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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulous, well written, entertaining
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...
Published on 21 Feb 2011 by Tiresias

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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 Oxford deans who requested anonymity for their contributions. Unfortunately, such fairmindedness can make for limp reading.

For instance, a chapter headed 'Undergraduate' begins with...
Published on 30 Aug 2010 by T. Bently


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulous, well written, entertaining, 21 Feb 2011
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Scholar, But Not Always A Gentleman: Well-Written, Thorough & Entertaining, 1 Aug 2010
By 
Jeremy Hawker (Norway) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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. Sisman knew Trevor-Roper and he knows modern history: he summarises the big historical arguments Trevor-Roper engaged in, clearly explaining Trevor-Roper's view of history and historiography, and above all showing the power of Trevor-Roper's tremendous intellect and his wide range of historical interests. Sisman describes all Trevor-Roper's books, both the published ones and the several that he abandoned merely pages away from completion. He talks about the "great book" that Trevor-Roper never published; it was his most vulnerable spot and he was teased about it for years by his enemies. He got close: writing on Cromwell and the Puritan Revolution, rewriting and re-rewriting, but he was never satisfied. Perhaps his ambition was unrealisable; he was a very good writer who wanted to produce a work as great as his hero Gibbon's Decline & Fall. Nothing would have lived up to such aspirations (incidentally, for the most part Sisman avoids speculating on his subject's psyche).

Trevor-Roper's contemporaries are well-portrayed: the philosopher Gilbert Ryle's downing of a pint of bitter in five seconds was an aside I liked. Sisman ends with Trevor-Roper's seven years as Master of the all-male Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and his fight with a "mafia" of creepy right-wing dons. It was during his Peterhouse tenure that he authenticated the fake "Hitler diaries", the famous misjudgment that nearly ruined his reputation. He comes out of that episode fairly well; certainly honourably, which is more than can be said for Rupert Murdoch or the employees of Stern magazine. This is a serious book, written with great care and a good deal of humour, and I recommend it very highly. I miss reading it.
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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
This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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 (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (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. By now he had the entrée to many an aristocratic country house; the pupils with whom he felt most affinity (provided they were bright) came from these same families.

With one of his former pupils and indeed protegés, Lawrence Stone, he fell out badly: in 1948 Stone had hastened to publish an important article and initially well received on a subject he knew T-R was working on; T-R collected material, in a file marked "Death to Stone" for an article that did indeed demolish Stone, but with a personal vindictiveness that put off even those who agreed with him. T-R then widened his attack, in only slightly less personal tones, to include the venerable R.H.Tawney, turning upside-down the latter's quasi-Marxist theory (shared by Stone and, originally, by T-R himself) that the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century saw the Rise of the Gentry. If anything, that period saw, he thought, their decline, against which it put up a rearguard resistance, but it would be more correct to divide the gentry into those who held offices at Court and those Country squires who did not. That controversy raged for half a decade, and transformed the ideas about the causes of the English Civil War.

Stone would magnanimously congratulate T-R when in 1957 he was appointed Regius Professor of History, and in 1959 they would amicably contribute, more or less on the same side, to a symposium that together on "the General Crisis" of the 17th century which "shaped the approach of a whole generation of historians to 17th century Europe".

By then T-R was married. There is a detailed and psychologically interesting account of the love affaire between the emotionally repressed T-R and the effusive and, apart from her love of music, unintellectual Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston, sister of T-R's friend the second Earl Haig and wife of a bullying Admiral. They married in 1954 after she was divorced.

In his reviews, T-R relished demolishing books he did not like with savage wit, and enjoyed the offence he deliberately gave to religious believers (especially Catholics) and to the "Scotch". Arnold Toynbee, T-R's friend and rival A.J.P.Taylor, E.H.Carr were all victims of powerfully worded attacks - entirely justified in essence, I think, if not in tone.

