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History's People: Personalities and the Past

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Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series 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, a Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series 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.


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Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series 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, a Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series 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.

30 review for History's People: Personalities and the Past

  1. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

    “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 “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 ★s

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bibi

    In this book, MacMillan is sharing history with us in a unique way. At first, I thought she will dedicate sections of the book to the various personalities she chose to feature in the book. Instead, once I opened the book, I realized that she has assigned them to little boxes labelled Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, Observers and Persuasion & the Art of Leadership. I did not find the first part engrossing and that is because I already have some knowledge about FDR, Nixon, Hitler, Stalin, Margaret That In this book, MacMillan is sharing history with us in a unique way. At first, I thought she will dedicate sections of the book to the various personalities she chose to feature in the book. Instead, once I opened the book, I realized that she has assigned them to little boxes labelled Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, Observers and Persuasion & the Art of Leadership. I did not find the first part engrossing and that is because I already have some knowledge about FDR, Nixon, Hitler, Stalin, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill etc. but it is still interesting how she distilled their personalities. There is good representation of Canada through the likes of Mackenzie King and Samuel de Champlain. Throughout the book, MacMillan refers to the possibility how different the world may have turned out or differently history may have been written. There is much musing of what if or what it would be if there was no such and such. Like MacMillan, I too "like the details of long-gone people: what they wore or ate, who they loved and hated". I am always keen to read about what drives people; what made some, incredible leaders and others, despicable dictators. I enjoyed reading of the powerful; it is like a kind of celebrity gossip from years gone by and it was this curiosity that led me to her book. I particularly like the latter part of the book which featured some incredible women who I knew little of. They include: • Edith Durham and her role for an independent Albania • Gertrude Bell aka the Desert Queen and her role in the formation of Iraq • Mrs Simcoe whose husband helped to establish what is now Toronto. • Fanny Parkes and her memoirs which provided insights of the Raj period in India. It is interesting that she was able to piece together much of history by reading the records they left behind - memoirs, diaries, letters. As she indicated: "Without their records, our knowledge of the past would be so much poorer". I know that I would share the same glee as this author when she confessed: "there is always something pleasurable in doing what one ought not to do in ordinary life, and that is read the private letters and diaries of others all in the name of research". I thank the author for doing all the hard work and for publishing her book which has a great section at the end for further readings on anyone or any event which may pique the readers' interest. This book is not a who dunnit or drama or romance. It is history distilled through personalities so not everyone may like it but I did (4 stars).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    A book that aligns very closely to my own views on the role of the individual in history. Especially noteworthy are the passages on women whose stories have been lost to history; Margaret MacMillan manages to bring them deservedly to light once again. An easy, informative, flowing read that leaves the reader in a contemplative mood.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robert Meyro

    A disappointing read following The War That Ended Peace , another book of Margaret MacMillan's. Although the intention of the book was likely to be an enjoyable read with some interesting anecdotes here and there, I found there to be little insight into any of the historical figures covered. Might as well have just looked them up on Wikipedia. A disappointing read following The War That Ended Peace , another book of Margaret MacMillan's. Although the intention of the book was likely to be an enjoyable read with some interesting anecdotes here and there, I found there to be little insight into any of the historical figures covered. Might as well have just looked them up on Wikipedia.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Barbara McEwen

