3708) Norman Stone (1941–2019) A Fond Tribute To The Historian

Norman Stone (1941–2019)
A fond tribute to the historian and fearless advocate of Turkey, who died at his home in Budapest yesterday

If Norman Stone and Professor Ali Doğramacı, then rector of Bilkent University, had not shared a flash of inspiration during an international conference in Ankara in 1995, the love affair between the country and its most famous international academic friend might never have begun. Norman was in Ankara, at a conference on Bosnia, not too happy with his life as a professor at Oxford, and what he saw of Bilkent appealed to him. Why not work there?

It was a sort of intellectual quantum leap. The disillusioned Oxford professor vanished, to be replaced for two decades until 2017 by a far happier professor of international relations at Bilkent.

In the mid-1990s Norman was already a national celebrity in the UK. Born in Scotland, trained at Cambridge, his first book, The Eastern Front 1914-1917, propelled him instantly to the front rank of the historical profession. In the UK this meant becoming a star public intellectual. But when Norman swapped a fellowship at Cambridge (which he always loved) for a full professorship at Oxford, things started to go wrong – despite a very happy family life in a huge Victorian mansion in north Oxford.

The professorship was marginal to the life of the history faculty. At Cambridge Norman had taught a succession of brilliant students destined to become famous figures in academia and politics. Somehow that did not happen at Oxford, though there were exceptions, such as Victor Orban, the present prime minister of Hungary. . . .

Norman’s Oxford years saw a long gap in his book production while he poured his energies into journalism, writing a daily stream of coruscating and unconventional newspaper articles. Norman loved to shock, but he also knew how to avoid putting a foot seriously wrong, no matter how greatly he infuriated his adversaries. His articles made him a household name with British readers, loved by many, particularly on the political right, but they also triggered hostility, in many cases downright jealousy, among the Oxford dons.

At Bilkent, Norman’s early career as an inspired teacher and colleague resumed, despite a few sour faces in some parts of the Ankara academic establishment initially. Turks were impressed by his ability to speak 12 languages and make rapid progress in acquiring good Turkish late in life, as well as the mixture of mischievous conversation and mimicry, learning, jokes and affectionate anecdotes about friends. Karl Marx, Max Weber, and international relations theory and social theory generally, were out; The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, Marcel Proust and Trinity College Cambridge were in.

Given the population statistics, there are as many first-class minds in Turkey’s top universities as there are in the UK – maybe more – and Norman drew them to him, not just in the seminar room but also at nightly gatherings in the bars and restaurants of Ankara. These were occasions when good food, and especially drink, flowed freely.

My first meeting with Norman was a leisurely dinner in an ancient konak in Ankara castle. The conversation was of course learned, amusing and exhilarating, but I was sadly unable to keep pace with his consumption of rakı and had to be ferried home ignominiously, returning next day to settle the bill with waiters still muttering incredulously: “He drinks rakı like water.”

In his articles and broadcasts Norman began to tell the world of his life in Turkey and the new talent he was discovering. It was a revelation. Turkey had not had such a prominent or outspoken advocate before.

Turkey in the late 1990s was much less familiar to both the British public and its intellectuals than it is today, after several decades of digital media. There was a strong anti-Turkish lobby, springing ultimately from Turkey’s post-Ottoman Mediterranean adversaries. I remember sitting in a London club around that date and hearing some of its members denouncing Norman for moving to Turkey. If attitudes have shifted at least somewhat since then, a good deal of the credit belongs to Norman and Bilkent.

Norman brought his historian’s mind to bear on the great controversies of Ottoman history. He rejected the slick (and in terms of authentic historical evidence, actually rather weak) hard-line Armenian propaganda onslaughts against Turkey – and was repaid by a smear about this at the top of his Wikipedia entry, as if denialism was a key feature of his academic work. This was ironic, for Norman had played a prominent part in combating a writer in the UK who denied that Hitler’s genocide had happened, and he had come to Turkey because of humanitarian concern over Bosnia. But controversy never bothered him and he let the jibe stand.

