Michael Burleigh: The Sceptical Realist

The acclaimed historian Michael Burleigh talks to Paul Lay about his influences, working methods, the need for historians to engage in public policy and why he is relieved to be free from academic bureaucracy. 

Historian Michel BurleighWhen I arrive at Michael Burleigh’s house, barely a lofted six from the Oval Cricket Ground, he has just returned from a fishing trip to the Dominican Republic. Burleigh has a passion for fishing and for painting too – the evocative Suffolk landscapes of Patrick George are dotted around the house, as are recent efforts by David Hockney, sent by email; acts of solidarity between two unrepentant smokers. But apart from these simple pleasures, Burleigh is a man who lives to work, writing and reading six days a week, forsaking breakfast and lunch. The result is a prodigious output of acclaimed, award-winning histories which confront many of the most challenging issues of our time: euthanasia, genocide, terrorism, the nature of religion, globalisation. His latest opus, Moral Combat (HarperPress, 2010) has been as well received as any of his offerings, most criticism being reserved for its somewhat misleading subtitle, A History of World War II.

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