    So I finished this as well as I could considering I had a copy that duplicated 50 pages, so I effectively lost 50 pages. Oh well! I had initially picked this up because I heard Margaret MacMillan on CBC radio (maybe these lectures even?) and thought she was fascinating but was worried the neighbours would start to worry if I never got out of my car and just sat there all creepy like. This book is based on her Massey lectures so I was hopeful it would be nice and accessible for plebians like me, w So I finished this as well as I could considering I had a copy that duplicated 50 pages, so I effectively lost 50 pages. Oh well! I had initially picked this up because I heard Margaret MacMillan on CBC radio (maybe these lectures even?) and thought she was fascinating but was worried the neighbours would start to worry if I never got out of my car and just sat there all creepy like. This book is based on her Massey lectures so I was hopeful it would be nice and accessible for plebians like me, who are intimidated by giant history tomes. Turns out you should probably listen to the Massey lectures online though. The book was ok, and I learned a few interesting tidbits of history but the format that worked for the lectures didn't work in the book. You get random people from random time periods thrown together. They are supposed to be connected by their traits like hubris or daring, but it all gets very confusing. I would imagine without understanding her audience for the Massey lectures people would be confused by the seemingly random Canadian personalities thrown in with some very famous people too. Ha, ha, people, surprised you by forcing some Canadian history on you eh? I love Canada, don't get me wrong, but even a patriotic Canadian such as myself can fall asleep learning about Beaverbrook. Well, I tried to better myself. Oh and don't write off Margaret MacMillan, she is cool and is already a much more fascinating Canadian than some of the old white guys she stuffed in this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    It's a no for me, dog. Super Euro-centric content and colonialism apologist vibes. I did enjoy the mini-bios format, but wish it highlighted different people. I also found MacMillans's brief commentary on the interplay and tensions between historians and biographers fascinating and would be interested to read more on that topic. History does not, however, offer clear guidelines for us as we make decisions in the present or blueprints as we try to anticipate the future. We have seen what can happe It's a no for me, dog. Super Euro-centric content and colonialism apologist vibes. I did enjoy the mini-bios format, but wish it highlighted different people. I also found MacMillans's brief commentary on the interplay and tensions between historians and biographers fascinating and would be interested to read more on that topic. History does not, however, offer clear guidelines for us as we make decisions in the present or blueprints as we try to anticipate the future. We have seen what can happen when leaders and opinion-makers say confidently that they are drawing on lessons from the past. The protean nature and scope of history means that people, for good or for evil, can find justification or prior examples for whatever they want to do. History and its people offer only a more modest insight and some modest encouragement: that we are all creatures to a certain extent of our own times, but that we can transcend or challenge what limits us.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brooke Mackenzie

    I enjoyed reading this book as it introduces new historic figures for me to explore. Some of the people mentioned I have studied many times in numerous classes but others I had never heard of and I was intrigued by there stories. The author inserts a lot of her own opinions into the book. Normally this didn’t bother me, but in some ways I would have liked to form more of my own opinion on the stories she shared. My only dislike is the authors positive view on how Canada became a country— it wasn I enjoyed reading this book as it introduces new historic figures for me to explore. Some of the people mentioned I have studied many times in numerous classes but others I had never heard of and I was intrigued by there stories. The author inserts a lot of her own opinions into the book. Normally this didn’t bother me, but in some ways I would have liked to form more of my own opinion on the stories she shared. My only dislike is the authors positive view on how Canada became a country— it wasn’t a “peaceable evolution”. She makes it seem like the indigenous peoples, French, and British all had a fun time getting along.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike Apps

    Well written but I couldn't help but feel it lacked the focus or detail to be considered an overly satisfying or informative read. Well written but I couldn't help but feel it lacked the focus or detail to be considered an overly satisfying or informative read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aban (Aby)

    Margaret MacMillan brings history to life in this very readable and absorbing book. She explores the qualities, and gives examples, of outstanding leaders, of risk takers, of those whose curiosity drives them to explore new worlds, and of those who quietly observe all that is going on around them. The historical figures she describes come from every part of the world and from the sixteenth century to the present age. Some are world renowned figures, others less well known, and some relatively ob Margaret MacMillan brings history to life in this very readable and absorbing book. She explores the qualities, and gives examples, of outstanding leaders, of risk takers, of those whose curiosity drives them to explore new worlds, and of those who quietly observe all that is going on around them. The historical figures she describes come from every part of the world and from the sixteenth century to the present age. Some are world renowned figures, others less well known, and some relatively obscure. I found fascinating examples in every category, and learned interesting new facts: - the man who figured out the route to Mount Everest was a young Canadain - a woman, Ada Lovelace, created the first software in history in the 1830s - that the bankers in the crash of 2008 were part of a group of men able to see opportunities, take risks, and who came to believe that could not lose! I was fascinated by MacMillan's account of an unknown (to me) risk taker, Dr. Barry Marshall. He is an Australian who came to believe that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria. Since he could not raise the money for research, he decided to experiment on himself ( much to his wife's fury!) - I could go on and on. Read the book for your self and explore the remarkable personalities who observed and/or transformed our world throughout the ages. MacMillan also provides the names and authors of of some of her favourite books, as well as a bibliography, for us to explore. I have made a note of several books to read. "History's Peolpe" is worth reading; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mendrela

