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 […]

Congo: the epic history of a people by David Van Reybrouck (2010)

In Africa an archaic social organisation collides with the supremacy of a technical civilisation that causes the former to fall apart without replacing it…simply by being ourselves , we destroy traditions that were sometimes hard but venerable, and we offer as a replacement only white trousers and dark glasses, in addition to a little knowledge […]

King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1998) – part three

‘To gather rubber in the district… one must cut off hands, noses and ears.’ (Charles Lemaire, Belgian commissioner of the Equator District of the Congo Free State) William Sheppard Following his coverage of the black American Baptist minister George Washington Williams, who was appalled by what he witnessed in the Congo in 1890 and wrote […]

King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1998) – part two

I first read this book seven years ago and gave a reasonable summary of its content in a blog post. Now I’m rereading it after reading three other books which cover at least part of the same subject matter, Frank McLynn’s Hearts of Darkness and Tim Jeal’s biography of Henry Morton Stanley and group biography […]

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (1998)

I can’t remember the last time a book made me feel this physically sick. About half way through another description of the murders, rapes, dismemberments, garrotings, hangings, torture and shootings carried out by members of the Force Publique which policed the forced labour system set up by King Leopold II in his colony in the […]