Robert Conquest

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George Robert Ackworth Conquest (born 15 July 1917) is a British historian who became a well-known writer and researcher on the Soviet Union with the publication in 1968 of The Great Terror, an account of Stalin's purges of the 1930s.


Early career

Robert Conquest was born in Malvern, Worcestershire, the son of an American businessman and a Norwegian mother. His father served in an ambulance unit with the French Army in World War I, being awarded the Croix de Guerre 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 his year studying at the University of Grenoble and traveling in Bulgaria, Conquest returned to Oxford and joined the Communist Party. Fellow members included Denis Healey and Philip Toynbee.

When World War II broke out, Conquest joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and became an intelligence officer. In 1940, he married Joan Watkins, with whom he had two sons. In 1942, 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. There, he met Tatiana Mihailova, who later became his second wife. At the end of the war, he was transferred to the diplomatic service and became the press officer at the British embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. He witnessed the gradual rise of Soviet communism in the country, becoming completely disillusioned with communist ideas in the process. He left Bulgaria in 1948, helping Tatiana escape the new regime. Back in London, he divorced his first wife and married Tatiana. This marriage later broke down when Tatiana was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

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