Alan Bullock

For the Scottish rugby player, see Alan Bulloch.
Bullock in 1969

Alan Louis Charles Bullock, Baron Bullock (13 December 1914 – 2 February 2004) was a British historian. He is best known for his book Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952) which was the first comprehensive biography of Adolf Hitler and influenced many other major biographies of Hitler.

Early life and career

Bullock was born in Trowbridge in Wiltshire, England, where his father worked as a gardener and a Unitarian preacher.[1] He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and Wadham College, Oxford, where he read classics and modern history. After graduating in 1938, he worked as a research assistant for Winston Churchill, who was writing his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. During World War II, Bullock worked for the European Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). After the war he returned to Oxford as a history fellow at New College.

He was the founding master of St. Catherine's College,[2] a college for undergraduates and graduates, divided between students of the sciences and the arts. He was credited with massive fundraising efforts to develop the college. Later he was the first full-time Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.[3]

Hitler: A Study in Tyranny

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunistic adventurer devoid of principles, beliefs or scruples.

In 1952, Bullock published Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, the first comprehensive biography of Adolf Hitler, which he based on the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials. This book dominated Hitler scholarship for many years. The book characterised Hitler as an opportunistic Machtpolitiker ("power politician"). In Bullock's opinion, Hitler was a "mountebank", an opportunistic adventurer devoid of principles, beliefs or scruples whose actions throughout his career were motivated only by a lust for power. Bullock's views led in the 1950s to a debate with Hugh Trevor-Roper who argued that Hitler did possess beliefs, albeit repulsive ones, and that his actions were motivated by them. Bullock's Guardian obituary commented that "Bullock's famous maxim 'Hitler was jobbed into power by backstairs intrigue' has stood the test of time."[4]

When reviewing Hitler: A Study in Tyranny in The Times in 1991, John Campbell wrote "Although written so soon after the end of the war and despite a steady flow of fresh evidence and reinterpretation, it has not been surpassed in nearly 40 years: an astonishing achievement."[5]

Later, Bullock to some extent changed his mind about Hitler. His later works show the dictator as much more of an ideologue, who pursued the ideas expressed in Mein Kampf (and elsewhere) despite their consequences. This has become a widely accepted view of Hitler, particularly in relation to the Holocaust.

Taking note of the shift of interest among professional historians toward social history in the 1960s, Bullock agreed that in general deep long-term social forces are decisive in history. But not always, he argued, For there are times when the Great Man is decisive. In revolutionary circumstances, "It is possible for an individual to exert a powerful even a decisive influence on the way events develop and the policies that are followed."[6]

Other works

Among Bullock's other works included The Humanist Tradition in the West (1985), and The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin, a three-volume biography of British Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin,[7] who had a similar background to Bullock. He was also editor of The Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought (1977), a project he suggested to the publisher when he found he could not define the word "hermeneutics". He had earlier co-edited with Maurice Shock a collection on The Liberal Tradition: From Fox to Keynes.[8]

In the mid-1970s, Bullock used his committee skills to produce a report which proved to be influential in the classroom: A Language for Life, about reading and the teaching of English, was published in 1975.[4][9]

Bullock also appeared as a political pundit, including on the BBC's coverage of the 1959 British general election.[10]

Later works

Late in his life, Bullock published Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1993), a massive work which he described in the introduction as "essentially a political biography, set against the background of the times in which they lived".[11] He showed how the careers of Hitler and Joseph Stalin to some extent fed off each other. Bullock comes to a thesis that Stalin's ability to consolidate power in his home country and, unlike Hitler, not to over-extend himself enabled him to retain power longer than Hitler.

American historian Ronald Spector, writing in The Washington Post, praised Bullock's ability to write about the development of Nazism and Soviet Communism without either abstract generalization or irrelevant detail. "The writing is invariably interesting and informed and there are new insights and cogent analysis in every chapter," he wrote.[5]


Bullock was decorated with the award of the Chevalier, Legion of Honour in 1970, and knighted in 1972, becoming Sir Alan Bullock and in 1976 was made a life peer as Baron Bullock, of Leafield in the County of Oxfordshire.[12] His writings always appeared under the name "Alan Bullock".

In May 1976, Bullock was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.[13]

See also


  1. "Alan Louis Charles Bullock biography - British historian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  2. Europa Publications (2003). The International Who's Who: 2004. Psychology Press. pp. 244–. ISBN 978-1-85743-217-6. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  3. "Previous Vice-Chancellors". University of Oxford, UK. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  4. 1 2 Frankland, Mark. Lord Bullock of Leafield, The Guardian. 3 February 2004.
  5. 1 2,3413064
  6. Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991) p 976
  7. Keith G. Robbins (1996). A Bibliography of British History: 1914-1989. Oxford University Press. pp. 31–. ISBN 978-0-19-822496-9. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  8. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
  9. R. C. S. Trahair (1994). From Aristotelian to Reaganomics: A Dictionary of Eponyms With Biographies in the Social Sciences. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 93–. ISBN 978-0-313-27961-4. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  10. Video on YouTube
  11. Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (London: HarperCollins, 1991; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991; second revised edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
  13. "Honorary Graduate Cumulative List" (PDF). Open University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.


Academic offices
Preceded by
Master of St Catherine's College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Sir Patrick Nairne
Preceded by
Kenneth Turpin
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University
Succeeded by
Sir John Habakkuk
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