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The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper

by Adam Sisman

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6976-7
Publisher: Random House

Exhaustive biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914–2003), one of England’s foremost and controversial 20th-century historians, critics and essayists.

NBCC Award winner Sisman (The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge, 2006, etc.) draws from archival correspondence and meticulous research, displaying a talent for balancing his subject’s flaws and strengths. By his own admission, Trevor-Roper was inclined toward “pride” as well as “imprudence, ostentation, volubility, and the need for company,” all of which manifested in various situations. Sisman successfully avoids turning the book into an account of a prickly, scholarly egoist who succumbed to hubris, a popular misconception. Trevor-Roper—who gained acclaim for investigating Hitler’s death and who was later panned for mistakenly stating that the Hitler diaries found in the early ’80s were authentic—emerges as a multilayered figure whose life should not be framed solely by these two widely publicized events. Though readers familiar with World War II intrigue and British radio intelligence will especially appreciate the chapters spanning the period, Sisman suggests that Trevor-Roper should also be remembered for his literary contributions and for the dignity he maintained despite heavy criticism. Leisurely in its pacing and studded with anecdotes that include major figures such as Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger, Malcolm Muggeridge and Katharine Hepburn, the book considers how one man touched some of the most exclusive social circles while standing apart from them, and how he shaped public discourse with a formidable pen.

Empathetic, illuminating and occasionally witty, if challenging in its depth and range of detail.