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The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  201 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

One day in November 1958, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a curious letter. It was an appeal for help, written on behalf of a student at Magdalene College, with the unlikely claim that he was being persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford. Curiosity piqued, Trevor-Roper agreed to a meeting. It was to be hi
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Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 9th 2019 by Profile Books Ltd (London, UK) (first published May 3rd 2019)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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 ·  201 ratings  ·  37 reviews


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Stephen Goldenberg
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Confidence tricksters/fraudsters are often fascinating characters and Robert Peters certainly fits the bill. He managed to live a lie for fifty plus years, never seeking financial gain but constantly trying to make himself more successful and powerful than he actually was. This was most obvious in his attempts to trick his way into senior ecclesiastical positions where he obviously delighted in the opportunity to dress up in elaborate vestments. The fact that he was always found out but simply m ...more
Nathan
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an absurd tale! Page after page, the deceptions and forgeries of the "Parson" unfold in a mad chase around the globe. I kept thinking, "This has to be the end of it. At some point the author will have to double back, or the tone of the story will change." But no! 200 pages of the same shenanigans: ecclesiastical fraud, falsified credential, pretended or stolen scholarship, posturing, threatened litigations, and flights, over and over. Parson Peters, by whatever alias, never became a symp ...more
Todd Wilhelm
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting read on Robert Peters, a man whose whole life was one huge fraud. He had numerous wives (a few at the same time) and constantly misrepresented himself by falsifying his credentials and degrees earned to obtain positions in religious academia. Invariably the truth would catch up with him, once landing him in jail and several times causing him to be deported from the USA. Generally, when the truth would close in on him he would just pick-up and leave, either to another part of the U ...more
Miriam
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a deeply weird story, but a very engaging book. The events related therein boggle belief, and yet I absolutely believe that this sort of thing can happen anywhere. It is hard to describe this book, and I don't think the tagline does it any favours - the defrocking isn't really that scandalous, and desire is by no means the main motive. But as a look into academia, and how the system can go wrong, it is interesting, and as an account of a person who keeps making bigger and bigger gambles, ...more
Nekquai
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book,and it only took me 2 days. Because,I just could not put it down once I started. I just could not believe how Professor Parsons just never gave up his quest for "status",no matter how many times his cover was blown. All I could say was..Wow, he really did not stop trying all the way up until he breathed his final breath. ...more
Roger
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This high-spirited, over-the-top funny account of a charlatan never flags. The priest (1918-2005) (unfrocked in 1955, but that never stopped him) is failed theological PhD aspirant Robert Peters; the professor is Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), the distinguished author of The Last Days of Hitler. After Peters with a concocted hard-luck story applied in 1958 to Trevor-Roper for assistance, the Regius professor rapidly saw through the sham yet became fascinated by the supplicant’s outrageousness an ...more
David
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Detailed recap of a long-running con by fake academic/fake priest/bigamist/book stealer [he accumulated an impressive library by acquiring books on credit and then skipping town without paying the bills -- i wonder if barnes and noble would tempt fate by extending "credit" in that manner].

Author ends up concluding he was a narcissist, but I'd throw in a side of sociopath -- the 8 wives despite never really getting anywhere in his academic life and having to move a million times to stay ahead of
...more
Helen
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book had some rather lukewarm reviews when it appeared, but I enjoyed it very much. Hugh Trevor-Roper maintained a file on Robert Peters or Parkins as he surfaced over the years trying to obtain academic posts and other jobs, and the author has used the dossier as a basis for further investigation. Peters was a serial liar, a fantasist who claimed any number of academic qualifications which he did not have and was often successful in obtaining posts on the back of them. He married bigamousl ...more
Katedurie50
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
For those of us who are shame-faced and rather inadequate liars, it's rather fun to meet someone who is utterly unabashed in claiming degrees and references he never had, ecclesiastical patrons who had never heard of him (or even worse, had) and wives, possibly eight, when he had the small inconvenience of an existing marriage. The story of Robert Peters is that of a con man not out for money but status to which he felt entitled - hard not to see him as a narcissistic fantastist, forever splutte ...more
Allegria
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent portrayal of a bigamist and fantasist. Peters duped initially the likes of Hugh Trevor-Roper who should have done more to halt his academic career earlier. Instead academics seemed reluctant to act. Part of problem was due to Church who would not allow access to Lambeth Palace files and who still choose to 'forget' reported abuse and misdemeanours. ...more
Gail
Feb 18, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I couldn't get into this book. The writing style is horrendous. It's really too bad as it sure sounded intriguing. I only lasted a few pages with it, and then quit. ...more
Matt Hyzer
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
More a sad commentary on the state of higher education than a "thriller." ...more
Becky Loader
Mar 23, 2020 rated it liked it
While reading, I kept thinking I had heard this story before. How a man could weave such a huge web of deceit without getting caught earlier is almost too much to believe.
Ann
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This slim volume was born almost as an afterthought to the author's biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (the "professor" of the title), and much of the material presented here came originally from HTR's own file on Robert Parkin Peters. What a character! This man, ordained somewhere in the 1940s, and subsequently defrocked, spent a half-century ping-ponging from church to church, from college to college, from university to university. He seems to have been driven by an inexplicable desi ...more
Sarah
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I’ve been on a streak of books that don’t really hook me until around page 100, and this was no exception. Starts off a bit slowly, but becomes an amusing read with some surprising cameos from church historians of note (including one that I *really* wasn’t expecting, an old Yale professor of mine...).

