Niall Ferguson – The War of the World

When he isn’t making headlines by dabbling with astrology, Niall Ferguson is actually a really interesting historian. He’s definitely ambitious: His goal in The War of the World is to adjust the great narrative of the entire 20th century.  Instead of a story of Western triumph, it was a story of Western decline, and the driving force behind its conflicts was not ideology, but ethnic hatred in troubled empires.

He sums up these ideas in this Fora.tv video. You should watch it.

The history books I read these days are nearly always about the 20th century somehow, (because, hey, what a century), but I usually avoid World War 2.  There seems to be an army of desperate historians out there looking for new stories that haven’t been told yet, but all the stories have been told, so we end up with books about Hitler’s dog, Churchill’s cousin’s brother, and how awful it was in that one particular battle somewhere.  And they’re all about the World War 2 the readers already know, the one their grandparents told them about.

The War of the World is a fine (although speculative) antidote to all that.  Ferguson doesn’t use the word “eurocentric”, but I will.  To appreciate 20th century history you have to see all of it as a whole, not just the bits that happened near the place you were born in.  Ferguson seems on board with that, and while I’m sure his conclusions are debatable, I absolutely love his approach.

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