The great book on the English Revolution which T-R intended to write, and which he certainly had in him, always eluded him. He was too easily side-tracked into writing learned articles and reviews, giving lectures on a variety of subjects both at home and abroad, travelling abroad for the Sunday Times, doing a television series (on `The Rise of Christian Europe'). The only book of his written as such, apart from the Laud biography and "The Last Days of Hitler" and volumes of collected essays, was a life in 1976 of the strange fantasist Sir Edmund Backhouse (1873 to 1944), over which he took two years. And he started on several other books which he never finished.
In 1980 T-R, then aged 66, was invited, to his surprise, to become Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He accepted, though knowing little about the College - that, for instance, it was dominated by a clique of ultra-conservative and, according to this book, thoroughly unpleasant Fellows who had engineered the invitation in the belief that T-R was one of them and would follow their wishes. They had mistaken their man, but it made T-R's seven years at Peterhouse an unhappy experience.

In the meantime there had been the greater tragedy in 1983 when he authenticated as genuine the forged Hitler diaries. This is told in gripping detail: how T-R, under pressure from The Times to come to a decision quickly, had just one afternoon to skim some of the material; how he had first conveyed to The Times that he thought the diaries were genuine (7 April), had doubts almost immediately but conveyed these only on 21 April, the day before the Sunday Times would publish; how the proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, swept them aside (not the only occasion in this book in which Murdoch is shown in a light which has become publicly notorious since publication); how T-R confessed his doubts publicly on 22 April at the launch press conference in Germany given by Der Stern (which had also been duped) - but the damage to his reputation was long-lasting. This book will restore it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing but sometimes a bit dull, 7 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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 trips abroad, whether on holiday or for journalistic purposes. (I groaned when I came to yet another walking holiday in Greece.) And generally the level of detail is too great on most subjects. I sympathise with an author who is the first biographer and who has access to the private papers. I can see why he wants to get everything in, but the book would have been a better read if it had been 150 pages shorter.
That said, it also gives a fascinating picture of a twentieth-century academic life. The feuds and resentments and the cruel comments are often very funny. The accounts of the controversies in which Trevor-Roper was involved (the Puritan Revolution in England, the Nazi regime and the origins of the Second World War and so on) usually whet the appetite to read more.
As for Trevor-Roper himself, he becomes less dislikeable as the book progresses. The snobbery and arrogance are balanced by the great tragedy of his life (I assume that is how he would have seen it), namely his failure to produce a "great book" on history, and then finally by the supreme humiliation of the Hitler-diaries fiasco.
One book by Trevor-Roper which I read many years ago and which I would recommend as a wonderful read is the "Hermit of Peking" (the subject matter is probably too trivial to make it a "great book of history", but it is great fun). Sisman passes over it rather quickly, so this achievement is worth mentioning.
All in all, I'd recommend the book, but perhaps as one to be read in separate chunks, interrupted now and then by something lighter.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book of 2010, 12 Jan 2011
This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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 Sisman' biography tells the story really well. It was my most enjoyable read of 2010 and I really can't recommend it too highly.

Pretty much everywhere Trevor-Roper went he seems to have put people's backs up, and I thought Sisman did a good job conveying how difficult he could be while at the same time presenting a sympathetic portrait of the man.

Highlights? For me, probably, his war service in intelligence which shed interesting light on Bletchley Park, the SIS and Allied operations generally. And his time at Peterhouse, as completely poisonous an episode of academic in-fighting as you'll encounter. I would dearly love to read the passages from this section of the book that Sisman says had to be dropped for legal reasons.

But there is much more than this. Trevor-Roper moved in the worlds of journalism, politics and high society just as much as academia, and there are walk on parts for a vast array of characters - from Rupert Murdoch and Harold Macmillan to Katharine Hepburn, Kim Philby, Princess Margaret, Malcolm Muggeridge, AJP Taylor, Bernard Berenson, David Irving and Anthony Blunt, to name but a few.

