Peter Brown began his career with a book about Augustine of Hippo, the author of what is thought to be the West’s first autobiography. It’s fitting that Brown caps his career with an autobiography of his own. Brown’s is not a spiritual confession but an intellectual and professional one, as his title, Journeys of the Mind, suggests. Yet Brown isn’t using the term “journeys” in an exclusively metaphorical sense. Geography plays a key role throughout, as travel—from Ireland to the Sudan to Oxford, from Italy to Persia—shapes and broadens his mind as much as any colleague or book.

Born in Dublin in 1935, Brown caught a glimpse, as a boy, of the British Empire in its heyday. The empire, after the addition of formerly Ottoman “mandates,” had reached its largest extent. As the son of a senior railway engineer in...


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