Sir Martin's Inspiration for Churchill & Jewish History
In an 13 October 2001 interview in The Telegraph Magazine by Robert Chesshyre, “Magnificent Obsessions” Martin discussed his interests and his work, and how they came together. Chesshyre writes:
“... rather than Gilbert's Jewish roots, it was Churchill's son Randolph, who fired his interest in Jewish history. In 1962, Gilbert, then a junior research fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, joined Randolph to work on the official life of Churchill. …
“In 1967, in the middle of the Six Day War, Gilbert was woken by a phone call. It was Randolph: 'We're writing about the war.' 'I know,' said Gilbert, who was then researching Winston's First World War career, and put the phone down. It rang again. 'Not that war, the new war,' Randolph bellowed. He demanded 5,000 words on the history of the Jews from Moses to Nasser. 'Can we discuss it on Thursday?' asked the sleepy researcher. 'No. You'll bring 5,000 words with you, finished, on Thursday.'
“'Was that what introduced you to Jewish history?'
“'That was the moment. I like to think that Randolph was responsible.'”
Sir Martin's Book Club Choice
In Search of Churchill In memory of the one-year anniversary of
Sir Martin's death, 3 February 2015,
we have chosen his most personal and most
autobiographical book, In Search of Churchill, the story of how Martin came to take over from
Randolph to become the Churchill Official Biographer.
Routledge Atlas of Jewish History In honour of the other great loves
in Sir Martin's life: history, geography, and the Jews, The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History, first published in 1969 and updated every few years, grew from that assignment of “5,000 words from Moses to Nasser”
If I had to describe Martin in one word it would be this: passion. Martin was passionate about life. He was passionate about the search for what he called “true history” which he likened to unravelling clues to solve a mystery.
He was passionate about standing at the site where history had unfolded. He was passionate about sharing his discoveries, with his family and friends, with his teachers and his students, with his readers and his audiences. He squeezed every moment out of life with his energy and enthusiasm. He never grew old.
In this month when we remember what Sir Martin accomplished, what he left for us both in his work and by inspiration with his example of modesty, generosity, scholarship, humanity and pure love of life, I have chosen books that in particular show his passion.
My employment with Randolph Churchill began in October 1962, on my twenty-sixth birthday. Given Randolph’s reputation for drink and anger, my friends and I assumed that my engagement would be of short duration. I was still there, as part of his team of ‘young gentlemen’, or ‘ghosts’, four and a half years later.
Randolph made many enemies by his often violent conduct, but he could be kind, considerate and generous. On my first working day at Stour, which was also my twenty-sixth birthday, he somewhat shyly handed me a gift: a copy of his book Fifteen Famous English Homes, inscribed ‘Martin Gilbert from Randolph S. Churchill’. A month later he gave me another of his books, The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden, inscribed ‘Martin from Randolph’. I had been accepted as part of his team.