I am in some ways "the ideal reader" for this biography: an Anglophile and a British Historian, as well as someone with a considerable interest in midI am in some ways "the ideal reader" for this biography: an Anglophile and a British Historian, as well as someone with a considerable interest in mid-20th century intellectual history. I was in graduate school in the 1980s, and I was aware at the time of several of main skirmishes and battles fought between Trevor-Roper and his intellectual peers over the course of several earlier decades. Reading this book now, I can put them into perspective more much clearly than I could at the time, so that now I can perceive nuances and shades of conflict that were undecipherable at the time. There's a lot of great "back-story" in Sisman's biography: of course, it helps to be already somewhat familiar with what the "front-story" was. (I'm thinking in particular about matters involving Trevor-Roper's well-known public feud with Evelyn Waugh, but it also pertains to his engagement with rival historians and "frenemies" like Lawrence Stone, Keith Thomas, and A.J.P Taylor.)
Other reviewers have commented on the considerable length of Sisman's text: 575 pages. Really, the length is justified by Sisman's "mission" to maintain and defend Trevor-Roper's professional reputation. In the last decades of his life, Trevor-Roper made a series of unfortunate decisions that tarnished the name he had earned for himself with his careful and probing work in the earlier part of his historical career. He accepted the Mastership of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, a position for which he was unsuited and which proved to be in his own words "seven wasted years"; he maintained his association with the "Times" newspaper concern long after Rupert Murdoch took it over, when it was clear to outsiders that Murdoch was using Trevor-Roper's prestige as a cover for his own union-busting policies; and most notoriously, he lent his name, position, and expertise to the doomed effort to pass off the supposed Hitler Diaries as genuine. Sisman does succeed in presenting a good case that Trevor-Roper should be remembered not for this later mis-steps, but rather for his earlier sterling work, especially for "The Last Days of Hitler" which is just as interesting and readable today as if was when published nearly 70 years ago. ...more
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT - (though I think you'd have to be pretty dense not to realize what's going on after the first forty pages)
"The love that darePOSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT - (though I think you'd have to be pretty dense not to realize what's going on after the first forty pages)
"The love that dare not speak its name" in Wilhelmine Germany. Zweig's novella from 1926 is dated, but interestingly so. A tale of pedagogy and repression - and in the NYRB edition, beautifully translated by Anthea Bell. ...more
**spoiler alert** Do you want to know what a passive-aggressive college professor is like? Read this book.
Stoner is actually one of the more fortunat**spoiler alert** Do you want to know what a passive-aggressive college professor is like? Read this book.
Stoner is actually one of the more fortunate individuals in the 20th century, born a white man in middle America, with a good brain, reasonably good looks, and access to affordable quality education. Although you would not know it from reading this book, he lives in the middle of a deeply racist, classist, and misogynist society, but he takes his privileges completely for granted, just as the author seems to. He drifts through life, taking the path of least resistance, falling into a pattern of poor life choices. After making a failure of a marriage, failing as a father, and failing to connect with any of his students, he has a failed loved affair. Meanwhile, he develops no interests in anything outside his tiny solipsistic world. After living through two world wars without any great suffering, he reaches retirement age feeling immensely sorry for himself, and then suitably dies of cancer.
Really, if this is what teaching medieval literature will do for a person, it's a shame that Stoner didn't stick with agronomy. Oh, and you'd probably be better off doing some gardening instead of reading this book.
(Yes, there are some effectively sparse "writerly" passages that nicely reflect the bleakness of midwestern winters.)