    “If history is…a feast”, as Margaret MacMillan puts it, “the savour comes from its people”. Indeed, MacMillan’s “People” should be a required “dish” for anyone interested in the study of history not only because of the fascinating personalities she discusses, but because of the way she does it. In short, her writing is lucid, engaging, and scholarly without being elitist or conceding. Much ink has been spilt discussing Bismarck, FDR, Hitler, Stalin or Thatcher, but rarely has reading about them “If history is…a feast”, as Margaret MacMillan puts it, “the savour comes from its people”. Indeed, MacMillan’s “People” should be a required “dish” for anyone interested in the study of history not only because of the fascinating personalities she discusses, but because of the way she does it. In short, her writing is lucid, engaging, and scholarly without being elitist or conceding. Much ink has been spilt discussing Bismarck, FDR, Hitler, Stalin or Thatcher, but rarely has reading about them been so much…fun (this adjective, of course, is not a judgment about their actions). Moreover, apart from these historical giants which she categorizes by their personality traits, Macmillan adds a wonderful homage to the less know figures in Canadian history, intrepid women explorers, and a concluding tribute to select diary keepers who make the study of history not only more interesting, but often possible. One final note. No, MacMillan does not deny the importance of larger political, economic, or social forces which, as it were, “make” history, but she suggests that it is the specific personalities of the aforementioned people that resulted in their seizing power and inflicting such powerful historical shifts. This is history par excellence from an excellent historian and a writer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Margaret MacMillan is one of my favourite authors and I find her books very interesting and readable. This book is her recent Massey Lectures in book form and it looks at history from the perspective of historical figures who have contributed to its telling, subtitled "Personalities and the Past". Each chapter represents a certain common quality or role which has been shown by the characters she chooses. The qualities include persuasion and the art of leadership, hubris, curiousity, daring, and Margaret MacMillan is one of my favourite authors and I find her books very interesting and readable. This book is her recent Massey Lectures in book form and it looks at history from the perspective of historical figures who have contributed to its telling, subtitled "Personalities and the Past". Each chapter represents a certain common quality or role which has been shown by the characters she chooses. The qualities include persuasion and the art of leadership, hubris, curiousity, daring, and the last chapter is "observers", which was the important role played here. I was especially struck by the importance of "observers" in history as those who have either written extensively about their experiences which provide us with a record of the times or protected manuscripts or important documents which could otherwise have been destroyed, thereby providing us with important clues about the times. There is a wide range of historical periods represented - Mrs. Simcoe, wife of John Graves Simcoe, governor of Upper Canada, Edith Durham who championed the causes of Albania, Margaret Thatcher, Stalin and Hitler, from this century, several of the adventurous women from the Raj period, etc. Many of the characters were unfamiliar to me and I plan to do further research on their contributions. It was a compelling read and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    3.5 stars I did enjoy this book for what it is--a published record of a series of lectures presented as part of the CBC's Massey Lectures. If you read each chapter as a separate entity, it makes a bit more sense, but trying to connect them together to create a seamless narrative is futile. This is my first book by MacMillan. I did quite enjoy her ability to make historical figures come alive on the page and put them into the historical context in which they lived. For the most part the individual 3.5 stars I did enjoy this book for what it is--a published record of a series of lectures presented as part of the CBC's Massey Lectures. If you read each chapter as a separate entity, it makes a bit more sense, but trying to connect them together to create a seamless narrative is futile. This is my first book by MacMillan. I did quite enjoy her ability to make historical figures come alive on the page and put them into the historical context in which they lived. For the most part the individual portraits are short and interesting glimpses into the lives of some famous, infamous, and relatively unknown individuals who pique MacMillan's interest. I would definitely like to try one of MacMillan's other books that focuses on a more comprehensive view of an historical time period or event. All in all, I found this to be an interesting introduction to some time periods and people that I would like to know more about. Toward that end, MacMillan provides a list of some suggested additional reading which has already added to my "to read" list.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    Hitler, Stalin, Thatcher, Woodrow Wilson, Otto von Bismarck... In History's People, Margaret MacMillan investigates how individuals have shaped the world through particular personality traits: persuasion and the art of leadership, hubris, daring, curiosity and observers. MacMillan's fascinating discussion of the various and varied influential personalities throughout history is the subject of this year’s Massey Lectures—an annual Canadian lecture series given each year by a different scholar of n Hitler, Stalin, Thatcher, Woodrow Wilson, Otto von Bismarck... In History's People, Margaret MacMillan investigates how individuals have shaped the world through particular personality traits: persuasion and the art of leadership, hubris, daring, curiosity and observers. MacMillan's fascinating discussion of the various and varied influential personalities throughout history is the subject of this year’s Massey Lectures—an annual Canadian lecture series given each year by a different scholar of note. Past deliverers of this series include some varied and influential personalities as well: Martin Luther King Jr, Doris Lessing, Noam Chomsky, Ronald Wright (A Short History of Progress) and Margaret Atwood. ‘MacMillan is a superb writer who can bring history to life.’ Philadelphia Inquirer ‘Stylish, intelligent, insightful, History’s People cements MacMillan’s reputation for both eminence and elegance.’ Clare Wright

