The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit, and Defrocking

Adam Sisman (Author)


How a liar, bigamist, and fraudulent priest took in some of the brightest minds of his generation

One day in November 1958, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a curious letter. It was an appeal for help, written on behalf of a student at Magdalen College, with the unlikely claim that he was being persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford. Curiosity piqued, Trevor-Roper agreed to a meeting. It was to be his first encounter with Robert Parkin Peters: plagiarist, bigamist, fraudulent priest, and imposter extraordinaire.

The Professor and the Parson is a witty and charming portrait of eccentricity, extraordinary narcissism, and a life as wild and unlikely as any in fiction. Motivated not by money but by a desire for prestige, Peters lied, stole, and cheated his way to academic positions and religious posts from Cambridge to New York. Frequently deported, and even more frequently discovered, he left a trail of destruction including seven marriages (three of which were bigamous) and an investigation by the FBI.

"I was captivated from start to finish by this utterly mad, and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy, and which involves a man who relentlessly duped our most cherished institutions of godly pursuit and higher learning. Plus I learned how to defrock a priest, always good to have on hand in these troubling times." --Simon Winchester, author of The Perfectionists

Product Details

$26.00  $23.92
Counterpoint LLC
Publish Date
February 04, 2020
5.7 X 1.1 X 8.4 inches | 0.9 pounds

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About the Author

ADAM SISMAN is the author of Boswell's Presumptuous Task, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and the biographer of John Le Carré, A. J. P. Taylor, and Hugh Trevor-Roper. Among his other works are two volumes of letters by Patrick Leigh Fermor. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an honorary fellow of the University of St Andrews.


Praise for The Professor and the Parson

"Amusing and elegantly written." --Lawrence Osborne, The New York Times Book Review

"Adam Sisman consistently strikes an ideal balance of intellect and feeling, seriousness and levity, rigor and readability. He's also intriguingly unpredictable in his choice of subjects and never more so than with The Professor and the Parson . . . 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." --Ben Downing, The Wall Street Journal

"Ignore the lackluster title, The Professor and the Parson. It's the only part of Adam Sisman's sprightly new book that is anything less than a reader's delight . . . [An] excellent account of a sanctimonious, egotistical crook and hypocrite." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"An astonishing story of decades of deception by a slithery English academic and cleric . . . Jaw-dropping . . . A captivating true tale that makes even the most intricate con-artist movies look cartoonish." --Kirkus Reviews

"This gripping account of a recalcitrant 20th-century con man from National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Sisman proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction . . . Fans of the film Catch Me If You Can will be entertained." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A riveting tale about Robert Parkin Peters, a gifted imposter in the tradition of Baron Corvo and Trebitsch Lincoln . . . Sisman tells this delectable tale with such flair that it is almost impossible not to savor his account of Peters's exploits in a single sitting." --Spectator USA

"Entertaining . . . Far from being the lovable rogue of fiction and film, Peters emerges as a quite despicable, though endlessly fascinating, character." --Patricia Hagen, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

"I was captivated from start to finish by this utterly mad, and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy, and which involves a man who relentlessly duped our most cherished institutions of godly pursuit and higher learning. Plus I learned how to defrock a priest, always good to have on hand in these troubling times." --Simon Winchester, author of The Perfectionists

"A delightful, delicious tale from the Hugh Trevor-Roper archive of Oxford skulduggery. Robert Parkin Peters is one of the oddest, most compulsive conmen ever, longing--and spectacularly failing--to achieve prominence in academia and the Church." --Harry Mount, author of Harry Mount's Odyssey

Praise for John le Carre

"With these caveats, however, this book fulfils almost every expectation. Sisman has immersed himself in an extraordinary life story and reported it with exemplary dedication, following Le Carré's footsteps and, like a literary Jeeves, quietly correcting his master's narrative with here a discreet cough, there a raised eyebrow, anon a sharp intake of breath," --Robert McCrum, The Guardian

