Sir John Plumb

David Cannadine recalls the career and personality of an inspirational historian.

Sir John (J.H.) Plumb, who died aged 90 in October 2001, had been in ill health for some time – and in rude health for a great deal longer. The many obituaries stressed his equivocal relationship with Cambridge University, his long connection with Christ’s College, and his latter-day conversion from lifelong radical to militant Thatcherite. They also noted the human insight and sparkling style that were the hallmarks of his best work, his lifelong conviction that history must reach a broad audience and inform our understanding of contemporary affairs, and his unrivalled skills in identifying and nurturing (and often terrifying) youthful promise and scholarly talent.

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