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Engle

    A delightful potpourri of individuals from history ... from movers and shakers, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to humble observers, such as Victor Klemperer, MacMillan shows us how each person shapes the history of his or her world and impacts the historical record ... leading to an appreciation of the importance of each individual ... consists of the 2015 Massey Lectures in book format ...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cait

    I really liked this book. I learned more about some of the heavy hitters in history, and I also learned about some people that I've never heard about or knew very little about. It was interesting to see how people make history and how the situations make the people. Well worth the read. I really liked this book. I learned more about some of the heavy hitters in history, and I also learned about some people that I've never heard about or knew very little about. It was interesting to see how people make history and how the situations make the people. Well worth the read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    The book is very insightful although it only gives a brief summary of each recipient. It's a good book to read if you are looking for more books to pursue. The book is very insightful although it only gives a brief summary of each recipient. It's a good book to read if you are looking for more books to pursue.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ottawan

    Interesting and very readable. The relatively short people backgrounds offered encourage further reading on those of most interest.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zaid

    This book is split into different categories: Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, Observers and Persuasion & the Art of Leadership. Having only learned that this book is a compilation of a series of lectures after reading it, it makes a lot more sense how irrelevant each chapter seems to the next. On the one hand, I appreciated the insight offered into the personalities of history analysed, such as Champlain, Woodrow Wilson, Thatcher, Nixon, Babur. There are only small glimpses into their lives, but I fou This book is split into different categories: Hubris, Daring, Curiosity, Observers and Persuasion & the Art of Leadership. Having only learned that this book is a compilation of a series of lectures after reading it, it makes a lot more sense how irrelevant each chapter seems to the next. On the one hand, I appreciated the insight offered into the personalities of history analysed, such as Champlain, Woodrow Wilson, Thatcher, Nixon, Babur. There are only small glimpses into their lives, but I found their interactions intriguing and learned a lot from how they have shaped today. I also appreciated the counterfactual approach, where MacMillan asks "What if that person did not exist?" or "What if that person wasn't curious?" It makes us remember that each of these personalities acted as a catalyst to huge changes to the modern world. On the other hand, I feel that some of the characters selected in this book where based on the mere fact that they were an influential white person in a foreign land , giving the impression of whitewashing history. Examples might be Gertrude Bell or Edith Durham. No doubt these personalities worked tirelessly in their lives, yet I feel a personality from that country during that time period might have been more appropriate. As a whole, the book provides great insight into individual personalities and provokes you to read more about them. Some of the people chosen were of great interest, but others appeared more irrelevant or boring.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book is based on the Massey Lectures that Margaret MacMillan delivered in 2015, and I would have enjoyed listening to them immensely. However, as a book it doesn’t work for me. There is political history, social history, and economic history, but this is something new. The history of personalities perhaps? Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Nevertheless, I plodded along because it was for my book club. And then I read this, on page 139, in the chapter called Hubris: “Once in power Hitler moved This book is based on the Massey Lectures that Margaret MacMillan delivered in 2015, and I would have enjoyed listening to them immensely. However, as a book it doesn’t work for me. There is political history, social history, and economic history, but this is something new. The history of personalities perhaps? Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Nevertheless, I plodded along because it was for my book club. And then I read this, on page 139, in the chapter called Hubris: “Once in power Hitler moved quickly to eliminate the opposition and bring the German state and German society under control. A month after he had been appointed, a convenient fire in the German parliament, the Reichstag, enabled him to gain the right to rule by decree.” Why would a fire enable him to rule by decree? No explanation is offered. If I had heard those words spoken in a lecture hall, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the “hole,” but it was glaring in book format. I’m a fan of Margaret MacMillan but I simply wasn’t enjoying this book, and decided not to finish. While I loved the Canadian references, I found this book too general and sweeping in nature, and I will not find it memorable in the long run. I didn’t learn anything from it, nor will it be valuable as a reference book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Reza Amiri Praramadhan

