Cultural commentator, historian, poet; Born February 5, 1942; Died June 5, 2008. Angus Calder, who has died from cancer aged 66, produced a book five years ago which had been in gestation for a long time, if not the whole of his life. Gods, Mongrels and Demons was subtitled "101 Brief but Essential Lives" and included "oddballs, tinks, heidbangers, saints, keelies, nutters, philosophers, freaks and other personages". This was the sort of company Calder kept and in which he would not have been unhappy to find himself a member.

In the introduction to Gods. Mongrels and Demons, he recalled his father, Peter Ritchie Calder, who later became Lord Ritchie Calder of Balmashannar in the Royal Burgh of Forfar. He was, noted his son, a star on Fleet Street by his early twenties, one of his scoops being the unearthing of Agatha Christie in a hotel in Harrogate to which she had disappeared in the hope that her cheating husband would be accused of her murder.

It was his father's "exuberant non-career", wrote Calder, that left him unconvinced by the notion that "worthwhile" people must follow "persistent steady paths". This example was followed by Angus Calder almost to the letter. Throughout his often chaotic life he followed his interests and passions and obsessions with almost total disregard for how they might affect him career-wise or domestically.

Like his father, he shone early. Having read English at King's College, Cambridge, he received his doctorate from the School of Social Studies at the University of Sussex. In 1967, he won a Gregory Award for his poetry. Two years later came The People's War: Britain 1939-45, the research for much of which had been done at Sussex. The reception was almost unanimously warm, given its combination of impeccable scholarship and adhesive readability. Choosing it as his book of the year in the Sunday Times, Peter Wilsher echoed the views of the majority: "A tour de force of historical reconstruction, and for anyone who grew up during 1939-45, an essay in almost unadulterated nostalgia."

Throughout his life, Calder taught off and on in universities. Africa, as his first wife, the writer Jenni Daiches, has described, had a powerful, formative influence on him and he spent several spells at various African universities. From 1981-87, he was co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Studies and he championed many now well-known African writers, including Jack Mapange, Ngugu Wa Thiong'o and Chinua Achebe. However, from 1971 until his death, his base was Scotland and Edinburgh.

For 14 years, he was a staff tutor at the Open University, which his father had helped to establish and of which he was immensely proud. His son, as many former students attest, was a remarkable, generous and inspirational teacher and lecturer, awarding students the privilege of believing they lived on the same intellectual planet as him. Often seminars were conducted in pubs or around dining tables, the Open University's eclectic, polymathic approach embodied in Calder's voracious curiosity and inclusive canon.

Onerous as his teaching load undoubtedly was, he still found time to write, not the least of which were his contributions to the Open University's cataract of publications. In 1976, he produced Russia Discovered: Nineteenth Century Fiction from Pushkin to Chekhov. In 1981 came Revolutionary Empire, the first and only part of a projected trilogy, which many of his peers believe to be his best work. The Second World War continued to fascinate him and in particular how ordinary people coped with its deprivations and disasters and disappointments. The Myth of the Blitz, for example, appeared in 1990.

On top of all this, Calder edited many volumes of poetry and prose and was the author of introductions to several classic works, including Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy and Walter Scott's Old Mortality. Had he received even a penny royalty for every copy sold of the Penguin edition of Dickens's Great Expectations for which he wrote the introduction, he said, it would have kept him in Guinness for the rest of his days. Nor did he ever stop writing poetry, his collections including Horace in Tollcross, in which the Roman's odes were relocated to contemporary Scotland.

Scotland, and its enlightened, democratic belief in the efficacy of education and culture, was the subject of two of Calder's last books: Revolving Culture: Notes from the Scottish Republic and Scotlands of the Mind. The latter, recalled Gavin McDougall of Luath Press, its publisher, was conceived after a long session in the Jolly Judge pub, after which a work-experience student who had tagged along was not seen in the office for the rest of the week.

"I would like to live in an independent Scotland," wrote Calder in its introduction. But what would independence mean? "More scones for tea? Finer mince with the tatties? Extra golf on Sundays? Better results for Scottish football teams in Europe? More than one broadsheet daily newspaper worth reading?"

Such questions remain unanswered but are still well worth asking. Calder liked to call himself a "socialist home ruler", a position, he acknowledged, that had involved him in many arguments.

He is survived by his first and second wives, Jenni and Kate, and by his four children, a son and two daughters from his first marriage, and a son from his second.

Alan Taylor