For two hundred years Oxford and Cambridge universities were home to some of Britain's greatest teachers and intellects, each forming the minds of the passing generations of students and influencing the thinking and practice of university learning throughout the country and the world. In this entertaining, informative book, Noel Annan describes the great dons in all their glory and eccentricities: who they were, what they were like, why they mattered, and what their legacy is. Written with love and wisdom, the great minds of the past - figures such as John Henry Newman, John Sparrow, and Isaiah Berlin - are brought alive. In addition, Annan's often quoted article "The Intellectual Aristocracy" is included in this book. The book describes the significance of the dons and their important role in shaping higher education - at a time when the nature of learning is ever more the subject of dissension and uncertainty.
Noel Annan (1916-2000) was elected provost of King's College, Cambridge, at age thirty-nine and went on to become the first full-time vice-chancellor of the University of London. He is perhaps best known for his book Our Age and for his often-quoted article "The Intellectual Aristocracy," reprinted here.