CRB: The achievement of Martin Gilbert

Our friends at the Claremont Review of Books have just published their Winter number and, as usual, let me pick three reviews to preview for our readers. You can subscribe here for $19.95 and have immediate online access thrown in for free.

Tributes to Harry V. Jaffa lead off the new issue. Jaffa was the guiding spirit of the CRB; the CRB calls on a handful of his former students to pay tribute to their teacher. Jaffa died earlier this year on January 10.

Jaffa’s death was followed by Martin Gilbert’s on February 3. The current issue also carries the review/essay on a portion of Gilbert’s vast body of work by National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones, Gilbert’s long-time friend. Pryce-Jones’s review/essay is “The achievement of Martin Gilbert.”

Pryce-Jones’s essay must have been written before Gilbert’s death last month; the CRB will carry a formal tribute to Gilbert in the next issue by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, who worked under Gilbert as a research assistant on Gilbert’s Churchill biography in the 1970’s. (The Wall Street Journal published a brief tribute to Gilbert by Larry here.)

Gilbert was a monumentally prolific scholar. He wrote or edited nearly ninety books in a career spanning fifty years. Gilbert spent the greater part of his lengthy career concerned with two great topics. One was Zionism and twentieth-century Jewish history more generally; the other, of course, was the life, career, and statesmanship of Sir Winston Churchill, for whom Gilbert became the official biographer.

While his work on Jewish history is noteworthy, it is for his work on Churchill that Gilbert will be remembered. As Pryce-Jones writes: “Martin Gilbert’s…life’s work has been to establish just who Churchill was and what he had achieved. For generations to come, anyone weighing the great issues of the 20th century will have to take into account the mighty monument of an exemplary statesman that Martin Gilbert has erected.”

Pryce-Jones explains that in his work Gilbert was almost always the impartial observer, collecting and presenting facts with a fidelity to accuracy, representing the past as it had appeared to its participants. Pryce-Jones intimates that the limitations of this procedure may have diminished Gilbert’s work. Perhaps so great a man as Churchill is best served by the careful, painstaking, and finely presented recording of facts. The facts are in any event the ground on which our judgment must be formed. Drawing on his long relationship with Gilbert, Pryce-Jones weaves personal observations and recollections into this valuable assessment of his work.

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