Martin Gilbert

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The Right Honourable Sir
Martin Gilbert
Gilbert (centre) being awarded Hon. Doctor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel
Born Martin John Gilbert
(1936-10-25)25 October 1936
London, United Kingdom
Died 3 February 2015(2015-02-03) (aged 78)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Education Highgate School
Magdalen College, Oxford
St Antony's College, Oxford.
Occupation Historian
Known for Winston Churchill's official biography
Twentieth century history
Jewish history

Sir Martin Gilbert, CBE, FRSL (25 October 1936 – 3 February 2015)[1] was a British historian and honorary Fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford. He was the author of eighty-eight books, including works on Winston Churchill, the 20th century, and Jewish history.

Early life

Gilbert was born in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert;[2] all four of his grandparents had been born in Tsarist Russia.[3] Nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Canada as part of the British efforts to safeguard children. Vivid memories of the transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his curiosity about the war in later years.[1]

After the war he attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by T N Fox,[3] and then completed two years of National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1960 with a first-class BA in modern history.[2] One of his tutors at Oxford was A.J.P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony's College, Oxford.


Historian and academic

After two years of postgraduate work, Gilbert was approached by Randolph Churchill to assist his work on a biography of his father, Sir Winston Churchill. That same year, 1962, Gilbert was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and he spent the next few years combining his own research projects in Oxford with being part of Randolph's research team in Suffolk, who were working on the first two volumes of the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Gilbert was commissioned to take over the task, completing the remaining six main volumes of the biography.

Gilbert spent the next 20 years on the Churchill project, publishing a number of other books throughout the time. Each main volume of the biography is accompanied by two or three volumes of documents, and so the biography currently runs to 26 volumes (over 25,000 pages), with another 7 document volumes still planned. Michael Foot, reviewing a volume of Gilbert's biography of Churchill in the New Statesman in 1971, praised his meticulous scholarship and wrote: "Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill's biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice."

In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled some historical atlases. His other major works include a definitive single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as the single-volume histories The First World War and The Second World War. He also wrote a three-volume series called A History of the Twentieth Century. Gilbert described himself as an "archival historian" who made extensive use of primary sources in his work. Interviewed by the BBC on the subject of Holocaust research, Gilbert said he believes that the "tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history."[4] He wrote the foreword to Denis Avey's The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, which he described as "a most important book" and stated that Avey's "description of Buna-Monowitz is stark, and true."[5] The accuracy of certain aspects of Avey's account have subsequently been challenged.[6][7]

By the 1980s Gilbert's academic attention had also turned towards the Refusenik movement in the Soviet Union.[8] Gilbert authored Jews of Hope: The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today (1984) and Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986), and he presented on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Movement in a variety of contexts, ranging from large forums such as formal representation before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights [9] to smaller forums such as an educational slideshow for the general public on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Information Centre .[10]

In 1995, Gilbert he retired as a Fellow of Merton College but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999[11] he was awarded the D.Litt. degree by Oxford "for the totality of his published work".[12] In 2000 he received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. From 2002, he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, and between 2006 and 2007 he was a Professor in the History department at the University of Western Ontario. In October 2008, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill College.

Public service

Gilbert was appointed in June 2009 as a member of the British government's inquiry into the Iraq War (headed by Sir John Chilcot). His appointment to this inquiry was criticised in parliament by William Hague, Clare Short, and George Galloway on the basis of skepticism over his neutrality, Gilbert having written in 2004 that George W. Bush and Tony Blair may in the future be esteemed to the same degree as Roosevelt and Churchill.[13][14] In an article for The Independent on Sunday published in November 2009, Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya, objected to the presence of Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman on the committee partly because of their Jewish background and Gilbert's Zionist sympathies.[15] In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles's attack as being motivated by antisemitism.[16]

As the Iraq inquiry was to be conducted on Privy Council terms, Gilbert (who was not previously a Privy Counsellor) was appointed to the Council in order to participate.[17]

Praise and criticism

Many[who?] laud Gilbert's books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship and his clear and objective presentation of complex events.[18] His book on World War I is described as a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts—domestic, diplomatic, military—for "a stunning achievement of research and storytelling."[19] Catholic sources describe him as a "fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts."[20]