At Bilkent his career as a writer was rekindled after a long gap. Though he never (as he admitted) quite regained the compelling scholarship and narrative of The Eastern Front, a succession of books aimed at the general reader emerged, on topics ranging from the world of the Atlantic Alliance after World War II, to brief histories of Turkey and Hungary, and of the two World Wars. Witty, even jokey in parts, all were commercial successes. Eight years on, at Blackwell’s, the UK’s top academic bookshop, there are still more copies of his history of Turkey on sale than any other book on the country. His tends to be the book people turn to – and its main theme is the way the country has been deliberately isolated from the international mainstream.

Not everyone loves Ankara, and Norman, too, flirted with the attractions of Istanbul. He certainly enjoyed life in the city’s Beyoğlu district, where for a while he owned a flat beside Galata Tower with a panoramic view over the Bosphorus and Old City, while teaching at Koç University. But after a couple of years he returned to Bilkent, a sort of alma mater to him, and one with which he retained links even after his retirement.

In the last decade Norman moved his home from Ankara to Budapest, though he returned regularly, partly for medical treatment (he admired Turkish medicine greatly) and partly to see friends. He was in Ankara only a week ago, guest of honour at a party thrown by Bilkent friends and former pupils. The thriving Russian Studies Centre which he founded at Bilkent is his legacy to his adopted home.

Most retirement jobs are a period of tranquil obscurity. Norman’s decades in Turkey were a kind of legendary epoch, bringing the country and its people to far wider attention, as well as helping to groom a rising new generation of academics. But there is one supreme quality of Norman’s which is far harder to convey. His company was a constant source of humour laced with erudition and surprise, bubbling with fun and irreverence. Those who had the good luck to know him will be sadly conscious that they will never enjoy conversation like his again.

Portraits by Monica Fritz, London 2018

Norman Stone was born in Scotland on March 8, 1941, and died in Budapest on June 18, 2019


Norman Stone Has Died Aged 78, Was A Great Historian
A Tribute by Daniel Johnson, 19 JUN 2019

Norman Stone, who has died aged 78, was a great historian and the most gifted teacher of his generation. He was also a mischievous wit, with an acerbic tongue that could deflate the pompous and the pretentious in a sentence or two, delivered in mellifluous Glaswegian.

In a three-way dialogue with Professor Jeremy Black and me, published in Standpoint in 2010, Norman insisted that it wasn’t fair to blame the new coalition government on the people. “We have after all got a political class now,” he observed. “All those superficial people yapping into mobiles who did PPE at Oxford.”

Norman was fortunate in his ability to be in the right place at the right time. In 1981, he had dinner at Brown’s Hotel with Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, armaments minister and favourite. There was a certain irony in the fact that, four decades earlier, Speer had tried to obliterate London with the world’s first missile bombardment. But it was a splendid dinner that, Norman later revealed, had ended only at 2 am. Norman was fluent in several languages, including German, and the conversation was doubtless lubricated with copious quantities of wine and whisky. Like Churchill, Norman took more out of alcohol than alcohol took out of him. Next day he interviewed Speer for the BBC. Norman found Speer “haunted by his past”, but still handsome and boasting of a romantic assignation. Before Speer could take his lover out to lunch, he suffered a stroke and died at St Mary’s, Paddington. Norman had, in a sense, heard his final confession.

He was also present at the notorious Chequers seminar in 1990, when Mrs Thatcher summoned her favourite historians to advise her about Germany. Norman was one of the few who admired her and shared most of her views on Europe, but he did not believe that a reunited Germany would pose a threat to peace. His fear was the opposite — that the West was going soft, above all its political class. “When I look at the faces at those television debates I think: ‘Are these just babies’ bottoms filled with Botox?’ faces which have seen nothing. No wonder people want to abstain.”

