Professor Samuel Edward Finer (1915–1993) was a political scientist and historian who was instrumental in advancing political studies as an academic subject in the United Kingdom, 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 wrote one of the first studies of lobbying in the UK (Anonymous Empire).
Born 22 September 1915, Finer was the third son of poor Romanian Jewish parents who had emigrated to the United Kingdom, and who ran a greengrocer's stall at Chapel Street market, Islington. One of his brothers, Herman, was also a distinguished political scientist. Although Herman emigrated to the USA, his achievement was, according to Finer, an early source of inspiration.
Finer went to Holloway School, where he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford. He obtained a double first in modern history and modern Greats. 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, successfully contributing to the revival of its reputation. In 1974, he was made Gladstone Professor of Government and Administration at the University of Oxford. He retired from this post in 1982, but continued writing – see History of Government below.
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 behavioralism.
Sammy Finer was a supporter of the causes of electoral reform and Zionism. He was twice married and had two sons. He died on 9 June 1993, aged 77, leaving a widow, Catherine.
Finer's magnum opus, The History of Government from the Earliest Times, is a comparative analysis of all significant civilised government systems, past and present.
History of Government was many years in the making. It is approximately 1,700 pages long. The herculean programme of research, consultation and writing consumed Finer's retirement years 1982-93. Slowed down by heart disease including a serious heart attack in 1987, he was only able to complete 34 out of the projected 36 chapters, but the result is nevertheless a 'block-buster'.
- A Primer of Public Administration, 1950 (ISBN 0-8371-9492-X, 1977)
- The Life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick, 1952 (ISBN 0-416-17350-0, 1970) – the outcome of Finer's postgraduate research
- Local Government in England and Wales (joint author), 1953 (ISBN 0-19-889159-8)
- Anonymous Empire: A Study of the Lobby in Great Britain, 1958 – a ground-breaking study of political lobbying in the UK
- Private Industry and Political Power, 1958, The Ramsay Muir Memorial Lecture
- Backbench Opinion in the House of Commons, 1955-59, 1961
- The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics, 1962 (ISBN 0-86187-967-8, 1988) , London: Pall Mall Press.
- Vilfredo Pareto: Sociological Writings (selector), 1966 – the writings of an Italian sociologist
- Comparative Government: An Introduction to the Study of Politics, 1970 (ISBN 0-14-021170-5, 1974) – a successful textbook
- Adversary Politics and Electoral Reform (editor), 1975 (ISBN 0-9504469-0-4)
- On Terrorism, New Society, 22 January 1976.
- Five Constitutions: Contrasts and Comparisons (editor), 1979 (ISBN 0-14-022203-0)
- The Changing British Party System, 1945-1979, 1980 (ISBN 0-8447-3368-7)
- Parties and Interest Groups (audio cassette, joint author), 1982 (ISBN 1-86013-297-9)
- Electoral System (audio cassette, joint author), 1982 (ISBN 1-86013-296-0)
- Comparing Constitutions (editor), 1995 (ISBN 0-19-876344-1)
- The History of Government from the Earliest Times, 1997 (ISBN 0-19-822904-6 three-volume set, hardback) – Finer's retirement project, unfinished and published posthumously
- Dennis Kavanagh Obituary: Professor Samuel Finer The Independent Friday 11 June 1993.
- University of Manchester, The John Rylands University Library, notes on Finer papers
- University of Keele, School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, The Finer Memorial Lecture
- Richard Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable, p. 224
- University of Manchester, The John Rylands University Library, SGML document on Finer papers with biographical details