The Lord Bullock
Bullock in 1969
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University
In office
Preceded byKenneth Turpin
Succeeded bySir John Habakkuk
1st Master of St Catherine's College, Oxford
In office
Personal details
Born13 December 1914
Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England
Died2 February 2004 (2004-02-03) (aged 89)
Oxford, England
SpouseHilda Yates Handy ("Nibby") married 1 June 1940
ChildrenNicholas; Adrian; Clair; Rachel; Matthew.
Parent(s)Frank Allen Bullock, Edith (Brand) Bullock
Alma materWadham College, Oxford

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

Early life and career

Bullock was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England,[1] the son of Reverend Frank Allen Bullock and his wife Edith (Brand) Bullock.[2] His father worked as a gardener and a Unitarian preacher.[citation needed] 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.[3] He was a Harmsworth Senior Scholar at Merton College, Oxford, from 1938 to 1940.[4] 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.[5]

Bullock was the censor of St Catherine's Society (1952–1962) and then founding master of St Catherine's College, Oxford (1962–1981),[6][7] 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 (1969–1973).[1][8][9]

Bullock served as chairman of the National Advisory Committee on the Training and Supply of Teachers (1963–1965), the Schools' Council (1966–1969), the Committee of Inquiry into Reading and the Use of English (1972–1974), and the Committee of Inquiry on Industrial Democracy (1976–1977).[1]

Bullock first became known to the general public when he appeared on the informational BBC radio program The Brains Trust.[1]

Hitler: A Study in Tyranny

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. The book dominated Hitler scholarship for many years and characterised Hitler as an opportunistic Machtpolitiker ("power politician"). In Bullock's opinion, Hitler was a "mountebank" and 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 had possessed beliefs, albeit repulsive ones, and that his actions had been motivated by them. Bullock's Guardian obituary commented, "Bullock's famous maxim 'Hitler was jobbed into power by backstairs intrigue' has stood the test of time".[10]

When reviewing Hitler and Stalin in The Times in 1991, John Campbell wrote of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny: "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".[11][12]

In subsequent works, Bullock, to some extent, changed his mind about Hitler. His later writings showed the dictator as much more of an ideologue, who had pursued the ideas expressed in Mein Kampf and elsewhere despite their consequences. That has become a widely accepted view of Hitler, particularly in relation to the Holocaust.[citation needed]

Taking note of the shift in interest among professional historians towards social history, Bullock agreed that deep long-term social forces are generally decisive in history, but he considered that there are times in which 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".[13]

Other works

Bullock's other works included The Humanist Tradition in the West (1985), Has History a Future? (1977), Great Lives of the Twentieth Century (1989), Meeting Teachers' Management Needs (1988), The forming of the nation (1969), Is History Becoming a Social Science? The Case of Contemporary History (1977) and The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin (1960). The last was a three-volume biography of British Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.[14] Bullock was also editor of The Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought (1977), a project that 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.[15]

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, which was published in 1975.[10][16] Bullock also chaired the committee of inquiry on industrial democracy commissioned in December 1975 by the second Labour government of Harold Wilson. The committee's report, which was also known as the Bullock Report, published in 1977, recommended workers' control in large companies with employees having a right to hold representative worker directorships.

Bullock also appeared as a political pundit, particularly during the BBC coverage of the 1959 British general election.[17]

Later works

Late in his life, Bullock published Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991). A massive and influential work which he described in the introduction as "essentially a political biography, set against the background of the times in which they lived".[18] He showed how the careers of Hitler and Joseph Stalin fed off each other to some extent. 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. It was awarded the 1992 Wolfson History Prize.

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.[11] Amikam Nachmani says Hitler and Stalin "come out as two blood-thirsty, pathologically evil, sanguine tyrants, who are sure of the presence of determinism, hence having unshakeable beliefs that Destiny assigned on them historical missions—the one to pursue a social industrialized revolution in the Soviet Union, the other to turn Germany into a global empire."[19]


Bullock was decorated with the award of the Chevalier, Legion of Honour in 1970, and knighted in 1972, becoming Sir Alan Bullock and on 30 January 1976 he was created a life peer as Baron Bullock, of Leafield in the County of Oxfordshire.[20] 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.[21]


Bullock died on 2 February 2004, in Oxford, England.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Alan Louis Charles Bullock biography – British historian". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  2. ^ Dickson, Peter. "Alan Louis Charles Bullock, 1914–2004" (PDF). Retrieved 4 February 2024.
  3. ^ Lough, David (2015). No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money. New York: Picador. p. 285.
  4. ^ Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900–1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 289.
  5. ^ Smithers, Rebecca (3 February 2005). "Bullock, visionary historian, dies aged 89". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  6. ^ Europa Publications (2003). The International Who's Who: 2004. Psychology Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-85743-217-6.
  7. ^ "St Catherine's Society". Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Previous Vice-Chancellors | University of Oxford". Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  9. ^ "Previous Vice-Chancellors". University of Oxford, UK. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  10. ^ a b Frankland, Mark. Lord Bullock of Leafield, The Guardian, 3 February 2004.
  11. ^ a b "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  12. ^ John Campbell, 'The lesson of two evils', The Times Saturday Review (22 June 1991), p. 21.
  13. ^ Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991) p 976
  14. ^ Keith G. Robbins (1996). A Bibliography of British History: 1914–1989. Oxford University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-19-822496-9.
  15. ^ Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
  16. ^ R. C. S. Trahair (1994). From Aristotelian to Reaganomics: A Dictionary of Eponyms With Biographies in the Social Sciences. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-313-27961-4.
  17. ^ Video on YouTube
  18. ^ Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (London: HarperCollins, 1991; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991; second revised edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
  19. ^ Nachmani, p. 783.
  20. ^ "No. 46815". The London Gazette. 3 February 1976. p. 1679.
  21. ^ "Honorary Graduate Cumulative List" (PDF). Open University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.

Further reading

Primary sources

Academic offices Preceded byNone Master of St Catherine's College, Oxford 1962–1981 Succeeded bySir Patrick Nairne Preceded byKenneth Turpin Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University 1969–1973 Succeeded bySir John Habakkuk