Robert Conquest (left) receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Aretha Franklin (middle) and Alan Greenspan (right) at the White House, November 2005
|Born||George Robert Acworth Conquest
15 July 1917
Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England
|Alma mater||Magdalen College, Oxford|
|Notable work(s)||The Great Terror: Stalin's Purges of the 1930s|
|Spouse(s)||Joan Watkins (m. 1942–1948)
Tatiana Mihailova (m. 1948–1962)
Caroleen MacFarlane (m. 1964–1978)
Elizabeth Neece Wingate (m. 1979)
|Awards||See Awards and Honors|
George Robert Acworth Conquest, CMG (born 15 July 1917) — known as Robert Conquest — is an Anglo-American historian and poet best known for his influential works of Soviet history which include The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purges of the 1930s (1968, 4th ed., 2008). He is currently a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Early career 
Conquest was born in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, the son of an American of independent means and an English mother. His father served in an American Ambulance Service unit with the French Army in World War I, being awarded the Croix de Guerre with silver star in 1916. Conquest was educated at Winchester College, the University of Grenoble, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner in modern history and took his bachelor's and master's degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and his doctorate in Soviet history.
In 1937, after studying at the University of Grenoble, Conquest went up to Oxford, joining both the Carlton Club and, as an 'open' member, the Communist Party of Great Britain. Fellow members included Denis Healey and Philip Toynbee.
When World War II broke out, Conquest joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In 1942, he married Joan Watkins, with whom he had two sons. In 1943, he was posted to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, where he studied Bulgarian for four months.
In 1944, Conquest was posted to Bulgaria as a liaison officer to the Bulgarian forces fighting under Soviet command, attached to the Third Ukrainian Front, and then to the Allied Control Commission. There, he met Tatiana Mihailova, who later became his second wife. At the end of the war, he joined the Foreign Office, returning to the British Legation in Sofia. Witnessing first-hand the communist takeover in Bulgaria, he became completely disillusioned with communist ideas. He left Bulgaria in 1948, helping Tatiana escape the new regime. Back in London, he divorced his first wife and married Tatiana. In 1951 Tatiana was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and after many years, in 1962 the couple divorced.
Conquest joined the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD), a unit created by the Labour government to "collect and summarize reliable information about Soviet and communist misdoings, to disseminate it to friendly journalists, politicians, and trade unionists, and to support, financially and otherwise, anticommunist publications." In 1950 he served briefly as First Secretary in the British Delegation to the United Nations.
In 1956, Conquest left the IRD, later becoming a freelance writer and historian. During the 1960s, Conquest edited eight volumes of work produced by the IRD, published in London by the Bodley Head as the Soviet Studies Series; and in the United States republished as The Contemporary Soviet Union Series by Frederick Praeger, whose US company published, in addition to works by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Milovan Đilas, Howard Fast, and Charles Patrick Fitzgerald, a number of books on communism.
In 1962–63, Conquest was literary editor of The Spectator, but resigned when he found it interfered with his historical writing. His first books on the Soviet Union were Common Sense About Russia (1960), The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (1960) and Power and Policy in the USSR (1961). His other early works on the Soviet Union included Courage of Genius: The Pasternak Affair (1961) and Russia After Khrushchev (1965).
The Great Terror 
In 1968, Conquest published what became his best-known work, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties, the first comprehensive research of the Great Purge, which took place in the Soviet Union between 1934 and 1939. The book was based mainly on information which had been made public, either officially or by individuals, during the so-called "Khrushchev Thaw" in the period 1956–64. It also drew on accounts by Russian and Ukrainian émigrés and exiles dating back to the 1930s, and on an analysis of official Soviet documents such as the Soviet census.
The most important aspect of the book was that it widened the understanding of the purges beyond the previous narrow focus on the "Moscow trials" of disgraced Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders such as Nikolai Bukharin and Grigory Zinoviev, who were executed after summary show trials. The question of why these leaders had pleaded guilty and confessed to various crimes at the trials had become a topic of discussion for a number of western writers, and had underlain books such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.
Conquest argued that the trials and executions of these former Communist leaders were a minor detail of the purges. By his estimates, Stalinist famines and purges had led to the deaths of 20 million people. He later stated that the total number of deaths could "hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million."
Conquest criticized western intellectuals for "blindness" with respect to the Soviet Union, and argued that Stalinism was a logical consequence of Marxism-Leninism, rather than an aberration from "true" communism. Conquest did not accept the assertion made by Nikita Khrushchev, and supported by many Western leftists, that Joseph Stalin and his purges were an aberration from the ideals of the "revolution" and were contrary to the principles of Leninism. Conquest argued that Stalinism was a natural consequence of the system established by Vladimir Lenin, although he conceded that the personal character traits of Stalin had brought about the particular horrors of the late 1930s.
