Cohn, Norman 1915–2007

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Cohn, Norman 1915–2007

(Norman Rufus Cohn)


See index for CA sketch: Born January 12, 1915, in London, England; died of generative heart disease, July 31, 2007, in Cambridge, England. Historian, linguist, educator, and author. Cohn's wide-ranging, award-winning research explored what he himself described as a single theme: a recurring human compulsion to save the world and open the door to paradise by eradicating a group of people, often a marginalized and relatively helpless group of outsiders, suspected of causing the ills of their day. This compulsion, he believed, consumed the downtrodden masses from ancient times to the present day, whether the trigger was religious, political, or economic, and it wreaked the most damage under the direction of a charismatic leader convinced of his own infallibility. Cohn saw distinct parallels between medieval apocalyptic movements that tended to gain strength at the approach of a millennium and the totalitarian political regimes of the twentieth century. His historical research was grounded in rigorous training in ancient and modern languages, his background as the child of a religiously mixed marriage, and his post-World War II encounters with Jewish and Soviet refugees of war and genocide. Cohn taught French and history at various British universities, serving most notably as the Astor-Wolfson professor of History at the University of Sussex, where he also directed the university's Columbus Centre for research on genocide and persecution. He was best known, however, for his influential studies of sects and messianic movements. Cohn was awarded the Cleveland Foundation's Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in race relations for Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World-Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1966), a surprise best seller given its scholarly tone. Cohn's other writings include The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957), Europe's Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by theGreat Witch-Hunt (1975), Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (1993), and Noah's Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (1996).



Chicago Tribune, August 28, 2007, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2007, p. B15.

New York Times, August 27, 2007, p. A19.

Times (London, England), August 23, 2007, p. 69.