Andrew Roberts was born in London, England, the son of business executive Simon Roberts and Katie Roberts. Simon Roberts, from Cobham, Surrey, inherited the Job's Dairy milk business and also owned the United Kingdom contingent of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. His parents would later sell their interest in the aforementioned milk business in 1987. A prolific reader as a child, he soon gained a passion for history, particularly for dramatic works relating to "battles, wars, assassinations and death".
Roberts attended Cranleigh School as a child. However, as he later revealed, he also was "horrifically bullied" by other pupils, at one point being locked in a clothes cupboard and made to think that the building was on fire, and he sought relief partially through alcohol. Though he eventually achieved three As in his A-levels, Roberts ended up being forced to leave Cranleigh due to bouts of intoxication as well as carrying out pranks.
Roberts managed to get into Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and he went on to chair the Cambridge University Conservative Association. He earned a first class honours B.A. degree in Modern History at Gonville and Caius College in 1985, where he is an honorary senior scholar and honorary PhD. Roberts began his post-graduate career in corporate finance as an investment banker and private company director with the London merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co., where he worked from 1985 to 1988. He published his first historical book in 1991.
He is divorced from his first wife, with whom he had two children. Roberts is married to businesswoman Susan Gilchrist, CEO of the corporate communications firm Brunswick Group LLP and a Governor of the South Bank Centre. They currently live in London.
Roberts has worked with think tank organisations such as the Centre for Policy Studies and the Centre for Social Cohesion. He additionally has maintained personal friendships with several British political and social figures such as David Cameron, Michael Gove and Oliver Letwin. In February 2016, he was appointed President of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.
Roberts' analysis of the Second World War convinced him that the Nazi German government had significant advantages in military organisation and economic power early in the war. He has argued that, if someone other than Adolf Hitler had control of the nation's military strategy, the country would likely have forgone a costly direct invasion of Soviet territory (which occurred through Operation Barbarossa) and instead would have swept through Mediterranean territories before trying to seal off British-controlled Middle East areas. Thus, Roberts believes, the likely morale-building victories against the comparatively weak forces to the southeast could have allowed Hitler to essentially "win" the war. The other key strategic mistake, according to Roberts, was the German declaration of war against the United States, which happened only four days after the Pearl Harbor attacks and which the Nazi regime was not obliged to do. Roberts argues that after the declaration, Germany could not keep the U.S. war-making economic machine at bay. In short, Roberts believes that the mistakes, delusions and exaggerated self-confidence complexes that the fascist dictatorship fostered proved its undoing.
Roberts has also stated that he views Joseph Stalin's control of the Soviet forces as having been disastrous to the allied efforts against the Axis powers. He noted that Stalin's obsessive tactics of killing his own men for ideological reasons cost him thousands upon thousands of troops. In the Battle of Stalingrad alone, Soviet forces killed the equivalent of two full divisions of their own personnel.
In terms of more recent history, Roberts whole-heartedly embraced Thatcherism. He has remained a staunch backer of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her socio-political legacy. In Roberts' opinion, Thatcher's insight to push the UK into a path in which it kept out of the Euro while still having strong ties to European economies has been validated by the Eurozone crisis in the aftermath of the world economic recession. Besides his sceptical approach to the European Union as an institution, he also holds a dim opinion of the United Nations, believing that the strength of oppressive and autocratic regimes in the UN's sub-groups make it sluggish and corrupt. In the 2016 UK Referendum on the EU, Roberts backed a Leave vote.
Roberts supports a strong American military and has generally argued in favour of close relations between the Anglosphere nations. As an advocate for the general principle of democratic pluralism, he has argued that "[s]neered at for being 'simplistic' in his reaction to 9/11, Bush's visceral responses to the attacks of a fascistic, totalitarian death cult will be seen as having been substantially the right ones" in the long run. In many writings, he has come out in support of neo-conservative influenced socio-political viewpoints.
During the buildup to the Iraq War, Roberts supported the proposed invasion, arguing that anything less would be tantamount to appeasement, comparing Tony Blair to Winston Churchill in his "astonishing leadership". He additionally argued that acting against Saddam Hussein was in line with the "Pax Americana realpolitik that has kept the great powers at peace since the Second World War, despite the collapse of communism".
Roberts wrote in 2003 "For Churchill, apotheosis came in 1940; for Tony Blair, it will come when Iraq is successfully invaded and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction are unearthed from where they have been hidden by Saddam's henchmen." When such weapons were not found, Roberts still defended the invasion for larger strategic reasons while arguing that his past views were based on credible assessments from "the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies" as well as other sources.
