Robert Skidelsky was born on April 25th, 1939 to Boris Skidelsky and Gaila Sapelkin. They lived in Manchuria, China, an area of Japanese occupation since 1931. manchuria.jpgBoth his father and mother were descendants of established Russian families, and both were citizens of Great Britain. When World War II broke out, the Skidelskys were placed in Japanese concentration camps where they would spend the majority of the 1940s. In 1947, they were “released in exchange for Japanese internees in England” – after returning for a short time to China, they moved permanently to England in 1950, narrowly escaping the succession of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party (Rodrigues).



In 1953 Skidelsky left home to attend Brighton College in East Sussex, where he was a boarder and a student until 1958. He then went on to attend Jesus College at Oxford University, studying history. In 1961 Skidelsky began what would be an eight-year stint at Nuffield College, Oxford - he began as a research student, progressed to senior student, and finally advanced to a research fellow. During this time, he published his first book, Politicians and the Slump, in 1967, which analyzed British reaction to the Great Depression. Skidelsky also began research for a biography of Oswald Mosley, a member of the House of Commons most noted for trying to integrate fascism into British politics. This biography, which Skidelsky would complete and publish in 1975, would bring him much criticism and unforeseen consequence.

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Skidelsky’s biography brought unintended outcomes for its author. Though controversial in nature, it was not the subject matter per se that brought him such condemnation; rather, it was his take on Mosley that caused the uproar. Interpreted as excusing Mosley for his radical fascist pursuits, Skidelsky wrote that it was time “for one to be able to view his [Mosley’s] life and the causes that he espoused with both detachment and oswald_mosley_book.jpgsympathy.” The disapproval of Skidelsky’s statement was evident both at home and abroad. Across the Atlantic, he was denied tenure at Johns Hopkins University where he had been a history professor since 1970. Domestically, he was refused by Oxford, his own alma mater, in reaction to the publication. Oxford_university_seal.jpgStill in need of employment, Skidelsky accepted an offer to teach at the Polytechnic of North London. In his short time there, 1976 to 1978, he became the head of the Department of History, Philosophy, and International Studies. When recalling these tumultuous times later in life, Skidelsky explains that “you can regret things that were morally wrong, but you can’t regret writing a book as you saw things at the time. [. . .] I had not wavered from my stance as an objective historian. It wasn’t that I approved of Mosley’s fascism, but I could see that there was a politician who went mad through sheer frustration” (Guardian).



In the wake of disappointment from his most recent book, Skidelsky set out to make amends – and to prove himself. He accepted a position as a professor of international studies at Warwick University, later to change disciplines and teach political economy. He held this position until 2006, and is now Professor Emeritus of Political Economy. However, one post was not enough to satisfy Skidelsky’s “intellectual curiosity” (Guardian). He dedicated nearly thirty years to writing a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes. He currently holds a seat as Chairman of the Board of Governors at Brighton College as well as that of a Life Peer in the British Parliament House of Lords. He also reviews books for the New Statesman, Prospect, and the New York Review of Books. Finally, Skidelsky is the Director of the Moscow School of Political Studies in Russia.



Of Skidelsky’s numerous accomplishments, his most notable and most acclaimed is his biography of John Maynard Keynes. Skidelsky was a great admirer of Keynes, of his school of thought and of his theories. tilton.jpgIn the 1970s, while the whole world was in full Keynesian swing, Skidelsky began work on his biography. He published the first volume of three in 1983, titled John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, 1883-1920. To further his inspiration, Skidelsky moved into Tilton House, home of John Maynard Keynes and his wife Lydia Lopokova, in 1986. In the Georgian country house in East Sussex, Skidelsky lived, wrote, and paced in the very same rooms that his idol and subject had once inhabited. 1992 saw the publication of Skidelsky’s second installment, John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Savior, 1920-1937. Concluding the collection in 2000, Skidelsky completed and published John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain, 1937-1946. This time, Skidelsky’s work was met with much acclaim and commendation. His biography of the radical macroeconomist went on to win many prestigious awards:
Ø 1992 – Wolfson History Prize
Ø 2000 – Duff Cooper Prize
Ø 2000 – Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction writing
Ø 2001 – James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography
Ø 2002 – Arthur Ross Book Award for international relations
Ø Lionel Gelber Prize for International Relations


Robert Skidelsky on writing Keynes’ biography:

