“A tour de force.” —The Washington Post

In this poignant memoir, Charles Spencer recounts the trauma of being sent away from home at age eight to attend boarding school.

A Very Private School offers a clear-eyed, first-hand account of a culture of cruelty at the school Charles Spencer attended in his youth and provides important insights into an antiquated boarding system. Drawing on the memories of many of his schoolboy contemporaries, as well as his own letters and diaries from the time, he reflects on the hopelessness and abandonment he felt at aged eight, viscerally describing the intense pain of homesickness and the appalling inescapability of it all. Exploring the long-lasting impact of his experiences, Spencer presents a candid reckoning with his past and a reclamation of his childhood.

About the author(s)

Charles Spencer is the author of seven history books, including Sunday Times (London) bestsellers The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I’s DreamBlenheim: Battle for Europe (shortlisted for History Book of the Year, UK National Book Awards), and Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles ITo Catch a King: Charles II’s Great Escape was a Times (London) bestseller in 2017 and 2018. He also cohosts The Rabbit Hole Detectives podcast and has presented historical documentaries for television. He was awarded an MA in modern history from Magdalen College, Oxford University, before going on to work for the NBC News for a decade, as an on-air reporter for Today, and a presenter for the History Channel.


“A tour de force.”
Washington Post

“[Spencer] writes here with commanding fluency, evoking every last squeaky floorboard and V-neck sweater in forensic detail.”
Air Mail

"One of the best non-fiction books to read in 2024." 
—The Daily Mail

"A Very Private School is not a roll-call of
random cruelties but a complete and utterly dismal picture of institutionalised horror."
The New Stateseman

"[Spencer's] story is compelling and deeply disturbing. It is also beautifully written. Despite navigating deep and troubled waters, [his] prose is deft and lively. It is never melodramatic or overblown, even in the book’s darkest moments.."
—The Post and Courier

“A detailed piece of modern history, A Very Private School chronicles the damage done to its author and many of his contemporaries in what John Le Carré called our ‘disgraceful’ private boarding system. It is a vivid and enraging narrative of systemic brutality tolerated in silence, unprosecuted, whose consequences affect all our lives.”
—James Fox, New York Times bestselling co-author of Life

“This compelling, insightful, and heartbreaking book is an important boarding school case study. A moving must-read for all parents considering sending their children away for their education.”
—Philippa Perry, internationally bestselling author of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

"Moving and beautifully written, what Spencer’s courageous book reveals will be horribly familiar to the thousands of us who endured the same vile abuse in dozens of schools that were clones of each other. Most of us will go to our graves with the wounds unhealed."
—Louis de Bernières, Sunday Times bestselling author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin

"This is a powerful, unforgettable story of childhood trauma, and the dark secrets and savagery of the past, told with a searing honesty and clarity that is ultimately redemptive."
—Justine Picardie, internationally bestselling author of Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life