Robert Conquest @ 95

by Andrew Stuttaford

It would be a mistake to let today go by without mentioning that it is the 95th birthday of historian (a description that does not do justice to the range of his achievements) Robert Conquest.

From a 2003 Guardian profile:

When [Conquest’s] history of Stalin’s purges, The Great Terror, was republished after the fall of communism, his American publisher asked him to suggest a new title. He came up with “I told you so, you ******* fools”.

His reputation as a scholar rests on the fact that this is exactly what he had done. He was Solzhenytsin before Solzhenytsin, in the phrase of Timothy Garton Ash.

The Great Terror came out in 1968, four years before the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, and it became, Garton Ash says, “a fixture in the political imagination of anybody thinking about communism”. One way or another, Conquest has spent nearly 60 years exposing the crimes and follies of communism.

But alongside this he has been a poet, writing steadily into his 80s, a full-time cold warrior in the Foreign Office, an anthologist of science fiction, and a gifted author of limericks, many of the latter collected in his friend Kingsley Amis’s New Oxford Book of Light Verse…

He is also the boldest theorist of the pro-American lobby in British politics. He would like Britain to withdraw from the EU and form part of a much looser association of English-speaking nations, known as the “Anglosphere”.

Happy birthday, Mr. Conquest.