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History's People: Personalities and the Past

History's People: Personalities and the Past

2.5 2
by Margaret MacMillan

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In History’s People internationally acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan gives her own personal selection of figures of the past, women and men, some famous and some little-known, who stand out for her. Some have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of their times. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or


In History’s People internationally acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan gives her own personal selection of figures of the past, women and men, some famous and some little-known, who stand out for her. Some have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of their times. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers. She looks at the concept of leadership through Bismarck and the unification of Germany; William Lyon MacKenzie King and the preservation of the Canadian Federation; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War. She also notes how leaders can make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies. Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.

History’s People is about the important and complex relationship between biography and history, individuals and their times.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Amy Finnerty
MacMillan offers us a guide to these vivid figures, using characteristics like hubris, curiosity and daring to make thematic connections among them…Avoiding arid timelines, MacMillan…instead provides intimate human encounters. She seems to love sifting through the revealing details. "I want to gossip," she confesses—and so do we.
Publishers Weekly
★ 08/31/2015
In this erudite analysis of major historical figures, MacMillan (Paris 1919) spotlights individuals who have either made history or documented it. Each chapter focuses on one of five qualities: persuasion, hubris, daring, curiosity, and observational power. The first three chapters present those who have “left their mark on history,” while the last two showcase history’s recorders, who shared a “refreshing freedom from the prejudices and judgments of their own times.” MacMillan’s more surprising choices are her most interesting. While Hitler and Stalin are obvious examples of political hubris, Woodrow Wilson is an idiosyncratic—and more fascinating—choice. Nixon, hardly the most the charismatic of American presidents, is convincingly portrayed as a leader of considerable daring in his outreach to Mao’s China. MacMillan’s fascination with history’s more curious observers builds the book’s strongest chapters. Through describing the lives of people such as Victor Klemperer, a German Jewish academic who survived and documented life in Nazi Germany, or Count Harry Kessler, one of the great record keepers of European life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, MacMillan deftly and engagingly shows that history is a process of capturing the minutiae of life as much as time’s epic strokes. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
An acclaimed historian gives her take on some of the important people who have shaped the present world. In this compendium of the 2015 Massey Lectures, MacMillan (International History/Oxford Univ.; The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, 2013, etc.) analyzes a variety of historical global leaders—e.g., Otto von Bismarck and Franklin Roosevelt—and gives snippets of their early lives and the ways their upbringings influenced their decisions. She studies the human trait of hubris and how people such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Margaret Thatcher were victims of their own arrogance. The author commemorates adventurers and explorers, as well as those willing to go out on a limb, for their daring and bravado. She discusses Richard Nixon and his start of a relationship with China and Samuel de Champlain, who bravely crossed the Atlantic nearly 30 times in his quest to explore the coast of North America and the St. Lawrence River. MacMillan also considers the roles women played as they accompanied their husbands to North America and India or set out on their own to places like Albania. The author adeptly navigates a host of personal journals and diaries, which have given modern historians fresh insight into the everyday comings and goings of ordinary people. Without these writings, we would not be able to fully comprehend certain historic moments—e.g., the years leading up to and through World War II as seen through the eyes of a German Jew. Although some of the people MacMillan has chosen are not well-known, their accomplishments are no less important than those well-recognized by first or last name. Her prose is succinct and informative, and even when her transitions from one person to another are not the smoothest, the information imparted is solid. A concise, educational overview of some of the men and women who have carved out spots in the annals of history and why they should be remembered. Fans of the author are in for another treat.
From the Publisher
"[O]ne of our era’s most talented historians.” — Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State

Product Details

House of Anansi Press
Publication date:
CBC Massey Lecture Series
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Margaret MacMillan is the author of the international bestsellers The War that Ended Peace, Nixon in China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College and a professor of international history at Oxford University and a professor of history at the University of Toronto.

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History's People: Personalities and the Past 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“Our understanding and enjoyment of the past would be impoverished without its individuals, even though we know history’s currents – its underlying forces and shifts, whether of technology or political structures or social values – must never be ignored” History’s People: Personalities and the Past is the eleventh book by Canadian author and historian, Margaret MacMillan, and comprises the 2015 Massey Lectures. As well as a general commentary on the people that make and record history, MacMillan focusses on certain individuals, examining their role in history. Readers may be intrigued to find that MacMillan groups together Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Stalin and Hitler under a common banner, analysing their leadership successes and failures. MacMillan looks at people who took advantage of favourable circumstances, people who made their own beneficial circumstances, people with a knack for judging when the time was right, people who achieved by virtue of believing in themselves and their cause, and people who recorded events around them. Leaders, pioneers, explorers, entrepreneurs and meticulous diarists all feature. MacMillan tells us: “…we should never forget that the people of the past were as human as we are….we recognize in the people of the past familiar characteristics; they too had ambitions and fears, loves and hates…” and also that “Women have been some of the great adventurers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, perhaps because they were tempered and toughened by overcoming the obstacles society placed in the way of their sex” In her final chapter, we are told: “It is the interplay between individuals and their worlds that makes history and brings it to life for those of us in the present”. People who have an interest in modern history will enjoy this outstanding and very comprehensive collection of lectures. MacMillan includes a 17-page index and, for readers whose interest is piqued by a particular character, an 18-page section on sources and further reading. An exceptional read. 3.5 stars
TruFax More than 1 year ago
this book sounded great, but it is a bit of a slog to read. really disappointed. the review of it makes it sound more entertaining than the actual written word. a few interesting tidbits, but, overall, would not recommend.