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The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield
History, Science and God


  • Date Published: October 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107411425

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About the Authors
  • Once recalled only for The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) and Christianity and History (1949), Sir Herbert Butterfield's contribution to western culture has undergone an astonishing revaluation over the past twenty years. What has been left out of this reappraisal is the man himself. Yet the force of Butterfield's writings is weakened without some knowledge of the man behind them: his temperament, contexts and personal torments. Previous authors have been unable to supply a rounded portrait for lack of available material, particularly a dearth of sources for the crucial period before the outbreak of war in 1939. Michael Bentley's original, startling 2011 biography draws on sources never seen before. They enable him to present a new Butterfield, one deeply troubled by self-doubt, driven by an urgent sexuality and plagued by an unending tension between history, science and God in a mind as hard and cynical as it was loving and charitable.

    • The first biography of the celebrated historian Sir Herbert Butterfield, written with exclusive access to private sources
    • A new, systematic evaluation of Butterfield's responses to the Third Reich and Marxism
    • Crucial reading for historians, theologians and scholars of international relations
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Review of the hardback: 'An exceptional book … This is a very fine work of historical scholarship. If Cambridge University Press books are available in heaven (could it be heaven without them?) then Herbert Butterfield should feel vindicated, and deeply grateful for such a remarkable biographer.' Reform Magazine

    Review of the hardback: 'Michael Bentley has written a fascinating study of Herbert Butterfield.' Jonathan Haslam, The Guardian

    Review of the hardback: '… Bentley displays exemplary patience, tact and imagination in reconstructing his subject's personality and thinking, as much from scrappy and inconclusive jottings as from conventional records such as letters and diaries.' The Times Literary Supplement

    Review of the hardback: 'Butterfield was a great figure during his lifetime: Regius Professor of History, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Master of Peterhouse … Bentley provides a sympathetic although not uncritical account of Butterfield's life, a gallant attempt to resurrect a historian most of whose books will never be opened again.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

    Review of the hardback: '[Professor] Bentley excels in reconstructing Butterfield's contributions to the history of science, to historiography and to the relationship among belief, analysis and the writing of history by showing how all three influenced one another … Bentley has done the reputation of Butterfield the man and the writer on history good service and has given us a portrait that is full of understanding.' Contemporary Review

    Review of the hardback: 'Butterfield's 'thought' is expertly explored, especially in the unsignposted decade after his Whig Interpretation of History (1931).' Church Times

    Review of the hardback: 'Definitive.' Methodist Recorder

    '… exceptionally illuminating new biography …' Journal of British Studies

    '… an excellent, revealing, entertaining and well-written account of one of the twentieth century's major historians.' Frank A. J. L. James, The British Journal for the History of Science

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107411425
    • length: 398 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.53kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Private Intellectual, 1900–45:
    1. Bronte country
    2. Peterhouse and Princeton
    3. Love, marriage and 'the sex question'
    4. Thinking man's historian
    5. European civilisation and the Third Reich
    6. Wartime ambiguities
    Part II. Contours of an Original Mind:
    7. Science
    8. God
    9. History
    Part III. Public Intellectual, 1945–79:
    10. Height of his powers
    11. From history to historiography
    12. From diplomatic history to international relations
    13. From autumn to winter.

  • Author

    Michael Bentley, University of St Andrews, Scotland

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