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Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse
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Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  94 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
Hermit of Peking is one of the most remarkable pieces of literary detection of recent years.

It all began when Hugh Trevor-Roper acquired the voluminous memoirs of Sir Edmund Backhouse, uo till then known only as a distinguished Chinese scholar who had lived quietly until his death in 1944.

The memoirs depicted a very different person - a man who said that he had been 'intim
Paperback, 391 pages
Published April 27th 1978 by Penguin Books (first published May 5th 1955)
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I cannot for the life of me remember how this book ended up on my to read list years ago, but I wish I could thank whoever recommended it to me. The whole thing is a delight. It begins cautiously, with the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper recounting how he ended up with the memoirs of Sir Edmund Backhouse. He drops hints about their shocking contents, ominously mentions various subjects and persons that will be returned to, then begins his biography of Backhouse. There is a rapid sense of escalation, ...more
Richard Bartholomew
Jul 08, 2009 Richard Bartholomew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: espionage, travel
This is a very strange tale, in which the noted historian pieces together in remarkable detail the life of an aristocratic fantasist who resided for many years in China.

As a psychological investigation, the book is intriguing: Blackhouse left Oxford a bankrupt at the end of the nineteenth century, having wasted a fortune buying jewellery for actresses; in China he became a skilled translator, but his various fantasies drew in, and ultimately disappointed, the Bodleian (which was led to believe h
Mar 17, 2011 Adam added it
Got this solely for the delightful cover
May 29, 2015 Laurie rated it it was ok
It' s my fault. Really it is. H. T.-R.'s writing is engaging and he keeps the narration moving. This just wasn't the biography I had hoped to read. I wanted more, much, much, more about how Backhouse lived during his years in China. Instead, this biography centers around Backhouse' dishonest business dealings, scandals relating to his published books, troubled relationships with family and friends and over-all flimsiness of character. Which will still make this interesting to many if Backhouse i ...more
Aug 27, 2011 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Such a fascinating research! Trevor-Roper teems with erudition and wit and wraps the matter conclusively, punctuating that ultimately Sir Edmund Backhouse despite his mendacity and frauds was but Our Man in Havana: simply drawing vacuum cleaners, pathetic and harmless.
Oct 12, 2011 Demetra rated it it was amazing
I seem to be adding all my history books, this may be because I keep them as my precious (no I don't have ebooks, don't ask).

Anywho. If anyone tells you that things were better back when...just hit them. Perhaps with this book. Clearly our betters were way crazier than we are. The scandle in this book would be front page news on every newspaper in the country. Nancy Grace would hang up her dancing shoes and want to know, "what the hell?" She would find a crime to charge this man with and then pu
May 22, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it
Shelves: edwardian, lives, crime, 1970s
Cloaked under layers of seeming respectability, profound scholarship, and irresistible charm, Sir Edmund Backhouse's secret and fraudulent life went undetected for nearly thirty years until his outrageous and obscene memoirs fell into the hands of noted Oxbridge historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. Drawing upon business records, correspondence, memoranda, and Backhouse's own memoirs of life during the waning years of the Manchu dynasty, Trevor-Roper reveals the "Hermit of Peking"'s fantastic life of dec ...more
Oct 11, 2012 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was keen to read this as Backhouse's family lived in a neighbouring village to the one where I grew up in North Yorkshire and my family used the bank owned by his father. I therefore found his early life and family background very interesting but there wasn't a lot of it.