I started writing in the late '70s, and we were all still steeped in Keynes then, and it was almost heresy to sort of challenge. It had started to be challenged in the United States, but in Britain hardly at all. And so as the 1980s disclosed new possibilities and new imperfections in the Keynesian system, as new theoretical contributions came through in the work of Milton Friedman and the rational expectations, the revolution, one really started to realize some of Keynes's limitations and also started to realize that he was a product of his day, and that the world had changed, and therefore he was going to be less central in the economic life of the future than he had been in the past. All that realization flooded in as my biography went on, but it didn't diminish my admiration for Keynes or my joy in his company. (PBS)


Skidelsky also dabbled in a little British politics. He was a member of both the Labour and Conservative SkidelskyOffice.jpgParties, as well as co-founder of the Social Democratic Party with Lord David Owen. Skidelsky was never definitive on many issues, and never fully supported the platform of any one party – in 2001 he left the political arena, unable to reconcile his differing views. He is a Life Peer of the House of Lords, meaning that he is a member of the House for the duration of his lifetime, and the title cannot be inherited by his children.


In the midst of teaching, writing, and politically disrupting, Skidelsky also has a home life. In 1970, he married his wife, Augusta Mary Clarissa Hope. Together they have two sons, Edward and William, and one daughter, Juliet.



Robert Skidelsky has extensive Russian roots; his ancestors “were ‘oligarchs’ of the far east before the Revolution. [His] great grandfather had established the family fortune when he acquired the contract to build the final bit of the Trans-Siberian railway.” Skidelsky’s father continued the operation, upholding the family firm, L.S. Skidelsky, dealing mostly with “coal mining and timber concessions” (Ask, Skidelsky). skidelsky372.jpgHis first foray into the Russian realm was in 1994; he traveled to post-Communist Russia for research on a book he was writing, The World After Communism. The book was published in 1995, but Skidelsky continued to travel there and study the Russian language. For eight years he half-heartedly attempted to pick it up. After a run in with actor Ralph Fiennes, a fellow Russian-language immersion-learner, Skidelsky had the name of a new Russian language tutor and a new personal resolution. In 2002 he announced to his tutor that he intended to take the Russian A-level examination. Determined, Skidelsky dutifully practiced his speaking and enhanced his vocabulary by studying homemade Russian flashcards.


I would build up my vocabulary by accumulating a stock of cards, the size of visiting cards, with the Russian word on one side and the English word on the other. For months I never ventured out without my precious cards, held together by elastic bands. I would wander down the long corridors of the House of Lords, cards clutched in my hands, muttering away like a lunatic. I imagined them saying "Skidelsky, completely off his rocker, sad case really..." (Skidelsky)


Skidelsky’s upcoming examination would include six papers and an oral examination. He studied diligently, learning Russian texts and literature and continuing speech practice; after practice examinations with his tutor, he was comfortably aiming for a B. He did indeed receive a B, but the specifics of his examination results were quite unexpected. For a portion of the test he was required to write on Russian unemployment – a topic he was confident in discussing as a professor of economics. Yet when he received the results of this portion, he was surprised to find that he was awarded a staggeringly low mark. Curious as to why and believing that his lack of Russian fluency was the culprit, he appealed it, only to be further appalled; he was informed that the true menace was “[his] lack of knowledge and understanding of the subjects, [his] inability to develop a coherent argument, and irrelevance.” Apparently Skidelsky was more like Keynes than he realized – Keynes too received low marks on his civil service examination “in the only two subjects of which [he] possessed a solid knowledge, mathematics and economics” (Skidelsky).



Currently, Robert Skidelsky resides on the board of a paramount US mutual fund and is the director of a Florida employment agency. Says Skidelsky about his shift to corporate America: “I'm just modestly restoring the Skidelsky family fortune after all those years in academia” (Guardian).




Bibliography
1. Arnot, Chris. "Lord Skidelsky: Life and Tomes." Guardian.co.uk. the Guardian, 4 July 2006. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/jul/04/highereducationprofile.academicexperts>.
2. Skidelsky, Robert. "My A-level Hell." Guardian.co.uk. the Guardian, 9 Dec. 2003. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/dec/09/schools.alevels2003>.
3. Skidelsky, Robert. "Robert Skidelsky, Baron Skidelsky." Ask. Ask.com, 12 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ask.com/wiki/Robert_Skidelsky>.
4. PBS. "Commanding Heights: Lord Robert Skidelsky." PBS. PBS.org, 18 July 2000. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/int_robertskidelsky.html>.
5. Rodrigues, Jorge. "Keynes Would Have Hated the Excess "financialization" of Today." Janela Na Web. Janela Na Web, 10 Oct. 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <http://janelanaweb.com/novidades/%C2%ABkeynes-would-have-hated-the-excessive-financialization-of-today%C2%BB/>.