Biography

Giles Milton is the internationally bestselling author of eleven works of narrative history. His books have been translated into 25 languages.

His most recent publication is Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown that Shaped the Modern World, the tale of Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the World War Two, the sectors of the city and the Berlin Airlift.

Milton’s previous work is D-Day: The Soldiers’ Story, which recounts the previously untold story of the young men who landed in the opening waves of D-Day – American, British, Canadian, French and other nationalities. The book includes rarely heard stories of the German defenders, as well as those of French civilians living on the Normandy coast.the Sunday Times bestselling Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, is currently being developed into a major TV series. His 1999 bestseller, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg (serialized on BBC Radio 4) is also being developed for television.

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Milton’s other works include Russian Roulette, Samurai William, White Gold, Big Chief Elizabeth, Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922, Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War, Fascinating Footnotes from History and The Riddle and the Knight.

He is also the author of three novels, The Perfect CorpseAccording to Arnold and Edward Trencom’s Nose.

Milton’s works of narrative history rely on personal testimonies, diaries, journals and letters to tell the story of key moments in history, recounted through the eyes of those who were there. ‘Much of my working life is spent in the archives,’ says Milton, ‘delving through letters and personal papers. Days can pass without unearthing anything of interest but persistence often pays rich dividends. Amidst the flotsam and jetsam, there are always some glittering gems.’

The Times described Milton as being able ‘to take an event from history and make it come alive’, while The New York Times said that Milton’s ‘prodigious research yields an entertaining, richly informative look at the past.

Giles Milton lives in London and Burgundy.

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Books

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Events

Checkmate in Berlin with Giles Milton – In Person

Checkmate in Berlin with Giles Milton – In Person

Join The London History Festival for this fascinating interview with the best-selling author, Giles Milton. Tuesday 16 November, 6.30pm to 7.30pm.In his latest work, with his consummate storyteller’s flair, the bestselling author of D-Day and Fascinating Footnotes from History zooms in ...

Articles

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A Corpse on Everest: George Mallory

A Corpse on Everest: George Mallory

The corpse was frozen and bleached by the sun. It lay face down in the snow, fully extended and pointing uphill. The upper body was welded to the scree with ice. The arms, still muscular, were outstretched above the head. Mountaineer George Mallory had last been sighted on 8 June 1924, when he ...
Rehearsal for D-Day: Exercise Tiger

Rehearsal for D-Day: Exercise Tiger

It was three minutes past two on the morning of 28 April 1944. A flotilla of American warships was approaching Slapton Sands on the Devon coast in south-west England, a crucial practice exercise in advance of the D-Day landings. Exercise Tiger was a 300-vessel, 30,000-men dress rehearsal for ...
Heart of Darkness: The Slave Ship Zong

Heart of Darkness: The Slave Ship Zong

Captain Luke Collingwood was used to grim voyages across the Atlantic, but this one had been worse than most. Dysentery, diarrhoea and smallpox had already claimed the lives of seven of the crew aboard the slave ship Zong. The slave cargo had suffered a far higher mortality rate. More than ...
The Very Strange Death of Alfred Loewenstein

The Very Strange Death of Alfred Loewenstein

In the early evening of 4 July 1928, a fabulously wealthy businessman named Alfred Loewenstein boarded his private plane at Croydon Airport. It was a routine flight that would take him across the English and French coastlines before landing at Brussels, where Loewenstein lived with his wife, ...
When Stalin Robbed A Bank

When Stalin Robbed A Bank

The two heavily armed carriages rattled slowly into the central square of Tiflis (now known as Tbilisi), the state capital of Georgia. Seated resplendent in one of the carriages was the State Bank’s cashier. The other carriage was packed with police and soldiers. There were also numerous ...
Hitler’s Final Hours

Hitler’s Final Hours

For the occupants of Hitler’s private bunker the news could scarcely have been bleaker. The Soviet army was advancing so rapidly that it was now within a few hundred yards of the bunker’s perimeter fence.The nearby Schlesischer railway station had already been captured. The Tiergarten was ...
By Balloon to the North Pole

By Balloon to the North Pole

At exactly 2.30 p.m. on 11 July 1897, a gigantic silk balloon could be seen rising into the Arctic sky above Spitsbergen. Inside the basket were three hardy adventurers, all Swedish, who were taking part in an extraordinary voyage. Salomon Andrée was the instigator of the mission. Charismatic ...
Meet the Real Unsung Heroes of D-Day

Meet the Real Unsung Heroes of D-Day

They arrived in a blare of noise, a troop of D-Day commandos led by their flamboyant commander Simon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lovat. They had spent much of the morning fighting their way inland from Sword Beach. Now, they were nearing their goal: the rescue of John Howard and his beleaguered ...
Operation Harling: Textbook Guerrilla Warfare

Operation Harling: Textbook Guerrilla Warfare

It was approaching midnight and the snow-capped peaks of the Roumeli Mountains in Greece could be seen gleaming in the moonlight. The American Liberator aircraft circled Mount Giona a couple of times before Eddie Myers gave the signal to jump.A few seconds later, he and his fellow saboteurs
The Fight for Normandy’s Beaches

The Fight for Normandy’s Beaches

It had been raining for much of the day and the air was still damp when Wally Parr clambered into the glider that would take him to Normandy. It was 10.35pm on 5th June 1944 and Parr’s nerves were on edge – with good reason. He had been selected for an audacious airborne operation that was to ...

