Andrew Roberts is the social historian





...Roberts, 46, is widely hailed as the most brilliant historian of his generation and he is unstoppably prolific. His latest work, The Storm of War, is already being hailed as a masterpiece by some critics. “My agent just rang to say my book is number one on the Amazon history bestseller list. It's very exciting. It's the first time I have had a proper selling book on my hands. The bestselling Andrew Roberts'— wouldn't that be wonderful?”

The Storm of War is comprehensive, compelling and full of vivid human detail drawing on private archives. The German generals could have won the war, argues Roberts, if they didn't have constant ideological and political demands placed on them by Hitler and if they had fought the war as soldiers rather than Nazis. The Holocaust deprived them of a labour force and of the scientists who could have made the nuclear bomb.

Roberts's book is subtitled A New History of the Second World War with characteristic aplomb. As if it needs retelling. But Roberts believes it does require retelling “especially when writing bottom-up history. In British attics there is enough material for hundreds more histories of the Second World War.”

Roberts became a historian only by default. After Cranleigh (“I was bullied, I was too cocky”) and Cambridge he joined Robert Fleming but realised that he was ill-suited to banking because he was innumerate. A friend suggested he write a biography of Lord Halifax and his career took off.

Eminent Churchillians followed and a series of other acclaimed books including A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900 and Lord Salisbury, which he believes to be his masterpiece. “I have met every single person who has read the book. It didn't sell more than a couple of thousand.”

He wrote Lord Salisbury in a frenzied six weeks after six years of research. Writing The Storm of War was a bit more of a slog. “I did Master and Commanders and The Storm of War at the same time, as the subjects overlapped. The research took two-and-three-quarter years and then I had 18 months to write them.

I go off to my aunt's farmhouse in Dordogne, which is very basic indeed. It doesn't have television, it doesn't have a telephone, it doesn't have a swimming pool. I averaged 17 hours' writing a day. I didn't see anybody for a 10-day period. It does get incredibly lonely and you end up talking to yourself.”

These long periods of isolation acount for his renowned love of socialising. Roberts attends up to five parties a night, leading me to wonder whether like his hero Winston Churchill he has a body double. “I don't deny it's a psychological disorder — the need to go to lots of parties.

It's a lonely task being a writer when you're stuck in archives and libraries. Susan says I don't have to but there is a gnawing feeling that if I don't I won't have anything amusing to tell my diary. I start work here between 5.30 and 6.30 in the morning however bad the hangover.”

Roberts is friends with David Cameron, who once famously saved him from a jellyfish on holiday. “I've known him for a long time but there is no way I am one of his best friends. And the idea that because we know one another socially I influence his political thinking is nonsense.

He is a tough man who knows what he wants and how he's going to get it. If people stand in his way he will get rid of them. You need to be a good butcher to be a good PM. I think he will be pretty ruthless as a prime minster and, therefore, one of the really effective ones.” Has Cameron been ruthless enough already? “No, he could have been an awful lot more ruthless over the expenses scandal.”

Roberts, an unavowed apologist for the Iraq war, believes all parties could be more ruthless on Afghanistan. "I just wish they would mention how many Taliban get killed. This constant reference to British deaths is understandable but I think it is undermining the support for the war that we don't talk about the successes. We should be talking abut the hundreds of enemy troops who have been killed, captured or turned. Nobody seems to want to do it." ...


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