Gilbert, Sir Martin

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GILBERT, SIR MARTIN (1936– ), British historian. Born in London, the son of a jeweler, Gilbert was educated at High-gate School and Magdalen College, Oxford. His earliest work concerned British foreign policy in the 1930s, which in 1962 brought him into contact with Randolph Churchill. Between 1962 and 1968 he worked as research assistant to Randolph Churchill on the official biography of Sir Winston Churchill. From 1968 Gilbert was the sole author of what became the most voluminous biography ever written, totaling over nine million words and running to six volumes plus an as yet unfinished set of companion volumes containing documents. Appointed a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1962, Gilbert remained on an extended sabbatical while engaged in the biography; during this time he also produced a series of major studies on the creation of the State of Israel, the Holocaust, and World War ii. A tireless worker on behalf of Soviet Jewry, he was at one time writing over a dozen letters a day to "refuseniks" and became personally known to many Russian Jews during his frequent visits to the U.S.S.R. He has written on the situation of Soviet Jewry and authored a biography of Anatoly Shcharansky. In 1987 he was a non-governmental representative on the u.n. Commission on Human Rights (43rd session) in Geneva. He is a highly popular author, although some historians have criticized his preference for pure narrative history. He has defended his choice to abstain from judgments and has said that "by what you select you make plain your views." Volume 6 of the Churchill biography, Finest Hour, 1939–41, won the 1983 Wolfson Award. In 1988 he was awarded the Ka-Zetnik Prize for Literature by Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation. Since 1978 Gilbert has been a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has homes in London and Jerusalem.

In addition to the Churchill biography, completed in 1988, Gilbert's publications include The Appeasers (with Richard Gott; 1963);The European Powers 1900–45 (1965);The Roots of Appeasement (1966);Exile and Return: A Study of the Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978); Churchill: A Photographic Portrait (1974);Churchill's Political Philosophy (1981); Auschwitz and the Allies (1981);The Jews of Hope: The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today (1984); Jerusalem, Rebirth of a City (1985);Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986);The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy (1986);Second World War (1989); three edited collections of documents; and 12 historical atlases including Atlas of Jewish History and Atlas of the Holocaust. More recently, he completed a three-volume history of the 20th century and The Righteous (2003). Gilbert received a knighthood in 1995.

[David Cesarani]