Norman was, above all, a great and good friend. Unlike Niall Ferguson and so many other distinguished people, I was never his pupil. But I did help him with the cultural chapter of Europe Transformed, 1878-1919, one of his best books, and I took on some of his teaching load at Cambridge, supervising an undergraduate dissertation on Ludwig Börne and the origins of Left-wing anti-Semitism by Orlando Figes, from whom I learned a great deal. How prescient that dissertation was! In those days Norman was surrounded by brilliant young men and women. For a year or so, I rented his flat in Hampstead, almost next door to Elias Canetti. Later, Norman moved to Oxford, then to Istanbul, and finally to Budapest. He never lost his sensual love of history and music, especially the final scene of Don Giovanni, which had a mystical significance for him. Like the Don, Norman was a sinner who did not hold out much hope of redemption, but he believed above all in humanity.

thearticle dot com

Norman Stone has died at the age of 78. In 2007, Harry Mount paid tribute to the historian and author, republished here:

It’s four in the afternoon in the Garrick Club and Norman Stone is steaming with rage. The steam is not alcohol-fuelled. Professor Stone — historically no flincher from the glass — is on the wagon at the moment but is feeling no undue withdrawal pangs. He is, though, longing for a cigarette, and his beloved Garrick has just outlawed smoking, in line with the new legislation.

‘It’s quite clear that cigarettes calm you down, the opiate of what was once the working classes,’ says Stone once he has lit up and sat himself down on a pavement stool outside a Covent Garden pub. ‘If you take them away and you make booze so cheap, you end up with the Cornmarket [Oxford’s main shopping street] on a Friday night. Awful.’

It was Lenin, Stone tells me, who was responsible for the first non-smoking train in history, the one that took him through Germany to Finland after the Russian Revolution. Like Lenin, Hitler was an anti-smoking fanatic; you knew the moment he’d died because his officers started lighting up in the bunker.

Little details like these are what make Stone’s new book on the first world war a gem, albeit a very little gem — 187 pages, including maps, index and sources — on a big subject. It’s Stone’s first book for over a decade, the first since his decision in 1997 to leave one of the plum jobs of British academia — the Oxford Professorship of Modern History — and head for obscure Bilkent University in Ankara. In Stone’s years as the Oxford Professor he enraged students with his work for Rupert Murdoch as a Sunday Times columnist, and for Margaret Thatcher as a senior foreign policy adviser.

‘I left Oxford under a brilliant retirement scheme under which I was paid quite well to do nothing, rather than being paid badly to do quite a lot.’

For those, like me, who had been invigorated by his teaching, his departure was a sad thing. His methods were unorthodox, to say the least. It was almost impossible to get to hear one of his lectures. ‘Professor Stone is indisposed this morning,’ the porter at the Examination Schools lecture halls would say, his poker face denying you the chance to make a drink-related joke.

As a professor, Stone taught no undergraduates formally from his small rooms in Worcester College. His informal lessons, though, were quite exceptional. I got mine while playing bridge with him late at night in St John’s College in 1993. In between knocking back tumblers of student-grade red wine in one and accompanying his tape of Russian military marching tunes in a haunting Glaswegian bass, he sketched out the origins of the first world war and the reasons for the Balkans war, with a few asides on Thatcher and Murdoch. And he literally never missed a trick, memorising every card.

Countless undergraduates were inspired by his enthusiasm for teaching — unpaid, in voluntary sessions, as often as not in the pub. He taught one friend German from scratch in the Mitre, next to those Examination Schools.

Despite the fond affection in which he is held by many former students, Stone regrets little about his departure from Oxford. His heart lifts every time the plane hits the Istanbul tarmac — where he also teaches, at the city’s Koç University. The Turkish students, he says, are a model to their British counterparts — clever, industrious. ‘And they smell less.’