Author Interview(s)

Giles Milton

Giles Milton

What first attracted you to the period or periods you work in?I’m careful not to get too trapped in any one period! My particular interest is in individuals – often quite ordinary people - who find themselves cast into an extraordinary situation. I use their story to open a window onto an entire period, using a narrative approach to reveal an often-unknown chapter of history. An example is my book White Gold, which follows the story of a young Cornish cabin boy named Thomas Pellow. Captured by Barbary pirates in 1716 and sold into Moroccan slavery, his story sheds fascinating light on the complex issue of white slavery, one that is little known and even less discussed.Can you tell us a little more about how you research? Has the process changed over the years?I like to construct my narratives, wherever possible, from primary source material – diaries, letters, unpublished typescripts and oral interviews. This often necessitates many months of research in order to locate people with such material in their possession. To give an example…  for my book Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, I tried to locate the families of the six mavericks in Churchill’s secret Ministry - those who planned all the most audacious guerrilla operations of the Second World War. My hope was that these families would have their own personal archives. And they did! One of them, the daughter-in-law of weapons designer Cecil Clarke, had an entire bedroom filled with diaries and letters – including letters from Winston Churchill.The common phrase is that history is written by the victors. Do you think this is true?Largely, but I think people are increasingly interested in hearing it told from different points of view. Many readers have told me how fascinated they were to read about the Normandy landings from the German perspective in my book about D-Day.Are there any historians who helped shaped your career? Similarly, can you recommend three history books which budding historians should read?I really admire what I’d describe as the first generation of narrative historians: Peter Hopkirk, Peter Fleming, Steven Runciman and David Howarth. I just re-read Hopkirk’s The Great Game: it’s a highly complex story told with clarity, deep insight and a dash of humour.If you could meet any figure from history, who would it be and why? Also, if you could witness any event throughout history, what would it be?It would be Sir Walter Ralegh – one of the great figures of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period who, in so many way, seems close to our own world: a self-made social climber, flamboyant, a show-off, a self-promoter, who was nonetheless a genius at unrolling the frontiers of the Golden Age of exploration. Ralegh was also a sublime writer: his Discoverie of Guiana is a work of genius, as well as being a beautifully written work of propaganda. The early colonisers of America (notably the Jamestown settlers) owe a debt of gratitude to Ralegh’s early colonisation efforts in the 1580s. Without his trailblazing efforts, America  - for good or for ill – might never have been colonized by the Anglo-Saxon world.If you could add any period or subject to the history curriculum, what would it be?Two subjects that are very rarely even mentioned at school. The first is the East India Company, which played such a vital role in 17th and 18th century global history. It was also the world’s first global corporation, an operation with extraordinary rapacity and displaying often eye-stretching willingness to resort to violence. It was the subject of two of my books, Nathaniel's Nutmeg and Samurai William, which examined the Company’s role in opening up the world.I would also like to see the white slave trade taught in schools. While this was nowhere near on the scale of the black slave trade – indeed the two should not be compared – it nevertheless saw the enslavement of up to one million Europeans between 1600 and 1800. Most of these Europeans were sold into slavery in North Africa, having been captured at sea or snatched from the coastal villages of Britain and mainland Europe. I wrote about it at length in my book White Gold. It’s worth remembering that many hundreds of British nationals were seized and sold into slavery in the very year that Rule Britannia (‘Britons never shall be slaves’) was composed.If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, either as a student or when you first started out as a writer, what would it be?The same advice as I still give to myself, every day of the year. Write, write, write, even if it’s no good. It’s easier to rewrite a poorly written draft than to fill a blank page.Can you tell us a little bit more about the project you are currently working on?My latest book, published June 2021, is Checkmate in Berlin. Its subtitle gives a few more clues: The Cold War Showdown that Shaped the Modern World. It’s the story of the dramatic breakdown in relations between the western powers and their erstwhile Soviet partners, followed by the rebuilding of Western Europe under the protection of NATO.It’s told through the prism of the four sector commandants: American, British, Soviet and French, whose personal rivalry perfectly mirrors the geopolitical rivalry at the end of the Second World War. The two biggest characters are the American cowboy commandant of Berlin, Col. Frank ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Howley and his So