David Warren on the late Robert Conquest:
[Robert Conquest’s] grand works of historical investigation — The Great Terror (1968), documenting the incredible extent of Stalin’s purges; and, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), surveying the catastrophic effects of his collectivization — were books of remarkable ambition; of bold conception and real consequence. Other writers had (often at the cost of their careers) reported upon Soviet failings. But they had done so in ways modest enough to be ignored, or dismissed by the fashionable Left as “biased.” The broad, massive, systematic nature of Conquest’s researches was something new. It cracked even the faith of many diehard Communists. The history he told fit together; it was all meticulously sourced; it was overwhelming. There was, as it rose on the horizon, too much to deny.
Yet others could still simply block it out. For people believe what they want to believe, and may resolutely look away from what they do not want to see, or even chute the cocksure laugh, in the face of the mounting tsunami of evidence that finally washes them away.
Conquest was also a light or minor poet, and verse translator, of skill, talent, and integrity. He moved, privately, more in literary than in political circles. His closest friends were such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin; another was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
He was no ideologue, and judging by the way he burned through wives, not a moralist either. Outwardly, in the tiny glimpse I had of him, he was not passionate or irascible. Inwardly, he was surely “driven.” But I would count him as a detached artist, working in a rather unusual modern genre: the author of elaborately proven epics of debunkment.
It was not Conquest, incidentally, but Amis who proposed that the revision of The Great Terror, published after the Berlin Wall fell, should be re-entitled, I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. But Conquest was content with, A Reassessment. He presented his facts emotionlessly. This magnified his impact, as historian. When he had a provocation to offer, that he was entirely unable to resist, he would put it safely into verse form, so that it wouldn’t be noticed.