Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Simon Sebag Montefiore
Sebag Montefiore in London (2018)
Born (1965-06-27) 27 June 1965 (age 58)
London, England
EducationLudgrove School
Harrow School
Alma materGonville and Caius College, Cambridge
SpouseSanta Palmer-Tomkinson
Parent(s)Stephen Eric Sebag Montefiore
Phyllis April Jaffé

Simon Jonathan Sebag Montefiore (/ˌsmən ˌsbæɡ ˌmɒntɪfiˈɔːri/; born 27 June 1965) is a British historian, television presenter and author of popular history books and novels,[1][2] including Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), Jerusalem: The Biography (2011), The Romanovs 1613–1918 (2016), and The World: A Family History of Humanity (2022), among others.

Early life[edit]

Simon Sebag Montefiore was born in London. His father was psychotherapist Stephen Eric Sebag Montefiore (1926–2014), a great-grandson of the banker Sir Joseph Sebag-Montefiore, the nephew and heir of the wealthy philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore.[3]

Simon's mother was Phyllis April Jaffé (1927–2019) from the Lithuanian branch of the Jaffe family. Her parents fled the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. They bought tickets for New York City, but were cheated, being instead dropped off at Cork, Ireland. In 1904, due to the Limerick pogrom, her father, Henry Jaffé, left the country and moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, England.[4] Simon's brother is Hugh Sebag-Montefiore.

Sebag Montefiore was educated at Ludgrove School and at Harrow School, where he was editor of the school newspaper, The Harrovian. At the age of 17, he worked down South African gold mines, saying in 2023 "These were the last years of apartheid. I wanted to see its collapse first-hand."[5]

In the autumn of 1983 he interviewed UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher for The Harrovian.[6][7] He won an Exhibition to read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge[8] where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).[9]


Montefiore worked as a banker, a foreign affairs journalist, and a war correspondent covering the conflicts during the fall of the Soviet Union.[5]

Montefiore's book Catherine the Great & Potemkin was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, and the Marsh Biography Award.[10] Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar won History Book of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards.[11] Young Stalin won the LA Times Book Prize for Best Biography,[12] the Costa Book Award,[13] the Bruno Kreisky Award for Political Literature, Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique[14] and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.[15]

Jerusalem: The Biography was a number one non-fiction Sunday Times bestseller and a global bestseller and won The Jewish Book of the Year Award from the Jewish Book Council.[16][17] It also won a prestigious Chinese literary prize, the 10th Wenjin Book Prize, awarded by the National Library of China.[18] His latest history book is The World: A Family History of Humanity (2022).

Montefiore's debut novel King's Parade was published in 1991. The Spectator called the book "embarrassing" and "extremely silly".[19] Montefiore is also the author of the novels One Night in Winter and Sashenka. One Night in Winter won the Political Novel of the Year Prize[20] and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize.[21] He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Buckingham.

Personal life[edit]

Montefiore lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children.[8] The couple are friends of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.[22] Montefiore was appointed as a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in September 2021.[23]

He is also closely involved in interfaith relations. In July 2023 he interviewed on stage the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at an interfaith event hosted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews at England's oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks Synagogue.[24][25]

Films and TV drama series[edit]

Several of Montefiore's books are now being developed as either films or TV drama series. In February 2017, Angelina Jolie announced that she was developing "Simon Sebag Montefiore's Catherine the Great and Potemkin" with Universal Studios.[26] Also in early 2017, the film studio Lionsgate Films announced it had bought Montefiore's Jerusalem: the Biography to make it into a long running multi episodic TV drama series which will be "character-driven, action-filled account of war, betrayal, faith, fanaticism, slaughter, persecution and co-existence in the universal holy city through the ages."[27] Montefiore has likened it to Game of Thrones.[28]

The film scriptwriter and director Neil Jordan has been attached to the project to adapt the book for television, and he will also be acting as producer.[29] In April 2016, 21st Century Fox announced that its animated division Blue Sky Studios, makers of the Ice Age series, had bought "Royal Rabbits of London", the children's series of books written by Montefiore and Santa Montefiore, to develop into an animated feature film.[30] In July 2018 it was announced that the screenwriter Will Davies has been attached to the project to adapt the book for the screen.[31] Also in July 2018, it was announced that Hat Trick Productions had taken up an option on Montefiore's novel One Night in Winter, in order to make a TV adaptation.[32]