The black sheep of the family, EB was a gifted sinologist who virtually ran away to China where he led a strange life. Double dealing and forgery seem to have been his specialities, though masked in respectability and EB was f
Mar 01, 2010 DoctorM rated it really liked it
Sir Edmund Backhouse... Reclusive Westerner in early 20th-c. Peking. Scholar, historian, translator, patron of the arts...and...well...forger, con man, swindler, seller of non-existent battleships, faux-spy, debauchee, fantasist. Backhouse wrote widely-admired histories of the late-Manchu court and donated substantial numbers of Manchu-era manuscripts to his old college back in England. much of it was faked? Was anything real? He also concocted a brilliant posthumous plot to validate ...more
Feb 17, 2011 ingrid rated it really liked it
Read a review of this book, written in 1977, in the Wall Street Journal. A bit "heady" but fascinating. The true story of (Sir) Edmund Backhouse, an amazing confidence man. Born in England and lived mostly in Peking. He conned the pants off everyone and inserted himself through fantasy into the histories of many famous peoples' lives. Had to get it from the Balt. City library...hard to find and not cheap to buy! Author is (was-now deceased) a respected historian.He had to do some SERIOUS digging ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 04, 2012 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Trevor-Roper fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This is a biography of Sir Edmund Backhouse, 2nd Baronet (1873-1944), Sinologist, forger, swindler and aspirant pornographer, the details of whose life are patchy, obscure and intriguing. Indeed, it was owing to his having written an extraordinary autobiography filled with world-historical, not to mention salacious, detail that historian Trevor-Roper was called upon as an advisor. Trevor-Roper's researches having exposed a pattern of fraud and fantasy, the autobiography was never published. This ...more
Jul 09, 2014 David rated it liked it
Superb biography of a strange man, but not so strange when one considers the British expatriate, sophisticated with a devil-may-care regard to his and others' circumstances at a given time. Trevor-Roper actually uses Backhouse's experience as an entry into the arcane Chinese politics early in the 20th century. When reading about Backhouse, you get an eery feeling that if you sat down with him in his study, he might poison you for unspecified reasons.
Jul 18, 2012 Terry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book describes the life of an English eccentric who lives in Peking during the tumultuous events at the turn of the century. He invents diaries and sells them for lots of money. His imagination makes him well known as he writes books and sells weapons to nonexistent customers. The book is fairly entertaining, and it gives a good glimpse of life in China at this time.
Mar 15, 2008 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apparently long out of print, but my stepdad tracked down a copy as a Christmas present, telling me it was one of his favorite books. I found it to be an excellently paced biography of an inscrutable man.
Jan 23, 2013 Qmmayer rated it really liked it
An interesting, breezy read. Mainly about a very peculiar life, but some of the China backdrop seeps through as well. I didn't always care for the author's use of "we'll get to this later," but his voice -- present throughout the book -- eventually won me over.
Steven Daniels
Jul 29, 2007 Steven Daniels rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a must read for expatriates in China. Though it was en vogue when it was published, it seems to have nearly disappeared. Trevor-Roper does an amazing job of reconstructing the life of this enigmatic man.
Mary Ann
Mar 06, 2014 Mary Ann rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed reading it very slowly. Unbelievable that the 20th century was so distant. Very well written.
This should have been fascinating, but I was so bored I thought it might have been written as some sort of inside joke.
Ross Henderson
Jun 05, 2013 Ross Henderson rated it really liked it
Really good, though it begs the 'Quest for Corvo' comparison and Trevor-Roper wasn't quite the writer that A.J.A. Symons was, nor was Backhouse quite Corvo.
Oct 06, 2016 Yooperprof rated it it was ok
Shelves: lgbt, biography, history, china
Would have made a good 50 page article. As a 300 page book - no. Very repetitive.
Hupixupi rated it really liked it
Sep 14, 2014
Mark rated it it was amazing
Feb 13, 2009
Jasmin Kocaer
Jasmin Kocaer rated it it was ok
Sep 24, 2016
Jennifer rated it liked it
Mar 25, 2011
Allan rated it liked it
Jan 04, 2012
Amro rated it liked it
Jan 16, 2015
Phillip Dunham
Phillip Dunham rated it it was ok
Aug 01, 2014
Philip rated it liked it
Jan 30, 2014
Jamie Donovan
Jamie Donovan rated it liked it
Mar 07, 2013
Robert Nevins
Apr 28, 2013 Robert Nevins rated it liked it
Slightly disappointing: rather dated and overlong. An interesting story, though
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