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.