Hugh Thomas, R.I.P.

British historian Hugh Thomas died May 6th, aged 85.

The best of Thomas’s many books — which ranged from The Suez Affair (1967), An Unfinished History of the World (1979) and The Conquest of Mexico (1993) to three novels — treated ideologically controversial subjects with impartiality in a sparkling style. The Spanish Civil War, published in 1961, was the first objective general study of the subject. A clandestine bestseller in Franco’s Spain, it became a colossal success after the general’s death, and helped unite Spaniards around a single historical account. It thereby made an important contribution to “reconciliation”, as Madrid acknowledged this week.

His 1,710 page Cuba: Or The Pursuit of Freedom (1998), with its wonderfully ambiguous sub-title, is equally indispensable. It locates the origin of Cuba’s turbulent modern history where it belongs: in 1762, with the English capture of Havana.

John Paul Rathbone, “Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, historian and Hispanist, 1931-2017“, Financial Times, 13 May 2017 (metered paywall).

Thomas was a member of the Labour Party until 1974, and sat as a Conservative in the House of Lords, before joining the Liberal Democrats in 1998. He is best known in the UK for his friendship with Margaret Thatcher.

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