Sir Martin Gilbert (1936-2015) was a leading British historian and the author of more than eighty books. Specializing in 20th century history, he was the official biographer of Winston Churchill and wrote a best-selling eight-volume biography of the war leader’s life.
Born in London in 1936, Martin Gilbert was evacuated to Canada with his family at the beginning of World War II as part of the British government’s efforts to protect children from the brutal bombings of the Luftwaffe. He was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1962. He is the author of several definitive historical works examining the Holocaust, the First and Second World Wars, and the history of the 20th century.
In 1990, Gilbert was designated a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and was awarded a Knighthood in 1995. Oxford University awarded him a Doctorate in 1999. Gilbert was a sought-after speaker on Churchill, Jewish history, and the history of the 20th century, and traveled frequently to lecture at colleges, universities, and organizations around the world.
Sir Martin first met "Auntie Fori" in 1958,when he arrived in New Delhi with a letter of introduction from her son, a fellow Oxford student. Their friendship flourished for forty years through correspondence and visits to the capitals where her husband, the diplomat B. K. Nehru, was posted. Then, at her ninetieth birthday celebration in 1998, Auntie Fori told her "adopted nephew" that she was not of Indian birth but was actually Hungarian–and Jewish. She did not know what this Jewish identity involved, historically or spiritually, and she asked him to enlighten her.
In response, Sir Martin embarked on the series of letters that have been gathered to form this book, shaping each one as a concise, individually formed story. He presents Jewish history as the narrative expression–the timeline–of the Jewish faith, and the faith as it is informed by the history. Starting with Adam and Eve, he then brings us to Abraham and his descendants, who worshiped a God who repeatedly, and often dramatically, intervened in their lives. The stories of Genesis and Exodus lead seamlessly on to those of the eras when the land was ruled by the Israelite kings and then by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome–the Biblical and post-Biblical periods. In Sir Martin’s hands, these stories are rich in incident and achievement. He then traces the long history of the Jews in the Diaspora, ending with an unexpected visit to an outpost of Jewry in Anchorage, Alaska. Ranging through almost every country in the world–including China and India–he maintains a chronological structure, weaving in the history of other peoples and faiths, to give Auntie Fori, and us, a sense of the larger stage on which Jewish history has played out.
This volume starts with the outbreak of war in September 1939 and ends with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In it, Martin Gilbert reveals not only how each decision was reached, but what influences lay behind it, whether of individuals or of information reaching Churchill from the most secret source of British Intelligence.Drawing on a remarkable diversity of material, including the War Cabinet and other Government records, as well as Churchill’s own archive, the diaries and letters of his private secretariat, and the recollections of those who worked most closely with him, Martin Gilbert reveals the full extent of Churchill’s personal contribution to every aspect of the struggle.On the day Hitler invaded Poland, Churchill, aged sixty-four, had been out of office for ten years. Two days later, on 3 September 1939, he became First Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of British naval policy and at the center of war direction. On 10 May 1940 he became Prime Minister, leading his nation during a time of grave danger and setbacks. His first year and a half as Prime Minister included the Dunkirk evacuation, the fall of France, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the Battle of the Atlantic, the struggle in the Western Desert, and Hitler’s invasion of Russia.By the end of 1940, Britain under Churchill’s leadership had survived the onslaught and was making plans to continue the war against an enemy of unlimited ambition and ferocious will.One of Churchill’s inner circle said: "We who worked with Churchill every day of the war still saw at most a quarter of his daily tasks and worries." Martin Gilbert has pieced together the whole, setting in context much hitherto scattered and secret evidence, in order to give an intimate and fascinating account of the architect of Britain’s "finest hour."