Margaret MacMillan is a world renowned historian and I’m slightly ashamed to say, this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. History’s People is the compilation of the 5 Massey Lectures that Margaret MacMillan did in 2015. Thus, each chapter is one lecture making for 5 chapters in total.
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.
I found this book fascinating. Firstly, the question that she poses – does the time make the person, or does the person makes the time, is a question that has been asked countless times, and it is a hard question to answer. And in the end, she doesn’t give a finalized answer because how can you? History is not black and white, there are countless shades of grey because everything interconnects with everything else.
The book is separated into 5 chapters: Persuasian and the Art of Leadership, Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, Observers.
One of the things I really loved about this book was the people that she focused on that I didn’t know. As a history major and a qualified history teacher I know about the heavy hitters like Churchill and Hitler, but I didn’t know anything about Babur the first Munghal Emperor of India, or Victor Klemperer – who’s story I have to say made me cry.
This book made me think of what it means to change the course of history, and how history is perceived, and written about. It also was just an enjoyable read where I got to learn about people that I didn’t know and gave me a reading list of people that I now want to know more about.
I think that this book serves as an excellent introduction to Margaret MacMillan for those people, like me, who haven’t read anything by her before. But I also think that fans of Margaret MacMillan will really enjoy this book as it’s her opinion on why and how history matters, and how it effects us in the present day.