Rich in anecdote, and displaying all the author’s customary mastery of his subject, The Dons is Noel Annan at his erudite, encyclopedic and entertaining best.
The book is a kaleidoscope of wonderful vignettes illustrating the brilliance and eccentricities of some of the greatest figures of British university life. Here is Buckland dropping to his knees to lick the supposed patch of martyr’s blood in an Italian cathedral and remarking, ‘I can tell you what it is; it’s bat’s urine.’ Or the granitic Master of Balliol, A.D. Lindsay, whose riposte on finding himself in a minority of one at a College meeting was, ‘I see we are deadlocked’.
But, entertaining as it is, The Dons also has a more serious purpose. No other book has ever explained so precisely – and so amusingly – why the dons matter, and the importance of the role they have played in the shaping of British higher education over the past two centuries.
Reviews of The Dons
A series of sparkling biographical essays on some of the most richly anecdotal figures of the past 150 years, which also, once the entertainment has subsided, leaves a solid deposit of information on the evolution of the ancient universities over the period.
Roy Jenkins, Sunday Telepgraph – Books of the Year
The Dons is a stylish dissection of that peculiar mixture of pedantry and frivolity which is traditional Oxbridge.
Terry Eagleton, Independent on Sunday
Annan is a man of his generation, for whose mannerisms his ear has prefect pitch.
Daniel Johnson, Daily Telegraph
This book is rich in anecdocte, elegantly crammed in by Annan’s lapidary wit… if, as Annan half-suggests, the conversation between the past and present is now dying out, one is doubly grateful for this array of vividly resurrected voices.
Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph