Peter Hennessy is a national treasure. He is driven by a romantic, almost sensual, fascination with British history, culture, and the quirky intricacies of British democracy and the government machine. His curiosity is insatiable, his memory infinitely capacious. His innumerable contacts confide in him freely because his discretion is absolute. His tireless work in the archives is spectacularly productive. His generosity towards his students is boundless. His books — 14 at the last count — are gossipy, erudite, discursive, intensely personal: not your conventional academic history, but all the better for that.
His latest book — the third in a history of post-war Britain — ranges over the early 1960s. For most of that time the prime minister was Harold Macmillan, thoughtful, politically astute, driven by a sense of public service.