Great Moments in Selective Quotation

Winston Churchill: we don't need another book about him.
Winston Churchill: we don't need another book about him.

Not too many years ago, Andrew Roberts was a respected historian. He specialized in a very old fashioned sort of history, writing sympathetic biographies of conservative British bigwigs like Lord Halifax and Lord Salisbury. However conventional they might be, these volumes were based on original archival research and graced by a fluid prose style. The Salisbury biography won the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.

 

But in the last decade Roberts has degenerated into something much worse, a glib tabloid historian who writes vapid books celebrating the British Empire and its American successor. In this incarnation, Roberts has won some worldly success even as his scholarly reputation has been tarnished. Both George Bush and Dick Cheney are said to admire his pop histories, finding in them consoling lessons about how Anglo-American civilization has a duty to bring order to those ungrateful natives who live in faraway lands.

 

In the August 21 & 28, 2009 number of the Times Literary Supplement, the historian Richard J. Evans has a devastating review of Roberts’ latest book, The Storm of War: A New History of Second World War. As Evans notes, the new book and some of Roberts’ other recent works can be categorized as a “hastily written potboilers, widely criticized by reviewers for their inadequacies and inaccuracies.”

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