The modern student’s sanitary habits aren’t the only things that depress Stone about Britain. The educationally aspirant country that Stone knew growing up in Glasgow has gone. He went to the fee-paying Glasgow Academy on a scholarship for the children of dead servicemen — his father, a lawyer, was killed in the war.
‘I come from the same world as Niall Ferguson and Neil MacGregor. The schools were astonishingly decent, even if we were taught by Englishmen. I remember having to translate things into German like, ‘With the oars flashing in the sunlight, the rowlocks glinting, the skiff slipped upriver against a north-east wind,’ — Stone pauses for effect ‘ — Antonia Fraser.’

This little comic masterpiece is delivered deadpan, with Stone only collapsing into conspiratorial laughter once he has delivered the punchline. Like a lot of clever, sensitive people, Stone uses humour to deflect any sign of showing off, dropping in a gag to clear the air when it gets too thick with difficult thought. Just when he’s lost you on the beginnings of the first world war, he’ll drop into alluring anecdote. In 1914, he says, the Russians were so desperate to win that the Tsar licked his own stamps. The masses foreswore vodka, unless foreigners were present. ‘By November 1914, foreigners were much in demand.’

Stone’s features, at the age of 66, reflect this mix of serious sage and Puckish wit. He looks like a cherubic barfly. His thick mass of hair is grey, his face heavily lined. But the Cupid’s bow of his mouth is forever puckered, his eyebrows raised, as if he’s constantly on the verge of a joke. Even when he’s giving a serious opinion on the dumbing down of Britain, he peppers it with playful words and one-liners.

‘When I went up to Caius in November 1958, I was a know-all Scottish blob at one of the last great institutions. The ex-RSM porter came and cleaned your shoes.’

The Sixties did for all that, Stone thinks. ‘It was all from a desire to be fair. Public standards had to fall so that more people can aspire to them. It was utterly misguided egalitarianism; an utterly spoilt decade. A.J.P. Taylor said that all the problems had been solved.’

Even as a schoolboy, Stone had been a conservative. ‘At the 1951 election, I was ten, and my mother said, ‘Think about those poor miners.’

‘Support Churchill,’ I said. She was a bit of a Scottish liberal sentimental Leftie.
And so began a decades-long disappointment with the Tories. ‘The Seventies was a shabby, unthinkable decade. I didn’t think we’d ever get out of it.’

When Heath caved in to the miners, Stone buckled and voted Liberal. And then came Thatcher, whose victory over the miners reinvigorated Stone’s conservatism. He worked for her in the late 1980s, principally in the build-up to German reunification.

‘I wasn’t much more than a spear-carrier. I was late on the scene — a stormy petrel. When Stone hoves into view, you’re sunk.’

Still, he enjoyed the Thatcher years enormously. ‘Oxford was run by the hand of lunacy then. To look on the face of Roy Jenkins in the Thatcher years was a poem — an intelligent but rather unimaginative man in a state of constant but incipient shock.

‘The dons’ snobbery to her was extraordinary. Dame Mary Warnock, born into the long-bottomed knickers purple of Edwardian progressiveness — when she saw Mrs Thatcher, all she could say was, ‘Those hats …’.

‘Do you remember those 364 economists writing to the paper in 1981 saying what a disaster Geoffrey Howe’s policy was? The next day, growth rates went up 25 per cent,’ Stone says, burying his chin in the hollow of his collar bone as he doubles up with laughter.

Despite her brilliance, Mrs Thatcher couldn’t save her old university. ‘There’s certainly some tissue-regeneration but it’s not what it was,’ says Stone of Oxford, where he has kept the house he shares with his second wife and their son, now entering his last year at the university. He has two sons (one the thriller writer, Nick Stone) by his first marriage to the niece of Papa Doc Duvalier’s finance minister; Stone spent two years in Haiti in the 1960s, learning Russian.

‘It whispered the last enchantments of the ancien régime — bridge by the Caribbean.’

Returning to the reasons for Oxford’s downfall, Stone blames co-education as one of the chief culprits. ‘The women became terribly distracted and the men drank a little more when they were admitted into all-male colleges — they can be terrific maenads.

‘And then they settle in together in their rooms, get a microwave and a telly, and play housey-housey.