Gilbert's portrayal of Churchill's supportive attitudes to Jews (in his book Churchill and the Jews) has been criticised, for example, by Piers Brendon.[21] Also, Tom Segev writes that, although Gilbert's book The Story of Israel is written with "encyclopedic clarity," it suffers by the absence of figures from Arab sources.[22]

Honours and awards

In 1990, Gilbert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1995, he was awarded a Knighthood "for services to British history and international relations".[23] In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen.[24][page needed] The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School, where he was a pupil, was opened on 6 May 2014 by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[25] "I know he helped Lady Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, but he also helped me a great deal with his insights into history," said Brown. "I know he advised Harold Wilson even before them, but at every point Martin was available and he wanted to believe that the best outcomes were possible. A genuine humanitarian, someone whose writing of history taught him we could always do better in the future if we are able to learn the lessons of history."[26]

Honorary degrees

Gilbert received Honorary Degrees from several Universities. These include:

Country Date School Degree
Canada 4 June 2003 University of Western Ontario Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [27]
Israel 2011 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Doctorate

Personal life

In 1963, he married Helen Constance Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. He had two sons with his second wife, Susan Sacher, whom he married in 1974. From 2005, he was married to the Holocaust historian Esther Gilbert, née Goldberg.[2] Gilbert described himself as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist.[28]


In March 2012, while on a trip to Jerusalem, Gilbert developed a heart arrhythmia from which he never recovered.[29] He died in London aged 78.[30]

Gilbert's death was announced on 4 February 2015 by Sir John Chilcot. Giving evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about delays in the publication of the report of the Iraq Inquiry, Chilcot reported that Gilbert had died the previous night following a long illness.[31][32][33]

Titles from birth to death

  • Birth–1990: Mr Martin Gilbert
  • 1990–1995: Mr Martin Gilbert CBE
  • 1995–2009: Sir Martin Gilbert CBE
  • 2009–death: The Rt Hon Sir Martin Gilbert CBE


Biography of Winston Churchill

Volumes one and two were written by Churchill's son Randolph Churchill, who also edited the two companions to volume one. Gilbert's first work as official biographer was to supervise the posthumous publication of the three companions to volume two, but these were published in Randolph Churchill's name, and indeed, Randolph had already compiled most of the material in his lifetime. In 2008, Gilbert announced that the job of publishing the remaining companion volumes had been taken over by the Hillsdale Press, and the first of these appeared in 2014. The Hillsdale Press had already reprinted the complete biography in eight volumes and the sixteen published companion volumes, as a series titled "The Churchill Documents", so that the volume of 2014 became the seventeenth instalment of this series.

  • Gilbert, Martin (1971a), Winston S Churchill, Three: The Challenge of War: 1914–1916<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1975), Winston S Churchill, Four: The Stricken World 1917–1922<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1979a), Winston S Churchill, Five: Prophet of Truth 1922–1939<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1983), Winston S Churchill, Six: Finest Hour 1939–1941<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1986a), Winston S Churchill, Seven: Road to Victory 1941–1945<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1988), Winston S Churchill, Eight: Never Despair 1945–1965<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Companion volumes

  • Gilbert, Martin (1972a), Winston S Churchill, Three, Documents<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (in two volumes)
  • —— (1977a), Winston S Churchill, Four, Documents<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (in three volumes)
  • —— (1979b), Winston S Churchill, The Exchequer Years, 1922–1929, Documents<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1981a), Winston S Churchill, The Wilderness Years, 1929–1935, Documents<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1982a), Winston S Churchill, The Coming of War, 1936–1939, Documents<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1993a), The Churchill War Papers, One: Winston S Churchill, 'At The Admiralty': September 1939 – May 1940<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1995a), The Churchill War Papers, Two: Winston S Churchill, 'Never Surrender': May – December 1940<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2000a), The Churchill War Papers, Three: Winston S Churchill, 'The Ever-Widening War': 1941<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2014), The Churchill Documents, Seventeen: Testing Times: 1942<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Other books on Winston Churchill