Don't for a moment think the book is some sort of gossipy, scandal-fest. Far from it. Sisman's detailed research shines through on every page and due consideration is given to Trevor-Roper's academic career, the books he wrote and almost wrote (of which there were many) and the lengthy "storm over the gentry" involving R H Tawney, Lawrence Stone and others. Sisman's clipped prose style makes all this highly readable and I whizzed through the book in double-quick time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A TRULY WELL WRITTEN BIOGRAPHY, 10 May 2013
This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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 Trevor-Roper.Trevor-Roper is one of the historians that people that were interested in history read in the 1960,s and 70's, along with the great A.J.P.Taylor. The book covers his life in a very objective manner,it includes the faults,the hubris he seemed to exude, but also the man. Hugh Trevor Roper appears to be the closest to a person who seems to know and read everything that is available from history to classics to literature to economics to politics,there were no areas that appeared to have no knowledge,he even dipped into medical history and witch craft.The book is exceptionally well written in that it gives a very good overall view of the life of Trevor-Roper,and does not get bogged down with any particular aspect,which will make the book appeal to the general reader,not just the academic historian. This is a good and interesting read,and well worth the effort of reading 540 pages
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful biography of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, 20 Dec 2011
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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. He wrote other books, traveled the world giving academic lectures, and was often the "go-to" source on questions of history. He was consulted by Rupert Murdoch when the German magazine, Stern, claimed they had found/been given the "Hitler Diaries" and wanted to sell it to the Times. After taking a cursory look at the "diaries", he first declared them the real thing, but then back-pedaled upon closer examination. His reputation took a blow when he first legitimatised them and then backed off. But he took full responsibility for his initial error. He engaged in several spats with other historians along the way.

Trevor-Roper married when he was in his early 40's to a divorced mother of three who was seven years older than him. Alexandra Haig was the daughter of WWI Field Marshall Douglas Haig. "Xandra" was a rather emotional, needy woman, possibly not the right match for Trevor-Roper who was emotionally distant, but their marriage was a fairly happy one. "Opposites attract" at work here, I suppose. Trevor-Roper was given a "life peerage" as Lord Dacre of Glanton and ended his career at Peterhouse at Cambridge. He was not well-liked by a small portion of the administration he referred to as the "mafia", he left after serving a difficult seven year tenure. He died in 2003.

Adam Susman's book is a lively, readable biography. It'll keep your interest and leave you wanting to learn more about Hugh Trevor-Roper and his times.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, illuminating, enjoyable, 2 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
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 Times newspaper London, remembered amongst others for his acclaimed "last Days of Hitler" but also of his involvement in the scandal of the forged Hitler's diaries.
When in old age he found himself the master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, he reviewed Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England by Maurice Cowling, the history don who had secured him the mastership. Cowling was the guru to such right wing journalistic luminaries as Peregrine Worsthorne and Colin Welch of the Telegraph, and to that extent he was a person of influence. "The subject is the intellectual history of our time and the great spiritual crisis in which we have found ourselves," Trevor-Roper wrote. "I find, on reading it, that this intellectual history has unfolded itself, and this crisis has been observed, and is to be resolved, almost entirely within the walls of Peterhouse."
An excellent, balanced and thought-provoking account thoroughly backed by references, quotations and illustrations.

Adam Sisman was elected President of the Johnson Society of Lichfield, and he is currently President of the Boswell Society of Auchinleck. He is an occasional broadcaster on radio and television, and a frequent reviewer in the Sunday Telegraph, the Los Angeles Times and the Literary Review.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding biography, 9 Aug 2010
This review is from: Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (Hardcover)
this is a first class biography of a very interesting historian and academic politician [amongst other things] very well written and does real justice to a somewhat unfairly forgotten figure whose writing is of superb quality. Does full justice to the saga of why the 'big book' never materialised, and how hubris perhaps brought his nemesis over the Hitler Diaries saga. Very interesting and very worthwhile
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Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography by Adam Sisman (Hardcover - 8 July 2010)
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