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Professor John Carey  Photo: Ian West//PA Image

Memoirs of an academic brawler  

22 March 2014
The Unxpected Professor John Carey

Faber, pp.361, £18.99, ISBN: 9780571310920

It’s a misleading title, because there is nothing unexpected about Professor Carey, in any sense. He doesn’t turn up to parties uninvited, like some of his less organised colleagues. As… Read more

Building: Letters, 1960–1975, by Isaiah Berlin

13 July 2013
Building: Letters, 1960–1975 Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle

Chatto and Windus, pp.608, £40, ISBN: 9780701185763

This is the third volume of Isaiah Berlin letters; one more to go. Discerning critics have showered the first two with praise, and there is no absence of the laudable… Read more

First pluck your crow

15 December 2012
The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting (and why it still matters) Philip Hensher

Macmillan, pp.300, £14.99, ISBN: 9780230767125

As fewer people write by hand, some of us who do venture to squeak a thin call of alarm, like mice behind the frescoes during the last days of Pompeii.… Read more

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My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald

5 November 2011
My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald

Frances Lincoln, pp.240, 20

Richard Cobb had many good friends, among them Hugh Trevor-Roper, who kept letters, and so made this selection possible. There must be many more letters, since the author was an… Read more

Hunting and working

7 July 2010
Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography Adam Sisman

Weindenfeld and Nicholson, pp.598, 25

Why are scholars so prone to melancholy? According to the expert, Robert Burton of Christ Church, it is because ‘they live a sedentary, solitary life… Why are scholars so prone… Read more

Raymond Carr at 90

13 May 2009

Dons don’t usually appear to much advantage in fiction. Dons don’t usually appear to much advantage in fiction. Sillery, Samgrass, Cottard, Lucky Jim’s professor, the History Man, all Snow’s Masters:… Read more

One of the last Oxford thoroughfares with a bit of life

18 April 2007
Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey James Attlee

University of Chicago Press, pp.278, 22.50

This book is about the Cowley Road, which runs for about a mile and a half south east out of Oxford towards a place where they assemble motor cars. Most… Read more

Doctor, diplomat, spy, philosopher

2 November 2006
Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne Hugh Trevor-Roper

Yale, pp.438, 25

One of the best lectures I ever heard was given by Hugh Trevor-Roper nearly 50 years ago, and its merit was not in its delivery. He stood at a lectern… Read more

A dreadful victory

1 October 2005
Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle Juliet Barker

Little, Brown, pp.460, 20

The trouble with great historical narratives is the volume of detail they demand: tidal waves of personal and place names, of dates and sums of money, of CVs, menus, fashion… Read more

A continent on a learning curve

29 January 2005
The Birth of Europe Jacques Le Goff, translated by Janet Lloyd

Blackwell, pp.274, 20

Welshmen will know what Le Goff’s name means. To mediaevalists it conveys not only Smith, but all that is gracious, gilt-edged, and grandfatherly among French historians. Or, as one of… Read more

Big Daddy of Europe?

9 October 2004
Charlegmagne: Father of a Continent Alessandro Barbero, translated by Alan Cameron

University of California Press, pp.426, 18.95

It was one of his own poets who described Charlemagne as ‘father of Europe’, over 1,200 years ago. Pres- umably that is why the publishers call him father of a… Read more

A rather ferocious person

17 April 2004
Christina Queen of Sweden Veronica Buckley

Fourth Estate, pp.479, 20

Christina became queen of Sweden because her heroic father Gustavus Adolphus had been killed in battle, winning glory in Germany but having sired no legitimate sons. She was not quite… Read more

The love that dared to speak its name

4 October 2003
The Friend Alan Bray

Chicago University Press, pp.380, 28

As you went into the tower door of the church at Marsh Baldon (Oxon), there used to be two wall-tablets. One was to the relations of Sir Christopher Willoughby, who… Read more

When the consumer was king

23 November 2002
POWER AND PROFIT: THE MERCHANT IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE Peter Spufford

Thames & Hudson, pp.432, 24.95

Books as glossy as this are seldom as good as this. It is a sort of economic miracle in itself: fat, quarto-size, packed with illustrations, maps and plans, wide-margined, legibly… Read more