Martin Gilbert was born on 25 October 1936 to Peter and Miriam Gilbert, British Jews from London. At the time the country was already preparing for the coming war and as the Germans invaded France in May 1940, the four-year-old Gilbert was evacuated along with thousands of children to Canada. The journey across the Atlantic was extremely dangerous, as British shipping was under constant threat from German U-Boats, and the memories of the journey would leave a deep impression on the young Gilbert, spurring a fascination with the conflict in later life.
After staying in Quebec for the duration of the war, Gilbert returned to Britain and attended Highgate School in North London. He spent two years in National Service in the Intelligence Corp before going to Magdalen College, Oxford to study Modern History. Graduating in 1960 with a first class BA, he undertook post-graduate research at St Anthony’s College.
In 1963 Gilbert was introduced to Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill. Impressed by Gilbert’s abilities Randolph asked the young researcher to assist him with writing a comprehensive biography of his father. Gilbert accepted, little knowing that the project would take him twenty years to complete. Randolph Churchill died in 1968, leaving Gilbert the whole task of completing the biography – which would be divided into eight volumes. He published the final volume in 1988, by which point the books had become the definitive Churchill biography.
While completing his Churchill biography he published other volumes of history, establishing himself as one of the most respected historians in Britain. Other Martin Gilbert books included The Roots of Appeasement (1966), First World War (2002) and Second World War (1970) becoming classic guides to understand of the conflicts of the 20th century . His books examining the Holocaust and the creation of Israel (notably, Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (1978), Auschwitz and the Allies, (1981), The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy (1986)) have made him the world’s pre-eminent authority on Jewish history. His books have been marked by the strong use of primary sources and attention to detail.
Since 2005 he has been married to Ester Gilbert née Goldberg, a leading Holocaust historian.
He travels often, lecturing across the world on the history of the 20th century and the Holocaust. He accepted a knighthood in 1995 for services to history and international relations. Since 2009 he has been a member of the British government’s inquiry into the role of the UK in the Iraq War (2003-2011).