on 8 November 2011
The book contrives to tell us about Butterfield's Life and Thought; and it succeeds in doing both. It is very interesting indeed on the Life. There is new material here, concerning an unlikely affair which HB had in the 1930s; but I found it even more fascinating to explore how a shy working class boy from a small village in West Yorkshire became one of the most prominent intellectuals of the late twentieth century in Cambridge. There is much about the realities of academic life, which the author is well qualified to comment on. And there is a revealing account of HB's relations with fellow academics at Peterhouse, particularly Brian Wormald, the father of Patrick Wormald, whom I knew. Father and son seem to have had careers as historians which followed a remarkably similar and tragic path.
As to the 'Thought', Butterfield was a prolific writer when it came to the philosophy of history (contrast history itself); and I found the setting in context of works like 'The Whig Interpretation', 'Christianity and History' and 'George III and the Politicians' quite fascinating. Of course, there is no subsititute for the originals, and the author's description is somewhat eliptical; but having said that, you would never get the full flavour of how distinctive Butterfield's Christianity was without reading a learned commentary, which this book provides.