Sir Max Hastings is an author, journalist and broadcaster whose work has appeared in every British national newspaper. He is now a columnist for The Times of London and for Bloomberg Inci and reviews regularly for the Sunday Times. He has published thirty books, among the most recent of which are ABYSS: The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (2022); OPERATION PEDESTAL: The Fleet that Battled to Malta 1942 (2021); CHASTISE: The Dambusters Story 1943 (2019); VIETNAM An Epic History of a Tragic War (2018); THE SECRET WAR: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-45 (2015); CATASTROPHE: Europe Goes to War 1914 (2013); ALL HELL LET LOOSE (2011); DID YOU REALLY SHOOT THE TELEVISION ?: A Family Fable (2010); FINEST YEARS: Churchill As Warlord 1940-45 (2009); and ARMAGEDDON: The Battle for Germany 1944-45 (2004). He has also published three collections of writing about the British countryside and field sports.
The son and grandson of writers, he was educated at Charterhouse (scholar) and University College, Oxford (exhibitioner), from which he dropped out to become a journalist. In 1967-68 he worked in the US after winning a World Press Institute fellowship, an experience which inspired his first book AMERICA 1968: The Fire This Time, published when he was 23. Thereafter, he spent most of his early years as a foreign correspondent for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard, reporting eleven conflicts, notably including Vietnam and the 1982 South Atlantic war.
He was editor, then editor-in-chief, of The Daily Telegraph from 1986-1995, and of the Evening Standard 1996-2002. He has described his journalistic career in two memoirs, GOING TO THE WARS (2000) and EDITOR (2002).
Hastings achieved his first major literary success with BOMBER COMMAND, published in 1979, which established his trademark style of combining top-down analysis of the ‘big picture’ with human stories from the bottom up. Beyond archive research, he interviewed more than 70 personnel of the RAF’s 1939-45 Bomber Command, from its C-in-C Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to aircrew and staff officers. On the book’s publication it prompted outrage from some RAF veterans, including Harris, and fierce print controversy including harsh comment from airmen. Many reviewers nonetheless praised the work. C.M.Woodhouse, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, called the book ‘a brilliant tour de force for a man born after the events he describes’. C.P.Snow wrote in the Financial Times: ‘Max Hastings joins Len Deighton as one of the best interpreters of the last war’. The Economist said: ‘This is the most critical book yet written about Bomber Command … it is also far and away the best’. The book was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and has remained in print for more than 40 years.
THE BATTLE FOR THE FALKLANDS, published in 1983, was written with his friend and then Economist political editor Simon Jenkins. Hastings described the struggle in the South Atlantic, which he had witnessed as a correspondent, while Jenkins told the political and diplomatic story. The book became a massive bestseller, and is still widely hailed as the best account of the conflict.
Hastings had temporarily abandoned work on a study of the 1944 D-Day landings and subsequent Normandy campaign in order to serve as a correspondent in the Falklands. He returned to complete the former work, and in the anniversary summer of 1984 OVERLORD became a No.1 bestseller. The book argued, controversially, that the German army showed itself man-for-man superior to the British and US armies, which eventually prevailed only through superiority of resources, especially air power. Some British veterans publicly attacked Hastings for his views, which they thought unjust to the memory of fighting soldiers and even unpatriotic.
Several former senior officers who had served in Normandy came to his defence, however, including Field-Marshal Sir Edwin Bramall. Field-Marshal Lord Carver, who in 1944 commanded an armoured regiment, wrote in The Times Literary Supplement praising ‘Hastings’s perceptive and realistic judgements on military issues … [the book] combines serious historical and critical comment with brilliant reportage’. Drew Middleton wrote in the New York Times: ‘OVERLORD will shock … Such is the impact of his record that few interested in the subject will ever see it again with the complacency that marked the post-war works of generals and historians’.
To write THE KOREAN WAR, Hastings conducted extensive research and interviews in China and South Korea as well as in Britain and the US. By the time it appeared in 1987, Hastings had become editor of the Daily Telegraph. Professor Sir Michael Howard wrote in the London Review of Books: ‘A brilliant and compelling book which must rank, even by the standards Max Hastings has set, as a masterpiece’. Robert Blake wrote in the Financial Times: ‘Hastings is one of our most able and perceptive writer on the military history … not only very readable but judicious, scholarly and generous. His latest book can only add to a reputation already very high’.