‘I remember at Jesus in 1972 when they voted on letting women in. Like so often, they said the right thing for the wrong reason. They were swayed by contempt.’

‘I remember a man who lectured on the history of Russian revolutionary film. He said that women shouldn’t be admitted because they wouldn’t be happy to walk on the toast crumbs left by the Boat Club tea.’

‘Toast crumbs!’ Stone booms with glee to the bemused passers-by walking down Garrick Street. Shortly after, he heads off in the same direction, past the Garrick and back to Ankara – Oxford’s loss, Turkey’s gain.
spectator dot co dot uk
Professor Norman Stone, who has died aged 78, was one of Britain’s best historians. Born in Kelvinside, Glasgow on March 8, 1941 during the years of WW II, Stone lost his father, a lawyer who served at the Royal Air Force during the war, just a year after he was born. He received his education at the Glasgow Academy and then at Cambridge University. He had taught at Cambridge and Oxford Universities for decades.

As a colorful historian and a maverick intellectual, Stone produced many influential works. His command of more than 10 languages enabled him to read and gain insights from many different sources. His works often displayed masterful analyses, enriched with anecdotes and interesting facts, which gave his readers both knowledge and joy. His book The Eastern Front, 1914-1917 first published in 1975 still remains as the standard account of the Great War’s Austro-Russian front. Stone had taught and supervised a number of brilliant students. His students include world-famous historians such as Dominic Lieven, Andrew Roberts, Nial Ferguson and Orlando Figes among others.

By late 1980s Stone was already emerging as a national celebrity in the UK. He had been Margaret Tatcher’s foreign policy advisor and speechwriter. He regularly contributed columns to the British daily newspapers and wrote extensively on history and current affairs. Professor Stone’s impressive linguistic skills had served him well. When the infamous forged “Hitler Diaries” surfaced in the 80s, Stone, who could read the old German script, had been one of the earliest historians to declare them as forged, and rightly so. His intimate knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe helped him better judge and understand the region and he got most of his predictions right, including the fall of Nicolae Ceaushescu in Romania and breakup of Yugoslavia.

As Yugoslavia was embroiled in a violent war, Stone was quick to condemn the massacres of Bosnian civilian population. His interest in the Balkan conflict brought him to Ankara for an international conference in 1995 at Bilkent University. He was offered a post at Bilkent by Ali Doğramacı, then the president of the university. In 1997 Stone retired from the University of Oxford. Upon his retirement, Stone moved to Ankara to teach at Bilkent University, where he set up the Center for Russian Studies.

At Bilkent, Stone was much loved and respected and had inspired many students and opened up new horizons for them. At the age of 57, Stone added Turkish to the list of languages he could speak and could even write a review of Murat Bardakçı’s Şahbaba for the Times Literary Supplement. He travelled Turkey extensively and studied the country passionately. In time, he became Turkey’s most prominent advocate, explaining misunderstandings and the country’s difficulties to the western world.

Norman Stone also voiced his skepticism concerning the Armenian allegations of genocide and openly rejected the charge of genocide advanced by the diaspora circles. This had made him a target for the Armenian and Greek lobbies in the US, who often attacked him on unjustifiable grounds.

His time in Turkey was productive. In addition to countless short articles, he had written well-received short histories of both world wars. He also published “Turkey: A Short History,” (2012) where he presented his readers with a highly entertaining and informative account on the country. He also wrote a colorful history of the cold war entitled “The Atlantic and Its Enemies.” A few months prior to his death, he published his latest masterpiece “Hungary: A Short History.”

At AVIM, we had the privilege of hosting Professor Norman Stone on two occasions, last time in October 2017 for a lecture on “Turkey and Russia in Historical Perspective,” the text of which was published in April 2018 issue of Eurasian World, a bi-annual journal published by AVIM.

We will always recall Professor Stone with gratitude and we are certain that he will be greatly missed by his family, colleagues, students, friends and, above all, his readers.

© 2009-2018 Center for Eurasian Studies (AVİM) All Rights Reserved
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