Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson (2011)

The problem of why civilisations fall is too important to be left to the purveyors of scissors-and-paste history. It is truly a practical problem of our time, and this book is intended to be a woodsman’s guide to it. (Preface p.xxii) Ferguson doesn’t shy away from the big subjects, in fact he enjoys storming the […]

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson (2008)

Like Empire and Colossus before it, this is the book of a Channel 4 TV series. And like them, it is a thematic not a chronological history. Thus: Chapter 1 – A quick skate through the history of money and credit, starting with Babylonian clay tablets, quickly on to the rise of the Medici bankers in […]

Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire by Niall Ferguson (2004)

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 as a result of the 9/11 attacks. It invaded Iraq in March 2003 in response to the alleged threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. These acts prompted an unprecedented flood of articles in newspapers and magazines, TV documentaries, conferences, seminars, papers and hundreds of books […]

Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson (2004)

Sir Richard Turnbull, the penultimate Governor of Aden, once told Labour politician Denis Healey that, “when the British Empire finally sank beneath the waves of history, it would leave behind it only two monuments: one was the game of Association Football, the other was the expression ‘Fuck off’.” (p.365) Niall Ferguson is a bit of […]

The Hammer and the Cross by Robert Ferguson (2009)

Top Viking facts Holy War There are numerous theories about what started the ‘Viking Age’. Bad weather. Poor soil. Population explosion. Development of sailing technology. Ferguson goes with the theory that Norse violence was a holy war, a hyperviolent response to Charlemagne’s bloody campaign to convert the heathen Saxons to Christianity in the 770s which climaxed […]

The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings by Robert Ferguson (2010)

The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings is a brilliant book. It is a scholarly, systematic and scrupulous investigation of the phenomenon of the Vikings. Roberts carefully weighs the evidence about every aspect of the farflung activities of the amazing men who discovered America, settled Greenland, invaded Britain and France, became […]

A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 by Steven Hahn (2016)

My thinking about the concept of borderlands has been influenced by a growing body of literature interested in exploring the liminal spaces in which social relations, cultures and claims to sovereign authority make contact, struggle, and reshape one another. (p.525) Executive summary This is a long, turgid and demanding book. Plenty of times I nearly […]

Black Ivory (2) by James Walvin (1992)

Without the slaves there would have been no sugar and without sugar there would have been no national addiction to coffee and, later, to tea. (p.4) I bought Walvin’s book 20 years ago, read and found it as unsatisfactory then as I do now. He uses a thematic approach to grouping the material in order to […]

Primitivism and Modern Art by Colin Rhodes (1994)

This is another in Thames and Hudson’s extensive ‘World of Art’ series, which means it has a serious and thorough text but that, of the 207 illustrations, only 28 are in colour, and all of them are small. In Primitivism and Modern Art Rhodes aims ‘to give an overview of, and to highlight and clarify the […]