Montefiore's 2016 non-fiction book The Romanovs 1613–1918 was accused of containing several historical errors by Swedish historian Dick Harrison.[33] It also received many favourable reviews. Olga Grushin in the New York Times observed that the book is "Spellbinding ... This monumental work is an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in Russian history."[34]

Stephen Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal praised the book and noted that "No author on Russia writes better than Montefiore whose perceptiveness and portraiture here are frequently sublime ... a marvellous read and the last third from fin de siecle insanity to revolutionary cataclysm is dazzling."[35] The historian Antony Beevor noted that the book provided "Epic history on the grandest scale".[36] For The Observer, John Kampfner described Montefiore's book as "Riveting ... the research is meticulous and the style is captivating".[37]

The World: a Family History of Humanity[edit]

In 2022 Montefiore produced an ambitious world history: The World: a Family History of Humanity. It received positive reviews. The Economist said: “Don't be put off by the doorstopper length: this is a riveting page-turner. The author brings his cast of dynastic titans, rogues and psychopaths to life with pithy, witty pen portraits, ladling on the sex and violence. An epic that both entertains and informs.”[38]

The New Yorker noted that the book was “A monumental survey of dynastic rule: how to get it, how to keep it, how to squander it . . . Montefiore energetically fulfills his promise to write a 'genuine world history, not unbalanced by excessive focus on Britain and Europe.' In zesty sentences and lively vignettes, he captures the widening global circuits of people, commerce, and culture.”[39]

For The Times, Gerard DeGroot summed up the book as: "A history of the world from the Neanderthals to Trump. It's a rollicking tale, a kaleidoscope of savagery, sex, cruelty and chaos. By focusing on family, Montefiore provides an intimacy usually lacking in global histories. [It] has personality and a soul. It's also outrageously funny . . . an enormously entertaining book."[40]

Fiction reviews[edit]

Montefiore has written a Moscow Trilogy of fictional thrillers, set in Russia. These have received positive reviews. Sashenka (2008) was described by The Washington Post as "Spellbinding. Sashenka is a historical whodunit with the epic sweep of a Hollywood movie. Montefiore is a natural storyteller who brings his encyclopedic knowledge of Russian history to life in language that glitters like the ice of St Petersburg".[41] The Wall Street Journal praised "This superb novel. Sashenka is unforgettable. Inspiring. Montefiore proves a matchless storyteller, his prose harrowing and precise."[42]

One Night in Winter (2013) was described by The Guardian as "A gripping thriller about private life and poetic dreams in Stalin's Russia ... A gripping pageturner ... Whether its subject is power or love, a darkly enjoyable read."[43]

The last novel in the trilogy, Red Sky at Noon (2017), was called "a deeply satisfying pageturner – mythic and murderous" by The Times[44] and "brilliant on multiple levels ... offering historical accuracy, a fine empathy for his characters and a story that illuminates the operatic tragedy of Stalin's Russia" by Booklist.[45]


Montefiore giving an author talk at Politics and Prose on The World: A Family History (20 May 2023)
  • King's Parade (1991)[46]
  • My Affair with Stalin (1997)[47]
  • Sashenka (2008)
  • One Night in Winter (2013)
  • Red Sky at Noon (2017)
Children's books (with Santa Montefiore)
  • Royal Rabbits of London (2016)
  • Royal Rabbits of London: Escape from the Tower (2017)


  • Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City, 3 part series, 8 December 2011 – 23 December 2011[48]
  • Rome: A History of the Eternal City, 3 part series, 5–19 December 2012[49]
  • Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities, 3 part series, 5 December 2013 – 19 December 2013[50]
  • Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain, 3 part series, 8 December 2015 – 22 December 2015[51]
  • Vienna: Empire, Dynasty And Dream, 3 part series, 8 December 2016 – 22 December 2016[52]


  • Speeches that Changed The World


  • Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City, BBC, 2011[53]
  • Byzantium and the History of Faith


