One might expect the biography of an Oxford historian to recount tempests in teapots. Yet Sisman, a serial biographer of famous Englishmen, has produced a book that captivates the reader. Hugh Trevor-Roper, a country doctor’s son, rose through England’s brutal public schools and private universities to become a prominent public intellectual and an establishment snob, riding to hounds by day, drinking claret by night, and marrying an earl’s daughter. Precocious and brilliant, yet rash and arrogant, Trevor-Roper embodied the contradictions of the worldly academic. He achieved celebrity by exploiting his wartime experiences as an intelligence officer to publish The Last Days of Hitler. Thereafter, he penned popular pieces for the London Times and brilliant critical essays but failed to produce a magnum opus, perhaps fearing vengeful criticism from those he had earlier provoked. His career ultimately ended in ignominy after he vouched for the authenticity of phony Hitler diaries. They just do not make historians, or public lives, like this anymore.
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