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This is Nigel Walker's fifteenth book, but the first personal one. Before the Great War his mother braved the early Trans-Siberian railway to marry a young vice-consul in China. Born and schooled there in Tientsin, the author was told by the family's Calvinist governess that he was predestined to damnation, which laid the foundations of his atheism. His father spoke Mandarin so well that he was assigned to act as ADC to the last Emperor after his flight from Peking; and the author remembers bowing to Pu Yi. The Japanese invasion forced the family to return to their native Edinburgh, where the children felt like foreigners. A good classical education there got him a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, where he got a First in the language part of Greats, but was not allowed to transfer to psychology because he was not a graduate. He became bored, and cheated himself of a research fellowship. He was lucky to get a job in the Scottish Office before being called up.
At Cambridge he succeeded Leon Radzinowicz at the Institute of Criminology, where funds were running short and teaching needed more attention. He insisted that graduate students must meet criminals by attending prison discussions of his Oxford type. After refusing an invitation from one college he was lucky to be made a Professorial Fellow of King's, which he found tolerant and congenial. He has salty things, however, to say about the Cambridge ethos. A whole chapter of the book is devoted to 'academic shenanigans'. More seriously he discusses myths and missions, but with his usual light-hearted astringency. The book has a foreword by his daughter, a clinical psychologist.