Conquest sharply criticized Western intellectuals such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Duranty, Sir Bernard Pares, Harold Laski, D. N. Pritt, Theodore Dreiser, Bertold Brecht and Romain Rolland for being dupes of Stalin and apologists for his regime, citing various comments they had made denying, excusing, or justifying various aspects of the purges.
After the opening up of the Soviet archives in 1991, detailed information was released that Conquest argued supported his conclusions. When Conquest's publisher asked him to expand and revise The Great Terror, Conquest is famously said to have suggested the new version of the book be titled I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. In fact, the mock title was jokingly proposed by Conquest's old friend, Kingsley Amis. The new version was published in 1990 as The Great Terror: A Reassessment (ISBN 0-19-507132-8).
Some 'revisionist' critics have argued that examination of archives following the USSR's collapse in 1991 challenge many of Conquest's statements. Although some aspects of his work continue to be disputed by those on the left, according to poet Czeslaw Milosz he has been vindicated by history. Michael Ignatieff wrote "One of the few unalloyed pleasures of old age is living long enough to see yourself vindicated. Robert Conquest is currently enjoying this pleasure."
Later works 
In 1986, Conquest published The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, dealing with the collectivization of agriculture in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR, under Stalin's direction in 1929–31, and the resulting famine, in which millions of peasants died due to starvation, deportation to labor camps, and execution.
In this book, Conquest was even more critical of western left-wing intellectuals than he had been in The Great Terror. He accused them of denying the full scale of the famine, attacking their views as "an intellectual and moral disgrace on a massive scale." He later wrote that the western world had been faced with two different stories about the famine in the 1930s, and accused many intellectuals of believing the false one: "Why did an intellectual stratum overwhelmingly choose to believe the false one? None of this can be accounted for in intellectual terms. To accept information about a matter on which totally contradictory evidence exists, and in which investigation of major disputes on the matter is prevented, is not a rational act."
Conquest supported the view that the famine was a planned act of genocide. However, information that became available later convinced Conquest that this view is wrong and he dismissed his concept of a terror-famine.
One of Conquest's recent works was Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1999) where he describes the attraction that totalitarian systems of thought seem to hold for many western intellectuals. He traces this attitude back to the Age of Reason and its culmination in the French Revolution.
In addition to his scholarly work, Conquest is also a well-regarded poet whose poems have been published in various periodicals from 1937. In 1945 he was awarded the PEN Brazil Prize for his war poem "For the Death of a Poet"—about an army friend, the poet Drummond Allison, killed in Italy—and in 1951 he received a Festival of Britain verse prize. Since then he has brought out seven volumes of poetry and one of literary criticism.
A major figure in a prominent British literary circle known as "The Movement" — which also included Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis — Conquest edited, in 1956 and 1962, the influential New Lines anthologies, introducing works by them, as well as Thom Gunn, Dennis Enright, and others, to a wider public. He spent 1959-60 as visiting poet at the University of Buffalo.
Several of his poems appear in The New Oxford Book of Light Verse (1978; compiled by Kingsley Amis) under the pseudonyms "Stuart Howard-Jones", "Victor Gray" and "Ted Pauker".
Soon after expulsion from the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn met with Conquest, asking him to translate a ‘little’ poem of his into English verse. This was "Prussian Nights"—nearly two thousand lines in ballad metre—published in 1977. Conquest has also published two novels: one of science fiction, A World of Difference (1955), and, co-authored with Kingsley Amis, The Egyptologists (1965).
Later life 
In 1964, he married Caroleen MacFarlane. This marriage was dissolved in 1978. In 1979, he married Elizabeth Neece Wingate, a lecturer in English and the daughter of a United States Air Force colonel. In 1981, Conquest moved to California to take up a post as Senior Research Fellow and Scholar-Curator of the Russian and Commonwealth of Independent States Collection at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he remains a Fellow. He has numerous grandchildren from his sons and stepdaughter.
Conquest has been a fellow of the Columbia University Russian Institute, and of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; a distinguished visiting scholar at the Heritage Foundation; a research associate of Harvard University's Ukrainian Research Institute; and the presenter of Granada Television's seven-part mini-series documentary on the Soviet Union, Red Empire (1990).