In short, it’s the story of a sad and really quite terrible fellow who literally made a career out of tricking his way into a series of academic and ecclesiastical posts. It wouldn’t have been quit
...more
Rosie
May 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book by an academic biographer, who -- upon writing the biography of a certain Trevor-Roper -- found a treasure trove of notes outlining the career of a flim-flam man who evaded any serious jail time or consequences for a life of living on the edges of higher education and religious institutions. Via forgery of various letters of recommendation, lying about his qualifications, and a sense of entitlement marked by narcissistic outbursts of indignation when questioned, Peters managed ove ...more
Adam Thomas
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-crime
Robert Peters was a serial con artist, obsessed with ecclesiastical status and academic reputation, whose falsified CV and fabricated life history (in its shifting manifestations) earned him positions in a bewildering series of institutions. He even founded two theological colleges and appeared in several academic journals. Here, Adam Sisman draws together the evidence of private dossiers held by several concerned individuals, foremost among them being the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. The whole ...more
Amanda Witt
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Intriguing read, and it makes me wonder how the fake university lecturer/professor managed to get away with so much for most of his life.
Ellen
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What fun! What a character! Great read!
Edward Sullivan
The fascinating true story of a remakably successful con man who managed to perpetrate frauds in academia for decades.
Ronnie Cramer
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A somewhat arcane but nonetheless fascinating study of a brazen ecumenical/academic fraudster.
Alger Smythe-Hopkins
This was a light read, and an entertaining story. The greatest flaw with the story is that it exists mostly as an addendum to Sisman's biography of Trevor-Roper. The file that sustains most of the book came straight from Trevor-Roper's archive, and it is simply stuffed with details of encounters with the absurd Robert Peters from a multitude of people around the globe: bored conference attendees are shocked when they hear the name of the next presenter; persons who smell a rat but are astonished ...more
Cabbie
Aug 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cabbie by: Guardian summer read
Who wouldn't be intrigued by the title of Adam Sisman's book, The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking? It brings to mind saucy Carry On films and salacious newspaper headlines. Indeed, the media depicted the eponymous parson as "a hoaxer, a cheeky chappie who might have bent the rules but had done no significant harm. He might even have done some good, in pricking the pomposity of professors, bishops and vice-chancellors."

The Parson of the title is Robert Peters, a
...more
Delany
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four stars for the first half or two-thirds of the book. It’s a fascinating true crime story about a remarkably successful con man who brazenly sold himself as a scholar and a priest in England and Canada, at the great universities and in multiple parishes and dioceses (he claimed to be both an Episcopal/Anglican priest, and a Roman Catholic priest, and he very often got away with it). He was married numerous times (never or rarely bothering to get divorces in between), and served a number of se ...more
Heather Kirkpatrick
Not my usual sort of book, but it sounded interesting. It was ASTONISHING how much fraud the parson did. He probably had 200 jobs, would get a post teaching based on his "credentials" which were a first degree in history from Oxford (which he never was even admitted to Magdalen college as he didn't even have an undergraduate degree), and would conduct Episcopalian services wherever he could (his pastor credentials had been revoked by the Bishop), but then his references would catch up with him. ...more
Sara
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. Interesting but basically an expanded dossier of a con man. While interesting, it falls a bit short in providing additional analysis. I do wonder at the possibilities that the subject was a serial sex offender and girls' schools and would have liked to see more research on that aspect of his career since it would be the most injurious of his actions. It is incredible how much Peter's got away with and one does wonder if he could have achieved the status he craved by actually attemptin ...more
Robin Sloan
Hugh Trevor Roper used to live nearby, at a time when his reputation as an academic and historian of WW2 was ruined by his endorsement of the bogus Hitler diaries, which I think is why I bought the book. This is an account of an odd character he came across - and in this case he wasn't deceived: a real life man who was a plagiarist, bigamist, imposter and de-frocked priest. Interesting, but not exactly a page turner. ...more
Emma  Heyn
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
A brilliant story, but unconvincingly told. What could have been a labyrinth of lies and deceit unraveled instead became a list of: 'who, what where, when.' The details were all there, but the heart of the story wasn't. Nonetheless, the subject matter would be perfect for a Hollywood adaptation someday, preferably with the combined talents of Bill Nighy as Trevor-Roper and Timothy Spall as Peters. But then again, that might just be wishful thinking.... ...more
Fred Pratt
A delightful story of a major league scamp. The main character always seems to outdo himself as he wanders the world inventing new pasts and new roles for himself, and never lacking for a new woman to marry.
Mjdrean
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting.
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Adam Sisman is the author of various biographies, all well received by critics.

His first book, published in 1994, was a life of Trevor-Roper's colleague and rival, A.J.P. Taylor. In 2006, Sisman published a much-admired study of the friendship between Wordsworth and Coleridge. He has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography/Autobiography
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