  • Gilbert, Martin (1966a), Winston Churchill<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, a short biography for use in schools
  • —— (1967), Churchill: Great Lives Observed<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1974a), Churchill: A Photographic Portrait<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1979c), Churchill: An Illustrated Biography<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1981b), Churchill's Political Philosophy<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1981c), Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1991), Churchill, A Life<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1994), In Search of Churchill<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin, ed. (1997), Winston Churchill and Emery Reves, Correspondence 1937–1964<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin (2003a), Churchill at War: His 'Finest Hour' in Photographs, 1940–1945<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2004a), Continue to Pester, Nag and Bite<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, retitled Winston Churchill’s War Leadership
  • —— (2005), Churchill and America<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2006a), Will of the People<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2007), Churchill and the Jews<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2012), Churchill: The Power of Words<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Other biographies and history books

  • Gilbert, Martin, ed. (1964), Britain and Germany Between the Wars<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ———; Gott, Richard (1965), The Appeasers<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin (1965a), The European Powers 1900–1945<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin, ed. (1965b), Plough My Own Furrow: The Life of Lord Allen of Hurtwood<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin (1965c), Recent History Atlas, 1860–1960<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1966b), The Roots of Appeasement<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gilbert, Martin, ed. (1966c), Servant of India<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, A Study of Imperial Rule in India from 1905–1910 as told through the correspondence and diaries of Sir James Dunlop-Smith, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India
  • ———, ed. (1968a), Lloyd George: Great Lives Observed<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>}
  • Gilbert, Martin (1968b), British History Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1968c), American History Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1969), Jewish History Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1970), The Second World War<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, for use in schools
  • —— (1971b), First World War Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1972b), Russian History Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1973), Sir Horace Rumbold: Portrait of a Diplomat, 1869–1941<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1974b), The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1976a), The Jews of Arab Lands: Their History in Maps<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1976b), The Jews of Russia: Their History in Maps and Photographs<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1977b), Jerusalem Illustrated History Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1978a), Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish Statehood<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1978b), The Holocaust, Maps and Photographs<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, for use in schools
  • —— (1979d), Final Journey: The Fate of the Jews of Nazi Europe<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1979e), Children's Illustrated Bible Atlas<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1981d), Auschwitz and the Allies<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1982b), Atlas of the Holocaust<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1984), Jews of Hope, The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1985), Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1986b), The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1986c), Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1989), The Second World War<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1993b), Atlas of British Charities<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1995b), The Day the War Ended: May 8, 1945<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1996a), Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1996b), The Boys, Triumph Over Adversity<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2002), The First World War<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1997b), A History of the Twentieth Century, One: 1900–1933<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1997c), Holocaust Journey: Travelling in Search of the Past<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1998), Israel: a history, Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-40401-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1999a), A History of the Twentieth Century, Two, 1933–1951<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (1999b), A History of the Twentieth Century, Three, 1952–1999<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2000b), Never Again: A History of the Holocaust<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2001a), From The Ends of the Earth: The Jews in the Twentieth Century<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2001b), History of the Twentieth Century<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, condensed version of his three volume history
  • —— (2002a), Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and their Faith<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2002b), The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2003b), Geistliche als Retter – auch eine Lehre aus dem Holocaust (in German), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, ISBN 978-3-16-148229-8 Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help) <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2004b), D-Day<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2006b), Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2006c), The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2008), The Story of Israel<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2009), Atlas of the Second World War<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • —— (2010), In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-16715-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "The Papers of Sir Martin Gilbert", Janus, UK: CAM<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Sir Martin Gilbert, historian – obituary", Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2015
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  18. Book Reviews: Oxford Mail, Library Journal, Middle East Review, Booklist Chicago, British Book News, Society of University Cartographers Bulletin, The Diplomatist, Jewish Chronicle, Scunthrope Evening Telegraph, Glasgow Jewish Echo, Geographical Magazine, Martin Gilbert<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Descriptions", Library thing<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "A Rare Kind of Historian", Catholic exchange, 2008-02-01<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  22. "Sir Martin's coffee-table book", Ha’aretz, IL, Aug 7, 2008<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 54066. pp. 1–2. 16 June 1995. Retrieved 17 July 2008.
  24. Gilbert 2003b.
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  30. "Martin Gilbert, preeminent Churchill biographer and Holocaust historian, dies". The Washington Post. 4 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  33. Doherty, Rosa (4 February 2015). "Historian Sir Martin Gilbert dies at 78". The Jewish Chronicle. London. Retrieved 4 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links