He has defended the use of waterboarding by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), saying that "sometimes the defense of liberty requires making some pretty unpalatable decisions" and viewed the policies of torture-based tactics used by some allied forces during WWII as having promoted their eventual victory. Roberts believes that the Iraq War involved the English-speaking peoples in "an existential war for the survival of their way of life" and that the large-scale conflicts involving Islamic extremism had reached a point in which "this struggle against Islamofascism is the fourth world war", the Cold War being the 'third world war', while "the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilization". He also believes that history will judge American President George W. Bush a success,
Roberts later commented in 2009, on the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that Britain had "lost fewer soldiers than on a normal weekend on the Western Front". Writing for the Daily Mail, Roberts remarked, "The emasculation of British foreign policy after the Iraq War and during the ongoing Afghan War is an extraordinary phenomenon, considering how few Britons gave their lives in those places compared with other wars." He added, "the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the victory over Saddam Hussein two years later were won at an incredibly low cost in historical terms".
The first of Roberts' books was the biography of Neville Chamberlain's and Winston Churchill's foreign secretary, Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, entitled The Holy Fox, and published in 1991. Roberts provided a revisionist account of Wood, a one-time Viceroy of India and the Foreign Secretary in Chamberlain's government. Halifax has been charged with appeasement, along with Chamberlain, but Roberts argues that Halifax in fact began to move his government away from that policy vis-à-vis Hitler's Germany, following the 1938 Munich Crisis.
This work was followed by Eminent Churchillians, in 1994, a collection of essays about friends and enemies of Churchill. A large part of the book is an attack on Admiral of the Fleet Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and other prominent members of the elite. The title is an obvious allusion to the famous and similarly combative book of biographies Eminent Victorians.
In 1995 Roberts published The Aachen Memorandum, a thriller novel which he has described as "a dystopian vision of what Britain might turn into if it became a minor satrapy of a vast protectionist, illiberal anti-American, politically correct EU." Based on a predicted referendum in the UK on a United States of Europe in 2015, it contained some anticipations of the actual Brexit referendum of 2016.
In 1999, Roberts published Salisbury: Victorian Titan, a biography of the Victorian era politician and then Prime Minister Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. Historian Michael Korda praised the work as "a masterpiece about one of the greatest and most able Tory political figures of the Victorian age". The book additionally won the Wolfson History Prize and the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Non-Fiction. In September 2001, Napoleon and Wellington, an investigation into the relationship between the two generals, was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and was the subject of the lead review in all but one of Britain's national newspapers.
January 2003 saw the publication of Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership. In the book, which addresses the leadership techniques of Hitler and Churchill, he delivered a rebuttal to many of the assertions made by Clive Ponting and Christopher Hitchens concerning Churchill.
An accompanying television series based around Roberts' Hitler and Churchill ran on BBC2, with its first episode being broadcast on 7 March 2013. Roberts remarked that he felt grateful for the BBC's support of his work and their unwillingness to cut corners when it came to exploring history in detail, quipping as well about the group's wardrobe policy, "Courtesy of this programme, I now have two Armani suits upstairs."
Also in 2003, he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2004, he edited What Might Have Been, a collection of twelve "What If?" essays written by historians and journalists, including Robert Cowley, Antonia Fraser, Norman Stone, Amanda Foreman, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Lord Black of Crossharbour and Anne Somerset. In 2005, Roberts published Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Gamble, which was published in America as Waterloo: The Battle for Modern Europe.
His A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, a sequel to the four volume work of Churchill, was published in September 2006 and won the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Book Award. Masters and Commanders describes how four figures shaped the strategy of the West during the Second World War. It was published in November, 2008 and won the International Churchill Society Book Award and was shortlisted for two other military history book prizes. The Art of War is a two-volume chronological survey of the greatest military commanders in history. It was compiled by a team of historians, including Robin Lane Fox, Tom Holland, John Julius Norwich, Jonathan Sumption and Felipe Fernández-Armesto, working under the general editorship of Roberts.
The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War came out in August 2009. A detailed look at the history of events behind the Second World War and various key elements within it such as the nature of Nazi Germany's rule, the book received large popular success. Being Roberts' best-known work to date, it reached number two in The Sunday Times bestseller list in particular. The book additionally earned the British Army Military Book of the Year award for 2010.
