has produced a solid piece of research and analysis that one suspects HTR would have appreciated. My only quibble - and this is very slight - is that the book seems to gallop towards the finishing post, and HTR's last decade is treated in rather less detail than his earlier years. All in all, a massively readable and excellently-written biography of a compelling character, and one which will grace my bookshelves for years to come.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative 9 Sep 2011
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
It is not often that a completly unbiased biography is written, but I feel that the object has been achieved by Adam Sisman in his biography of the historian Hugh... Read more
Published 16 months ago by bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars Trevor-Roper
This is an excellent review: witty, informative and fascinating. It doesn't seem to pull any punches and, since I am halfway through, I await with interest the period of his life... Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2012 by Collis
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful biography of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper
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... Read more
Published on 20 Dec 2011 by Jill Meyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, illuminating, enjoyable
Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Biography by Adam Sisman
Lord Dacre, Doctor of Divinity, Regius professor of History Oxford, former Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, Director of The... Read more
Published on 2 Nov 2011 by Constantin ROMAN
4.0 out of 5 stars THE GREAT NON-PUBLISHER
This is a biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was Regius Professor at Oxford in the 1960s and 70s. For anyone interested in history, historians and historiography it is hugely... Read more
Published on 10 Jun 2011 by Stephen Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Formidably good biography
This really is an object lesson in the art of biography - utterly engrossing, and full deserving of all the plaudits.
Published on 28 April 2011 by attic critic
1.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of conformity
Sisman has produced a very long & very tiresome piece of establishmentarian sycophancy.

In the space of one paragraph (p113), he ignores the wholesale Soviet penetration... Read more
Published on 20 Feb 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book of 2010
If you think an academic historian's life must be dull, read this book and then think again. Hugh Trevor-Roper had a life absolutely packed with incident and controversy and Adam... Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2011 by Slow Lorris
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing but sometimes a bit dull
This is an interesting and engrossing book for the most part, but it does have its longeurs. In particular, I could have done without such detailed descriptions of Trevor-Roper's... Read more
Published on 7 Nov 2010 by Bookworm of St Leonards
3.0 out of 5 stars Conventional account of remarkable historian
Adam Sisman has written a very conscientious biography of a remarkable academic. He begins with pages of acknowledgements and seems to genuinely regret all those past and present... Read more
Published on 30 Aug 2010 by T. Bently
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