Professor Samuel Edward Finer was a political scientist and historian who was instrumental in advancing political studies as an academic subject in the UK, pioneering the study of UK political institutions. His most notable work is The History of Government from the Earliest Times – a three-volume comparative analysis of all significant government systems. He was also a major contributor to the study of civil-military relations with the publication of his book, "The Man on Horseback".
Samuel, the youngest of six children, was born 22 September 1915 to Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents who had emigrated to the UK, and who ran a greengrocer's stall at Chapel Street market. His parents were killed in January 1945 by V-2 rockets. One of his brothers, Herman Finer, was also a distinguished political scientist. Although Herman emigrated to the United States, his achievement was, according to Finer, an early source of inspiration.
Samuel went to Holloway School, where he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford. He obtained a double first in modern history and 'modern Greats' (PPE). After this, he began researching Sir Edwin Chadwick, a Benthamite civil servant.
During World War II he served in the Royal Signals, where he attained the rank of captain. From 1946 to 1950, he taught politics at Balliol College, Oxford, acquiring an impressive reputation as a teacher and lecturer. From 1950 to 1966 he served as Professor of Political Institutions at the new University College of North Staffordshire (now Keele University). In 1966, he became head of the Department of Government at the University of Manchester, teaching Government and generally successfully contributing to the revival of the department's reputation. In 1974, he was made Gladstone Professor of Government at All Souls College. He retired from this post in 1982, but continued writing..
He has been described as a charismatic lecturer and a very effective administrator. He believed that the academic study of politics required a firm grounding in history, and was sceptical of attempts to convert the subject into a science based on such deterministic frameworks as Marxism and behaviouralism.
He was chairman of the political Studies Association of the UK from 1965 to 1969 and was a vice-president of the International political Science Association.
Samuel was a passionate liberal democrat and supporter of the causes of electoral reform and Zionism. He was twice married and had two sons (one of whom is the musician Jem Finer) and one daughter. He died on 9 June 1993, aged 77, leaving a widow, Catherine.
Samuel's magnum opus, The History of Government from the Earliest Times, is a comparative analysis of government systems, past and present. History of Government occupied Samuel's retirement years, 1982 to 1993. After a heart attack in 1987, he was only able to complete 34 out of the projected 36 chapters; the missing two chapters would have been on the exportation of the modern state model outside the West, and on the variations on the theme of modern totalitarianism.
Samuel died on 9 June 1993.