  1. ^ Jonathen Rosen (28 October 2011). "Caliphs, Crusaders, and the Bloody History of Jerusalem". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  2. ^ Ward, Vicky (22 January 2008). "History in the Making". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  3. ^ Obituary, BJPsych Bulletin, Royal College of Psychiatrists, "Stephen Sebag-Montefiore Doctor and psychotherapist"
  4. ^ David Shasha (15 June 2010). "Moses Montefiore: The Most Important Jew of the 19th Century". Huffington Post. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b Simon Sebag Montefiore (8 July 2023). "I worked down a South African goldmine at 17". The Guardian (Interview). Interviewed by Michael Segalov.
  6. ^ Simon Sebag-Montefiore (22 October 1983). "An Interview with the Prime Minister". The Harrovian – via Aspects of History.
  7. ^ Gold, Tanya (27 October 2022). "The man who wrote The World: Tanya Gold meets Simon Sebag Montefiore". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Simon Sebag Montefiore". BBC News. Newsnight Review. 18 July 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  9. ^ "About the author". Web site of Simon Sebag Montefiore. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  10. ^ "Catherine the Great & Potemkin by Simon Sebag Montefiore". Archived from the original on 23 April 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  11. ^ Galaxy British Book Awards: History Book of the Year 2004
  12. ^ "2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Awarded". Los Angeles Times. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  13. ^ Anderson, Hephzibah (2 January 2008). "A.L. Kennedy's 'Day', Montefiore's 'Young Stalin' Win Costas". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  14. ^ "Simon Sebag Montefiore – The Author". Orion Books. 2008. Archived from the original on 30 July 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  15. ^ Flood, Alison (26 August 2008). "Biographer celebrates 'fairy gold' prize win". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  16. ^ "NJBA Winners". Archived from the original on 27 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  17. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Simon Sebag Montefiore wins the the[sic] 10th Wenjin Book Prize". Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  19. ^ Moore, Caroline (17 May 1991). "Made young with young desires". The Spectator.
  20. ^ Thrift, Sarah (19 March 2014). "Political Book Awards winners announced". Politicos. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  21. ^ "The Orwell Prize long list". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Among friends: Inside the new King and Queen Consort's inner circle". Tatler. 15 September 2022. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  23. ^ "Inaya Folarin Iman and Simon Sebag Montefiore appointed as Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery". GOV.UK. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  24. ^ Rocker, Simon (6 July 2023). "Archbishop of Canterbury says antisemitism is the 'root of all racism'". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  25. ^ Moloney, Charlie; Burgess, Kaya (7 July 2023). "Archbishop of Canterbury: Cut university funding if students insulted". The Times. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  26. ^ Hollywood Reporter, 22 February 2017.
  27. ^ Hollywood Reporter, 5 March 2017.
  28. ^ Evening Standard, 15 June 2017.
  29. ^ "Jordan attached to screenwriter Montefiore's Jerusalem". The Bookseller. 5 March 2018. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  30. ^ Variety, 18 April 2016.
  31. ^ McNary, Dave (31 July 2018). "Fox Taps Will Davies to Write 'Royal Rabbits of London' Movie". Variety. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  32. ^ White, Peter (23 July 2018). "Stalin's Russia Set For TV As 'Episodes' Producer Hat Trick Options Simon Sebag Montefiore's Novel 'One Night in Winter'". Deadline. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  33. ^ Harrison, Dick (11 June 2017). "Recension: Den sista tsardynastin: Romanov 1613–1918 Groteska sakfel om tsardynastin" [Review: The last tsarist dynasty: Romanov 1613–1918 - Grotesque factual errors about the tsarist dynasty]. Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish).
  34. ^ Grushin, Olga (16 May 2016). "'The Romanovs: 1613-1918,' by Simon Sebag Montefiore". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  35. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (20 May 2016). "Dwarf-Throwing and Other Delights". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  36. ^ Financial Times, 15 January 2016.
  37. ^ The Observer, 25 January 2016.
  38. ^ "The best recent history books". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  39. ^ Jasanoff, Maya (22 May 2023). "The History of Nepo Babies Is the History of Humanity". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  40. ^ DeGroot, Gerard (31 July 2023). "The World by Simon Sebag Montefiore review — history told through great and infamous families". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  41. ^ Watrous, Malena (11 January 2009). "Young Revolutionary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  42. ^ Weber, Caroline (5 December 2008). "Stalin's Servant -- and Victim". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  43. ^ The Guardian, 21 September 2013.
  44. ^ The Times, 3 June 2017.
  45. ^ Booklist, 1 November 2017.
  46. ^ "Made young with young desires » 18 May 1991 » The Spectator Archive". The Spectator Archive. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
  47. ^ "My Affair With Stalin". Goodreads.
  48. ^ "Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City – BBC Four". BBC.
  49. ^ "Rome: A History of the Eternal City – BBC Four". BBC.
  50. ^ "Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities – BBC Four". BBC.
  51. ^ "Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore – BBC Four". BBC.
  52. ^ "Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream – BBC Four". BBC.
  53. ^ "BBC – Jerusalem – The Making of A Holy City – Media Centre".

External links[edit]