Roberts, John M(orris) 1928-2003

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ROBERTS, John M(orris) 1928-2003


Born April 14, 1928, in Bath, Somerset, England; died May 30, 2003, in Roadwater, Somerset, England; son of Edward Henry and Dorothy Julia (Hallett) Roberts; married, 1960 (marriage ended); married Judith Cecilia Mary Armitage, August 29, 1964; children: one son, two daughters. Education: Keble College, Oxford, B.A. (with first class honors), 1949, M.A., 1952, D.Phil., 1953; attended Princeton University and Yale University, 1953-54. Hobbies and other interests: Music.


Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow and tutor, 1953-79, senior proctor, 1967-68, acting warden of Merton College, 1969-70, 1977-79; University of Southampton, Southampton, England, vice chancellor, 1979-85; Oxford University, warden of Merton College, 1985-94, honorary fellow of Merton College and Keble College, 1994—. Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, member, 1960-61; visiting professor at University of South Carolina, 1961, and Columbia University, 1963. Taunton School, member of council, 1964-99, president of council, 1978-84; Royal Literary Fund, member, 1975—; member of board of trustees, Doulton Educational Trust and Longman Educational Trust, both beginning 1978, and National Portrait Gallery, 1984-98; European University Institute, council member, 1980-88; U.S./U.K. Education Commission, member, 1981-88; British Council, board member, 1991-98. British Broadcasting Corp., member of board of governors, 1988-93. Military service: Performed national service, 1949-50.


Royal Historical Society (fellow; member of council, 1974-77), Groucho Club, Oxford and Cambridge Club, Grillions Club.


Commonwealth Fund fellow in the United States, 1953-54; fellow at Merton College and Keble College, Oxford University, 1980; D.Litt., University of Southampton, 1987; decorated cavalier, Order of Merit of Italy, 1991; decorated commander, Order of the British Empire, 1996.


(Editor) French Revolution Documents, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), Volume 1 (with R. C. Cobb): 1787-1792, Volume 2 (with John Hardman): 1792-5, 1966–73.

Europe, 1880-1945, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York, NY), 1967, 3rd edition, Longman (Harlow, Essex, England), 2001.

(General editor) Europe in the Twentieth Century, four volumes, including Volume 1: 1900-14, Volume 2: 1914-25, Taplinger (New York, NY), 1970.

The Mythology of the Secret Societies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1972.

(With others) Journey to the Modern World, CRM Books (Del Mar, CA), 1973.

The French Revolution, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1973, 2nd edition, 1997.

Revolution and Improvement: The Western World, 1775-1847, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1975.

History of the World, Volume 1: To 1500, Volume 2: Since 1500, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976, published as The Hutchinson History of the World, Hutchinson (London, England), 1976; also published in various editions as The Penguin History of the World and The Pelican History of the World.

An Illustrated World History, eight volumes, including Volume 1: The Earliest Men and Women, Volume 2: The World of Greece and Rome, Volume 4: Different Worlds, Volume 6: One World: Europe the Maker, Volume 7: One World: Disappearing Barriers, Volume 8: The Age of Upheaval, Penguin (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England), 1980–81, revised edition published as The Illustrated History of the World, Volume 1: Prehistory and the First Civilizations, Volume 2: Eastern Asia and Classical Greece, Volume 3: Rome and the Classical West, Volume 4: The Age of Diverging Traditions, Volume 5: The Far East and a New Europe, Volume 6: The Making of the European Age, Volume 7: The Age of Revolution, Volume 8: The European Empires, Volume 9: Emerging Powers, Volume 10: The New Global Era, Volume 11: Series Index, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999–2000.

The Triumph of the West (companion book to television series), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.

(And presenter) The Triumph of the West, (television series), British Broadcasting Corp., between 1985 and 1988, then Public Broadcasting Service.

Shorter History of the World, Helicon Publishing (Oxford, England), 1993, published as A Short History of the World, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1997.

A Concise History of the World, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

A History of Europe, Allen Lane (New York, NY), 1997, published as The Penguin History of Europe, Penguin (London, England), 1997.

