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The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics and Geniuses Paperback – 1 Jul 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (1 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007292759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007292752
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 447,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Like a communication from a bygone age, The Dons records the eccentricities and enthusiasms the brain-workers at what Annan unashamedly calls "the elite institutions of higher education in this country"--by which he means Oxford, Cambridge and some of the London colleges. It is written with love and a kind of dry passion, and many of its anecdotes are indeed funny, although the funniest tend to be the ones in which the dignity of the dons themselves is undercut. William Buckland, for instance, was prepared to eat anything, and boasted that he had devoured his way through the animal kingdom and that the worst thing was a mole ("perfectly horrible"). Confronted with a dark stain on the floor of an Italian cathedral reputed to be the blood of a martyr he "dropped to his knees and licked it" declaring "I can tell you what that is: it is bat's urine". Elegant, amusing and in a way charming, this book is nonetheless more than a little difficult to like. Partly this is Annan's style, which is quaint and sometimes crabbed. For example he says that Oxbridge colleges "differed just as families do. One college might be rent with quarrels, another might be a cosy womb, a third an amorphous society devoid of any particular character. There were dim colleges, fusby places." More central is just how old-fashioned Annan's perspective is. Almost none of these dons are women, none at all are black or working class. There are times when Annan's own Senior Common Room narrowness of perspective becomes simply infuriating. Universities, he says, ought to exist for one reason only: "They exist to cultivate the intellect. Everything else is secondary. Equality of opportunity to come to the university is secondary ... the need to mix classes, nationalities and races together is secondary. Universities should hold up for admiration the intellectual life." Annan's idea seems to be that we should all sit in hushed awe, contemplating the enlarged intellects of his dons: that that is enough in itself to justify the university system. Without these apparently "secondary" considerations, the "elite" of which Annan is so proud, and to which he belongs, would continue to consist of a small group of white, upper-class men; and would become even less relevant to multicultural gender-equal Britain than they were in the past. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

A series of sparkling biographical essays on some of the most richly anecdotal figures of the past 150 years, which also, once the entertainment has subsided, leaves a solid deposit of information on the evolution of the ancient universities over the period.
Roy Jenkins, Sunday Telepgraph - Books of the Year

The Dons is a stylish dissection of that peculiar mixture of pedantry and frivolity which is traditional Oxbridge.
Terry Eagleton, Independent on Sunday

Annan is a man of his generation, for whose mannerisms his ear has prefect pitch.
Daniel Johnson, Daily Telegraph

This book is rich in anecdocte, elegantly crammed in by Annan’s lapidary wit… if, as Annan half-suggests, the conversation between the past and present is now dying out, one is doubly grateful for this array of vividly resurrected voices.
Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Fraser Montgomery on 7 Aug. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Noel Annan's emphasis on the intellect is unintentionally rather chilling; and his brio as a conversationalist does not always come across in his writing, barbed and witty as it is. This is, nevertheless, a memorably good book. Annan is primarily a historian and a man of affairs, deeply experienced in English public life but without provincial English attitudes. He places the development of England's ancient universities in a European, primarily German and American, context. He is extraordinarily perceptive about recent developments, in which he was himself so closely involved. All this is done with a light touch and primarily in human terms. Here, curiously, the intellect takes second place to broader human values: perseverance, wit, the ability to adapt, loyalty, love. He describes his contemporaries vividly, notably Rylands and Berlin, and is acutely aware of where they stand in relation to their predecessors. Of these his pen-picture of Newman is outstanding, full of wit and insight, the saintly scholar emerging as something much more equivocal - and much more interesting. It could be that Annnan's emphasis on the intellect is a defense mechanism, developed because of the way his own brilliance was occasionally implied, by his detractors, to be that of a light-weight. In fact he was much more than an arid intellectual; and his book is much greater than appears on its polished, entertaining surface.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Jan. 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book describes many extraordinary academics from the last two hundred years, with an emphasis on Oxford and Cambridge. As well as being amusing and informative, it is a reminder of how academics and universities used to and should be, in the good old days before government interference destroyed many aspects of academic autonomy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oxford and Cambridge rank as amongst the world's leading academic bodies, but it wasn't always so. This book, written by an insider, takes a broad sweep of history. It looks at the great English universities in the early 19thC when they had become inferior to their German counterparts. It looks at why this happened, why it was necessary to reverse this state and how the reversal was accomplished. Far from being a dry dusty work, it brings leading players to life, right up to the time of Margaret Thatcher. If you want to know about some great characters from the Victorian age onwards, if you want to know how Oxbridge "thinks", if you want to know how successful change can be accomplished, read this book edu
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By BPF on 22 Mar. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was slightly late in getting to me otherwise no problems
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By Anna MK on 18 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good
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