In terms of critical response, The Storm of War has also received a wide variety of praise in publications such as The Daily Beast, where historian Michael Korda lauded it as written "superbly well" and stated that Roberts' "scholarship is superb", and The Wall Street Journal, where historian Jonathan W. Jordan said that Roberts "splendidly weaves a human tragedy into a story". Support also came from figures such as American political commentator Peter Robinson and fellow English historian Paul Johnson. In the book, the author aims to paint a concise yet highly detailed picture of the conflict in which he argues that dictators Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler both took terrible actions due to their repressive ideologies, throwing thousands and thousands of lives away in the process, yet the eventual defeat of the Axis powers constituted a moral triumph of democratic pluralism over authoritarianism that led the way to a better future.
As of 2015, Roberts' most recent work is Napoleon the Great (the American edition is titled Napoleon: A Life), which was awarded the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best biography. Published by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books UK, (and by Viking Press in the US) in 2014, the book attempts to give a fair-minded contemporary assessment of the life of Napoleon as well as his legacy for France and the rest of the western world. In this biography, Roberts seeks to evoke Napoleon's tremendous energy, both physical and intellectual, and the attractiveness of his personality, even to his enemies. The book argues against many long-held historical opinions, including the myth of a great romance with Joséphine. She took a lover immediately after their marriage, as Roberts shows, and Napoleon in fact had three times as many mistresses as he acknowledged. Roberts goes through fifty-three of Napoleon's sixty battlefields, and he additionally evaluates a gigantic new French edition of Napoleon's letters, aiming to create a complete re-evaluation of the man.
Like Storm of War, Roberts's life of Napoleon received critical praise from a wide range of publications. For example, journalist Jeremy Jennings wrote for Standpoint in October 2014 that "Napoleon could have had few biographers more dedicated to their subject." Jennings additionally labelled the book a "richly detailed and sure-footed reappraisal of the man, his achievements— and failures— and the extraordinary times in which he lived". The book earned the Prix du Jury des Grands Prix de la Fondation Napoléon for 2014, an award given by the historical organisation Fondation Napoléon.
Praise additionally came from fellow historian Jay Winik: ‘With his customary flair and keen historical eye, Andrew Roberts has delivered the goods again. This could well be the best single volume biography of Napoleon in English for the last four decades. A tour de force that belongs on every history-lover’s bookshelf!’ Historian Bernard Cornwell describes the book as 'Simply dynamite ... [Napoleon was] a mass of contradictions and Roberts's book encompasses all the evidence to give a brilliant portrait of the man. The book, as it needs to be, is massive, yet the pace is brisk and it's never overwhelmed by the scholarly research, which was plainly immense ... Roberts suggests looking at Europe for the Emperor's monument, but this magnificent biography is not a bad place to start.'
In announcing in 2013 that it would present a three-part television series based on Roberts's analysis of Napoleon's life and legacy, BBC Two declared in its press release that "Roberts sets out to shed new light on the emperor... an extraordinary, gifted military commander and a mesmeric leader whose private life was littered with disappointments and betrayals." However, the series has had mixed reviews. The Daily Telegraph declared it "unconvincing", saying "there was no getting away from Roberts’s regular lapses into hero-worship," and "Roberts’s remarks on the refreshing qualities of dictatorship made me wonder if he had taken leave of his senses".
Roberts has created short works on a variety of subjects, his published columns appearing in popular periodicals such as the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, among others.
In addition, since 1990, Roberts has addressed hundreds of institutional and academic audiences in many countries, including a lecture to George W. Bush at the White House.
Roberts has appeared on US television during royal funerals and weddings. He first came to prominence in the United States due to acting as an expert on the funeral of Princess Diana, in 1997, and he was later in a similar role during the CNN broadcast of the death of the Queen Mother and on the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. In Britain in 2003, he presented The Secrets of Leadership, a four-part history series on BBC 2 about the secrets of leadership which looked at the different leadership styles of Churchill, Hitler, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Roberts is a Director of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in New York, a founder member of José Maria Aznar’s Friends of Israel Initiative, and in 2010 chaired the Hessell-Tiltman Award for Non-Fiction.
Roberts is a judge on the Elizabeth Longford Historical Biography Prize. He chaired the Conservative Party's Advisory Panel on the Teaching of History in Schools in 2005, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He has also been elected a Fellow of the Napoleonic Institute and an Honorary Member of the International Churchill Society (UK). He is a Trustee of the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust and of the Roberts Foundation.
During the autumn of 2013, Roberts served as the inaugural Merrill Family visiting professor in history at Cornell University. He taught a course entitled "Great European Leaders of the 19th and 20th Centuries and their Influence on History." He's additionally spoke in many other American universities such as the University of Montana.
