...an entertaining offshoot of [the] well-received 2010 biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper ... Sisman is a serious writer of nonfiction...but he has a novelist’s sense of the importance of showing, not telling ... There’s a rather antique feel about the whole project. Partly this is down to Sisman’s tone, which belongs to a previous era ... There’s no impression that a modern sensibility has been brought to bear on the subject matter. Peters appears to have been a sex offender, with numerous instances of his predatory 'advances' on young girls. Sisman seems to have bought in to the tabloid portrayal of Peters as a 'Romeo', and reports the fact that “it seems as if he could scarcely be left alone with a woman without making advances to her” without censure ... I’m also not sure that one can describe someone as 'inscrutable, like an Oriental despot' in 2019. For all this, the book is a gripping read, telling us as much about the rise and fall of Trevor-Roper as about its deeply unpleasant priest.
My purpose,' Mr. Sisman writes, 'has been to entertain, not to instruct.' In that he succeeds. The Professor and the Parson is no rival to Boswell’s Presumptuous Task or the rest of Mr. Sisman’s work, but it’s not meant to be—it’s a kind of amuse-bouche. As such, it demonstrates just how good Mr. Sisman is. Meticulously researched and flawlessly written, the book treats its obscure, contemptible subject with the same professionalism that Mr. Sisman brought to Trevor-Roper and the Boswell-Johnson relationship. If Peters seems a parody of the lecherous clergyman and the ruthless academic, Mr. Sisman is a model of the incorruptible biographer.
... amusing and elegantly written ... It is this fascination that Sisman has made the tenet of his book: Peters’s antic mayhem jibed with Trevor-Roper’s own taste for anti-establishment mischief. How could he not be somewhat enchanted with this sendup of the entire British academic and social system?
Sisman gives readers a chronological romp through Peters’ continual attempts to pass himself off as a student of the church, a preacher, a teacher, and even a principal of two religious schools, all in the name of notoriety. While Peters is definitely a character, he is also a bigamist, a misogynist, and a sexual harasser (at the very least) and yet Sisman passes these off as more of his trickster ways instead of recognizing them as the predatory behaviors they are. This lack of synthesis is unfortunate, but the story of Trevor-Roper and Peters is an entertaining case of truth being stranger than fiction.
It’s an enjoyable and extraordinary tale ... Squat and hunched even when young, Peters was an unlikely Casanova, and it’s a pity Sisman could find no girlfriend or ex-wife able to explain what attracted them. Disappointing, too, as he complains, is that Lambeth Palace refused to show him the extensive file it has on Peters ... The chief problem with the book is that we know Peters little better at the end than at the outset. Sisman admits as much...but it’s little consolation; there’s a long paper trail but the reader craves more flesh and blood.
This gripping account of a recalcitrant 20th-century con man...proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction ... Sisman wisely relegates speculation about what motivated Peters to a brief concluding section, offering appropriate caveats about why Peters sought status via deceit 'when it might have been easier to pursue an honest career.' Fans of the film Catch Me If You Can will be entertained.
An astonishing story of decades of deception by a slithery English academic and cleric ... The author speculates only modestly about why Peters behaved as he did, but he concludes that he was a classic narcissist ... The appended chronology is also incredible ... A captivating true tale that makes even the most intricate con-artist movies look cartoonish.