Historian and poet Robert Conquest has passed away of pneumonia at the age of 98.
Conquest is best known for his writings on Soviet history particularly where it concerned Joseph Stalin’s brutality. In his 1968 book The Great Terror, it was Conquest who made the case that Stalin’s regime was responsible for 20 million deaths. Originally a Communist himself, Conquest became disillusioned with communism by the late 1930’s and had little patience for left-wing intellectuals like Beatrice & Sidney Webb, Sartre and Walter Duranty who spoke of the glories of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet archives were opened following its collapse, their papers pretty much confirmed Conquest’s thesis. Conquest was asked to write an expanded version of The Great Terror. Conquest’s friend Kingsley Amis suggested that the title should be I Told You So, You F#*king Fools.
In 2005, President Bush bestowed Conquest with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Conquest was an equally accomplished poet. He, Amis and Philip Larkin were the vanguard of a group of poets in the 1950’s known as The Movement.
Into one’s ninetieth year.
Memory? Yes, but the sheer
Seethe as the half-woken brain’s
Great gray search-engine gains
Traction on all one’s dreamt, seen, felt, read,
. . And on one’s dead.
-Which makes one’s World, one’s Age, appear
Faint wrinkles on the biosphere
Itself the merest speck in some
Corner of the continuum.
In the grand scheme of things, Conquest might have viewed himself as the merest speck in some corner of the continuum. But some specks will always shine bright even after they’ve dimmed.
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