Aristo Antics

A Book of Secrets
Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers
Michael Holroyd
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, 272 pp.

At one point in the course of the travels he undertook for this extraordinary and all-but-unclassifiable book, Michael Holroyd tells us of apologizing to an Italian host for wasting his time recounting the lives of long-dead English aristocrats. His host asserts that on the contrary, there is nothing he likes better—that “the very sound of these aristocratic names is music to his ears.” Such delight might seem to be a prerequisite for enjoying A Book of Secrets...

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.