Twentieth Century: The History of the World, 1901 to 2000, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Shorter works include "The Paris Commune from the Right," Longman (Harlow, Essex, England), 1973. General editor of "History of the Twentieth Century" series (also published as "Purnell's History of the Twentieth Century" series), Purnell (New York, NY); "Short Oxford History of the Modern World" series, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England); and "New Oxford History of England" series, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England). Contributor to books, including The European Nobility in the Eighteenth Century, A and C Black (London, England), 1953; Art and Ideas in Eighteenth-Century Italy, 1960; The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern Europe, 1996; and New Cambridge Modern History. Contributor to history journals. Editor, English Historical Review, 1967-77.

Roberts's writings have been translated into Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.


Historian John M. Roberts won acclaim as an author of studies that are broad in scope, yet concise and accessible. A History of Europe is a narrative work covering 2,500 years, with a focus on political developments. Roberts portrays the continent not as something monolithic, but as a diverse mix of people and cultures. He explains how these varied Europeans eventually found common ground in their beliefs in the Christian religion and economic progress and by the nineteenth century put Europe in a position to influence the rest of the world. Having chronicled the rise of European power, Roberts also discusses the decline, brought on by the twentieth century's two world wars and the growth of a global economy.

Critics differed on the virtues they saw in it. While Forbes magazine contributor Susan Adams perceived Roberts as having a "traditionalist worldview" and observed that A History of Europe "will displease the noisy revisionists who want to play down the role of Europe in making us what we are," some other reviewers saw no particular agenda in the book. "No icons are toppled here, no judgments upended, no secret pasts unearthed," Jacob Heilbrunn reported in the New Leader. "Kaiser Wilhelm is not transformed into a closet peacenik, nor Louis XVI into a model monarch. Roberts has produced a superb work of enviable sweep and clarity."

Economist contributor Raymond Carr noted Roberts's "gifts of compression and clear exposition." Carr elaborated, "Within a narrative framework he ranges from the role of cattle in Minoan society to the influence of Freud as questioning 'the very foundations of liberal civilization.' His cardinal virtue is his constant awareness that events in the past were once in the future. Luther could not foresee that the Latin theses he nailed to a door in 1517 would finally destroy the unity of Christendom. Nobody in 1914 foresaw the horrors of a war that would undermine the self-confidence of Europe." Heilbrunn felt that "one of the things that Roberts' book does so well is make us conscious of Europe's malleability." The author, he noted, "does not believe that Europe's taking the lead was the result of a master plan. On the contrary, he says 'it was indeed a continuing and very visible characteristic of the European economic reconstruction of the world that it was so unplanned and casual.'"

There has now been another reconstruction; as Carr put it, "In a global economy, in which decisions in Tokyo affected unemployment in Wales, Europe could no longer be considered as an autonomous unit with a distinct history. 'Europe's work,' in Mr. Roberts's view, 'is done.'" And in Forbes, Adams quoted Roberts as saying, "In the middle of the 19th century you could look at and write about European history and take very little interest in what was going on in any other part of the world. Now I wake up in the morning and the first thing I hear on my radio on the BBC is that after an absolutely disastrous day on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the London exchange has started falling. No longer can you put a line around this topic, 'European history,' as something separate."



Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 1999, review of Twentieth Century: The History of the World, 1901-2000, p. 20.

Economist, November 16, 1996, Raymond Carr, review of A History of Europe, p. S3; December 4, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 5.

Forbes, February 9, 1998, Susan Adams, review of A History of Europe, p. 170.

Journal of Negro History, summer, 2000, Jacob U. Gordon, review of Twentieth Century, p. 136.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 1727.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 1999, review of The Penguin History of Europe, p. 35.

Library Journal, November 15, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 82.

New Leader, December 29, 1997, Jacob Heilbrunn, review of A History of Europe, p. 23.

New Statesman, December 6, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 77.

Publishers Weekly, November 29, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 62.

Times Literary Supplement, October 22, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. 14.

Wall Street Journal, Central Edition, December 28, 1999, review of Twentieth Century, p. A16.


Inquirer:, (February 3, 2002), Amadis Ma. Guerrero, review of Twentieth Century.*