The Unexpected Professor: an Oxford Life in Books – John Carey

SBN: 9780571310920
Australian Pub.: May 2014
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Non Fiction
Subject: Autobiography

RRP $35.00  Hardcover. 334 pages.


When you read the foreword of an Oxford don’s memoir and he tells you that a friend had suggested to him he should write a history of English Literature but he soon realised that that would involve far too much work (and besides, ‘it’s all on the internet already’) and instead he decides to just write an account of how he came to become involved in the English Literature field, you know it’s going to be fun.

John Carey’s memoir relates his childhood, beginning in the dark days of World War II, and his early experiences with his education, National Service and his scholarship to Oxford – often with many hilarious anecdotes.  Reading this was one of those occasions when you suddenly guffaw and your partner looks at you quizzically (raising an eyebrow in the way that Italians seem to do so well) and you just have to read out the passage to explain!

Carey is Emeritus Professor at Oxford and at age 40 was appointed to Oxford’s oldest English Literature professorship. To read about dinners with such illustrious names as Tolkien, Lewis and Auden makes one seethe with envy but Carey is no traditionalist nor a respecter of ‘Names’ for names’ sake.  He is ruthless about depicting the snobberies and archaic rituals of 50s Oxbridge academia.

Often viewed askance for his outspokenness and unconventional philosophies, Carey takes us on a journey that is aimed purely at booklovers.  For forty years he reviewed books for The Sunday Times in addition to his workload as a professor and a writer. He has also presented on radio and tv, and been on the judging panel for the Booker/Man Booker prizes. This is essentially a gentle introduction to the glory of the greatest works in English literature, very accessible to any reader who finds joy in reading.

Other books by Carey include works about Donne,  Dickens, Thackeray and William Golding – find them here.



3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Review: The Unexpected Professor – John Carey

  2. Hi Sue, sounds interesting. I’m compiling a list of non-fiction reads for yrs 7 – 9, do you think any girls of this age would this interesting.


  3. Hi Lesley
    While there is nothing untoward in this book for that age group, I think it would probably appeal to onlythose who are really interested in English Literature. It is really intended for an older age group.

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