During the 16 years that Hastings served as a newspaper editor, he published no further histories, only three collections of writings about the countryside, and a 2000 memoir of his youthful experiences as a war correspondent, GOING TO THE WARS. On quitting newspapers, he also wrote EDITOR, (2003), a memoir of almost a decade at the Telegraph.
Within two weeks of retirement from the Evening Standard in February 2002 he was in Moscow, starting research for his long-planned account of the 1944-45 battle for Europe, ARMAGEDDON, published in 2004. The book sought to marshal in a single volume the stories of both the Eastern and Western fronts, whereas most previous studies addressed one or the other. Hastings conducted scores of interviews with veterans and civilian survivors in five countries. Once again the resulting book won applause and achieved best-seller status. It was followed by a 2006 companion volume NEMESIS: The 1944-45 Battle for Japan.
In 2009 Hastings published FINEST YEARS: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45. The study was admiring, but also addressed the wartime prime minister’s failures and follies, including his recklessly dangerous dispatch of troops to France in 1940 after Dunkirk; his handling of the 1943 Dodecanese campaign; the 1944-45 Bengal Famine; relations with the dominions and exaggerated hopes for so-called ‘area bombing’. Churchill scholar Piers Brendon, writing in the Sunday Times, called it ‘one of the best books ever written about Churchill’.
The 2011 ALL HELL LET LOOSE was a take on the entire Second World War as human experience, rather than a political or campaign narrative. The Washington Post called the book ‘extraordinary…a monumental achievement’ and the Sunday Times rated it as ‘unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written’. It became Hastings’s biggest bestseller, and has been translated in many countries.
Hastings’ subsequent books most notably included CATASTROPHE: Europe Goes to War 1914 (2013) and VIETNAM: An Epic Tragedy 1945-75 (2017). He himself often says that he has spent a lifetime learning that soldiers, sailors and airmen are by no means the most important people in conflicts; that civilian victims, especially women, are vastly more numerous, and in the past their experiences have been neglected by historians. His books have increasingly emphasized such stories, rather than merely describing events on battlefields.
His most recent book is ABYSS: The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962, published in October 2022. Hastings says in his introduction to the book that he seeks to set the events of the so-called Thirteen Days of the US-Soviet nuclear confrontation in the wider context of the Cold War, ‘to explain what sort of country Cuba then was, and the Soviet Union, and America’. He explores obvious parallels with today’s Ukraine war and crisis, which he writes are not exact, but have awakened ‘oversleeping Westerners’ to the mortal danger posed by nuclear weapons, ‘which has been for decades scarcely discussed among ordinary citizens’. His long experience of writing about conflict convinces him that the rightful motto for all wise national leaders is ‘Be Afraid’.
Hastings has received awards both for his books and journalism. BOMBER COMMAND (1979) won the Somerset Maugham Prize. He was Journalist of The Year and Reporter of the Year in the 1982 British Press Awards, and Editor of The Year in 1988.
In 2008 he received the Westminster Medal of the RUSI for his lifetime contribution to Military Literature, and in 2009 the Edgar Wallace Trophy of the London Press Club.
In 2012 the Pritzker Military Library of Chicago presented him with its $100,000 Literary Award for lifetime achievement; and he again received the Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature for ALL HELL LET LOOSE.
In 2019 he received the Bronze Medal for the US Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Award for VIETNAM: An Epic History of a Tragic War.
He has presented many TV documentaries. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Honorary Fellow of King’s College, London, he has also received honorary degrees from Leicester and Nottingham universities. He was President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England 2002-2007, and a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery 1995-2004. He was knighted in 2002 for services to journalism. Now 76, he has two grown-up children, Charlotte who works for a London public relations company, and Harry who runs PlanSouthAmerica, ‘a thriving travel business that span the continent’. Max lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically. Max’s niece Calypso Rose runs The Indytute ‘brilliantly inspired lessons’.
Read The Sunday Times profile of Max here