"In "John le Carré The Biography" Mr. Sisman creates an insightful and highly readable portrait of a writer and a man who has often been as elusive and enigmatic as his fictional heroes." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"What could have been a cloying hagiography or a lurid warts-and-all exposé is instead a balanced, focused and compelling study of a man of depth and individuality... This biography expertly shows how distance, distrust and even disillusionment have informed Mr le Carré and influenced his bestselling fiction." --The Economist

"Loose threads are what fascinate most about Adam Sisman's biography of David Cornwell, who at 84 still writes and publishes knotty, brainy thrillers under the pseudonym John le Carré...Best of all, Sisman provides aficionados of le Carré's fiction with canny assessments of, and inside information on all his written work." --USA Today

"The major themes of Adam Sisman's meticulously researched John le Carré The Biography are twofold: the desperate search for love and artful self-invention through spying and writing fiction . . . . [the book] is unfailingly engrossing." --San Francisco Chronicle

"John le Carré The Biography is a candid and enthralling account of heartache, betrayal and adventure, and how hard facts helped create great fiction." --Minneapolis Star Tribune

Praise for An Honourable Englishman

"It's an excellent book: crisp and merciless yet funny and full of sympathy. . . .Mr. Sisman has an ideal biographical style: inquisitive and open, serious yet not severe. I'd read him on anyone." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"It's easy to recommend this superb biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003) as one of the best books of the year. . . . Every page offers high-order literary entertainment. . . . Detailed, funny and beautifully paced, An Honourable Englishman is one of the fullest and most intelligent biographies of a modern scholar ever written. Its readers are in for a treat." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"A marvelous evocation of man, place and time." --Norman Stone, The Wall Street Journal

"Excellent." --G.W. Bowersock, The New York Review of Books

"An excellent biography, thorough and measured." --Anthony Grafton, New Republic

"Superb . . . lucid and engaging." --Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest

"First-rate . . . Sisman's narrative of this disaster proceeds in tick-tock style and with all of the suspense of a detective novel. The tale is hard to read without cringing, but impossible to put down. The book as a whole is masterful." --Jeffrey Collins, The New Criterion

"Empathetic, illuminating." --Kirkus Reviews

"This superb biography romps through the life of one of 20th-century Britain's most notorious, controversial, and influential historian-journalists. . . . Using never-before-exploited resources, NBCC award-winner Sisman, the much-praised biographer of Trevor-Roper's fellow historian and competitor, A.J.P. Taylor, savors, as he makes us savor, a parade of juicy stories about his subject's life and career." --Publishers Weekly

"By miles the best biography I have read this year." --Max Hastings, author of Vietnam

"How lucky for [Hugh] Trevor-Roper, and for us, that the ideal biographer was here. It is impossible to praise Sisman's book too highly."--A. N. Wilson, The Observer

"This is a fine and serious biography which, on page after page, has made me laugh out loud." --Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph

"I was completely beguiled by Adam Sisman's An Honourable Englishman." --D. J. Taylor, New Statesman

"A veritable treasure trove for connoisseurs of academic intrigue, duplicity, arrogance and hubris." --Tom Devine, The Glasgow Herald

"Superb . . . surpassed anything I read this year." --James McGuire, Irish Times

Praise for The Friendship

"Sisman makes Wordsworth and Coleridge rise off the page and come fully alive." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Sisman succeeds in the difficult tasks of making friendship dramatic and the publication of poetry seem eventful." --The New York Times Book Review

"Invigorating . . . He captures, in the early part of his chronicle, the exhilaration of, so to speak, falling in friendship." --The Wall Street Journal

Praise for Boswell's Presumptuous Task

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

"Sisman draws inspiration from Boswell, exposing for the reader the inner mechanism of a masterpiece creation, and never hesitating to provide lurid details about Boswell himself." --Kirkus Reviews

"Extraordinarily gripping...Sisman skillfully takes us into the biographer's workshop." --The New York Review of Books

"Smart and very readable...a highly affecting portrait of Boswell the writer." --The New York Times Book Review

"[A] sparkling, companionable, and intelligent account...Sisman's approach is attractive and stimulating to anybody interested in the ethics of biography writing." --The Atlantic Monthly

"A biography as great as its subject." --The Wall Street Journal