Awards and honors 
Conquest is a dual national (British and American) by birth. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of the Royal Society of Literature, and of the British Interplanetary Society, and a Member of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. His honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005); Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1996); Order of the British Empire (1956); Commander Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (2009), Estonian Cross of Terra Mariana (2008), and the Ukrainian Order of Yaroslav Mudryi (2005). His awards include selection by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the 1993 Jefferson Lecture (the highest honor the U.S. government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities); Richard Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters (1999); Michael Braude Award for Light Verse (American Academy of Arts & Letters,1997); Peter Shaw Memorial Award (National Association of Scholars, 2001); Alexis de Tocqueville Award, (1992), Dan David Prize (2012).
Historical and political 
- Common Sense About Russia (1960)
- Power and Policy in the USSR (1961)
- The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (1960)
- Courage of Genius: The Pasternak Affair (1961)
- Russia After Khruschev (1965)
- The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties (1968)
- The Nation Killers (1970)
- Where Marx Went Wrong (1970)
- Lenin (1972)
- Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps (1978)
- Present Danger: Towards a Foreign Policy (1979)
- We and They: Civic and Despotic Cultures (1980)
- Inside Stalin's Secret Police: NKVD Politics, 1936-1939 (1985)
- What to Do When the Russians Come: A Survivor's Guide (with Jon Manchip White, 1984)
- The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986)
- Tyrants and Typewriters: Communiques in the Struggle for Truth (1989)
- Stalin and the Kirov Murder (1989)
- The Great Terror: A Reassessment (1990)
- Stalin: Breaker of Nations (1991)
- History, Humanity, and Truth (1993)
- Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1999)
- The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History, W. W. Norton & Company (2004), ISBN 0-393-05933-2
- The Great Terror: 40th Anniversary Edition (2008)
- Poems (1956)
- Between Mars and Venus (1962)
- Arias from a Love Opera, and Other Poems (1969)
- Forays (1979)
- New and Collected Poems (1988)
- Penultimata (2009)
- Blokelore and Blokesongs (2012)
- A World of Difference (1955)
- The Egyptologists (with Kingsley Amis, 1965)
- The Abomination of Moab (1979)
- Supplement to the Alumni Register, October1920,"Pennsylvania; A Record of the University's Men in the Great War", University of Pennsylvania General Alumni Society, 1920, page 40.
- Timothy Garton Ash, 'Orwell’s List', New York Review of Books, 23 September 2003.
- Richard D. Lyons, 'Frederick A. Praeger Dies at 78; Published Books on Communism', New York Times, 5 June 1994.
- Robert Conquest, Preface, The Great Terror: A Reassessment: 40th Anniversary Edition, Oxford University Press, USA, 2007. p. xviii
- Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press (1990) ISBN 0-19-507132-8, pp. 466-475.
- Conquest, Robert "Letter to the Editors", The New York Review of Books, 12 April 2007.
- J. Arch Getty; Gábor T. Rittersporn; Viktor N. Zemskov (Oct 1994). 'Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence'. The American Historical Review 98 (4): 1017–1049.
- Czeslaw Milosz: 'The Poet Who Was Right', National Review, 17 August 1992.
- Michael Ignatieff 'The Man Who Was Right', New York Review of Books, Vol. 47, No. 5, 23 March 2000.
- Kulchytskyi, Stanislav (2012). "Holodomor in Ukraine 1932-1933: An Interpretation of Facts". In Noack, C.; Janssen, L.; Comerford, V. Holodomor and Gorta Mór: Histories, Memories and Representations of Famine in Ukraine and Ireland. New York: Anthem Press. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0-85728-557-7.
- David Yezzi, Yale Review, Volume 98, Issue 2 (April 2010), p. 183 ff.
- Note on Robert Conquest, http://waywiser-press.com/conquest.html
- Zachary Leader, ed., The Movement Reconsidered, Oxford University Press, 2009.
- John Whitworth, "The Extraordinary Robert Conquest", Quadrant, October 2009, pp. 121-23.
- Robert Conquest, 'Solzhenitsyn, A Genius with a Blindspot', Sunday Times, 10 August 2008; p. A15
- Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
- Ukraine honors Robert Conquest with Presidential Medal of Honor
- Stanford Report, 21 June 2006
- National Advisory Council. Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2011-05-20.
- Scourge and Poet, a profile of Robert Conquest
- articles by and about Robert Conquest at the New York Review of Books[dead link]
- Where Ignorance Isn't Bliss, article by Robert Conquest at National Review Online[dead link]
- His biography at the Hoover Institution
- Great Terror at 40
- Elizabeth Farnsworth talks with historian Robert Conquest about his new book Reflections on a Ravaged Century at PBS
- Robert Conquest at Spartacus site
- The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and delusion in the course of history[dead link]
- History on his side[dead link]
- Robert Conquest's profile at the Stanford University, Ukrainian Studies
- Booknotes interview with Conquest on Reflections on a Ravaged Century, 19 December 1999