“Thank God I’m not in that system any more.” My last email from Norman, sent on June 7, eleven days before he died, included criticisms of Oxford and Cambridge. That the most talented British historian of European history of his generation had felt it necessary to part company with them was proof that his criticisms were no empty gripes. As so often with the skein of life, his path was shaped by a temporary aberration: briefly carried away by the meritocratic ethos of that age, Oxford, in filling its Chair of Modern History in 1984, decided to make an appointment on talent and looked to an outsider, one, moreover, who was not only highly qualified but also, coming from Glasgow Academy, provincial middle-class and right-wing. When Oxford realized what it had done, it reversed direction and sought to make him, in effect, redundant. The spinning started immediately. Norman had an alcohol problem, as if...


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