Although Roberts's 2006 work A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900 won critical acclaim from some sections of the media, The Economist drew attention to some historical, geographical and typographical errors, as well presenting a generally scathing review of the book. The news-magazine referred to the work as "a giant political pamphlet larded with its author's prejudices".
One claim made by Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900 was that Harvard historian Caroline Elkins had committed "blood libels against Britain" in her Pulitzer prize-winning book Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. Elkins was subsequently vindicated when files released by the National Archives showed that abuses were described as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" by the Solicitor General of the time. The Foreign Secretary William Hague subsequently announced compensation for the first round of victims with statements that the British government "recognises that Kenyans were subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment" and "sincerely regrets that these abuses took place" during the Kenya Emergency.
Journalist Johann Hari alleged that Roberts' writings defended the Amritsar massacre, the concentration camps for Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer War and mass internments in Ireland. Hari also wrote that Roberts addressed the expatriate South African Springbok Club that flies the pre-1994 South African national flag and calls for "the re-establishment of civilised rule throughout the African continent". Roberts responded by saying that he did not realise the Springbok Club was racist when he took on the speaking engagement.The Holy Fox: A Biography of Lord Halifax, London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991 ISBN 0-297-81133-9.
Eminent Churchillians, London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994 ISBN 0-297-81247-5; Simon & Schuster, 1994, ISBN 978-0-671-76940-6
The Aachen Memorandum, London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995 ISBN 0-297-81619-5.
Salisbury: Victorian Titan, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, ISBN 978-0-297-81713-0
The House of Windsor, Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, 2000, ISBN 0-520-22803-0.
Napoleon and Wellington : The Battle of Waterloo—And the Great Commanders Who Fought It. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2001. ISBN 0-297-64607-9.
Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003, ISBN 978-0-297-84330-6
What Might Have Been, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004, ISBN 978-0-297-84877-6
Waterloo: June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe. New York: HarperCollins. 2005. ISBN 978-0-06-008866-8.
A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, ISBN 978-0-297-85076-2
Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West (2008), Allen Lane, ISBN 978-0-7139-9969-3 (UK edition); Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941–1945 (2009), Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-122857-5 (US edition).
The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Ancient and Medieval World, Quercus, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84724-515-1
The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Modern World Since 1600, Quercus, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84724-516-8
The Storm of War: a New History of the Second World War. Allen Lane. 2009. ISBN 978-0-7139-9970-9. ; HarperCollins, 2011, ISBN 978-0-06-122859-9
Love, Tommy: Letters Home, from the Great War to the Present Day. Osprey Publishing. 2012. ISBN 1849087911.
Napoleon: A Life. Viking Press. 2014. ISBN 9780670025329.
Napoleon the Great. Allen Lane. 2015. ISBN 9781846140273.
Elegy: The First Day on the Somme (2015). Head of Zeus. ISBN 1784080012
Virtual History (1997) One Essay
What If? (1999) One Essay
The Kings and Queens of England (2000) One Chapter
The Railway King: A Biography of George Hudson (2001) Introduction
Historian’s Holiday (2001) Introduction
What If? Volume 2 (2001) One Essay
Protestant Island (2001) Introduction
Spirit of England (2001) Introduction
The Secret History of P.W.E. (2002) Introduction
Rich Dust (2002) Introduction
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (2002) Introduction
Spirit of England (2002) Preface
Historian's Holiday (2002) Preface
What Ifs of American History? (2003) One Essay
The Multicultural Experiment (2003) One Chapter
British Military Greats (2004) One Chapter
Lives for Sale (2004) One Chapter
Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB (2005) Foreword
Liberty and Livelihood (2005) One Chapter
The Eagle’s Last Triumph (2006) Introduction
The Eagle's Last Triumph : Napoleon's Victory at Ligny, June 1815 (2006) Foreword
Postcards from the Russian Revolution (2008) Introduction
Postcards of Political Icons (2008) Introduction
Postcards from Checkpoint Charlie (2008) Introduction
A Week at Waterloo (2008) Introduction
The Future of National Identity (2008) One Chapter
Postcards from the Trenches (2008) Introduction
Postcards from Utopia: The Art of Political Propaganda (2009) Introduction
Postcards of Lost Royals (2009) Introduction
Napoleon Bonaparte by Georges Lefevre (2010) Introduction
Letters from Vicky: The Letters of Queen Victoria to Vicky, Empress of Germany 1858–1901 (2011) Introduction and Selection
A History of the World in 100 Weapons (2011) Introduction