    History is my most favorite subject. It gives us lessons and warning from the past that may be useful in the future. It is very exciting to imagine the what-ifs, that are, scenarios of how things should and should not happen and its consequences. And in this book, there are five categories of people who become part of history: first, the leaders who are able and persuasive to the point of determining the tide of history; second, the hubristic people who became so sure of their own sense of right History is my most favorite subject. It gives us lessons and warning from the past that may be useful in the future. It is very exciting to imagine the what-ifs, that are, scenarios of how things should and should not happen and its consequences. And in this book, there are five categories of people who become part of history: first, the leaders who are able and persuasive to the point of determining the tide of history; second, the hubristic people who became so sure of their own sense of righteousness, oblivious to the fact that it led them to their downfalls; third, daring adventurers who pushed forward the frontier of men; fourth, curious people, who, in their effort to satisfy their curiousity, went and found new things; and fifth, the observers, people, who, in virtue of their detailed diaries and journals, end up chronicling important moments of history of men, giving informations to future generations about otherwise unknown things and moments. Although the premise is quite interesting, I found the choice of people in the book quite questionable, since it is cramped with Canadians. I enjoy very much the categorization of Hitler and Stalin with Thatcher, though, quite amusing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia

    Is history about events or people? Do the people in the past shape the events, or does the events shape them? Margaret MacMillan argues that it is both. It is important to understand how people, because of the times they live in shape history. That those times shape people. That by studying the diaries, letters and other written materials of individuals we can better understand the times they lived in. I have read Lady Simcoe's diaries, and Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie, that are ment Is history about events or people? Do the people in the past shape the events, or does the events shape them? Margaret MacMillan argues that it is both. It is important to understand how people, because of the times they live in shape history. That those times shape people. That by studying the diaries, letters and other written materials of individuals we can better understand the times they lived in. I have read Lady Simcoe's diaries, and Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie, that are mentioned in this book. They both have given me more insight into their time in Ontario. A personal look into the past, of places that I know intimately today. It breeds a deeper understanding, and empathy for our ancestors and others hardships. Her book has also given me a list of primary sources, such as essays, diaries etc. to add to my TBR.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    Having so thoroughly enjoyed Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, I found this to be rather disappointing. This is less a book about history and more a book about Margaret MacMillan. She wants us to know that she knows lots of stuff about lots of stuff. "Fanny Parkes's memoirs, which were published in 1850, were out of print until the 1970s, and she was known only to a handful of people, such as myself, who researched the British in India." She also wants us to know she has thoughts and opin Having so thoroughly enjoyed Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, I found this to be rather disappointing. This is less a book about history and more a book about Margaret MacMillan. She wants us to know that she knows lots of stuff about lots of stuff. "Fanny Parkes's memoirs, which were published in 1850, were out of print until the 1970s, and she was known only to a handful of people, such as myself, who researched the British in India." She also wants us to know she has thoughts and opinions about stuff. And that opens quite a window. Of Ada Lovelace, "Although she too married, to a man who became the Earl of Lovelace, she managed somehow to combine being a wife and mother with using her mind." Maybe one day she'll write a book exploring this incredible mystery. If you want good history, by all means read MacMillan's excellent 1919 and War. But for a few nuggets, this effort is not much worth your time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    Mixed. For the 3 chapters that MacMillan adhered to the book title, it was brilliant. She did what great historians can do, to recognize correlations between people in disparate times and places. She groups Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher as overconfident that led to their rise, but also fall. She groups F.D. Roosevelt, Bismarck, and William Lyon MacKenzie King as having the stuff of leadership. Nixon and Samuel de Champlain were risk-takers. But after these chapters, the 2 chapters on less known h Mixed. For the 3 chapters that MacMillan adhered to the book title, it was brilliant. She did what great historians can do, to recognize correlations between people in disparate times and places. She groups Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher as overconfident that led to their rise, but also fall. She groups F.D. Roosevelt, Bismarck, and William Lyon MacKenzie King as having the stuff of leadership. Nixon and Samuel de Champlain were risk-takers. But after these chapters, the 2 chapters on less known historical figures, ones who "went their own way" and ones who observed (and wrote) history, were less interesting to me. Perhaps it's because I am most interested in historical biographies. I'm sure there are more than 3 chapters of these historical figure correlations. I would read that follow-up book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paige Skipper

    Very interesting look into the importance of the individual in shaping the world. MacMillan uses a range of personalities, some household names and some I had never heard of before. I also appreciated the caution about what history ought to be used for: "History does not, however, offer clear guidelines for us as we make decisions in the present or blueprints as we try to anticipate the future. ... The protean nature and scope of history means that people, for good or for evil, can find justifica Very interesting look into the importance of the individual in shaping the world. MacMillan uses a range of personalities, some household names and some I had never heard of before. I also appreciated the caution about what history ought to be used for: "History does not, however, offer clear guidelines for us as we make decisions in the present or blueprints as we try to anticipate the future. ... The protean nature and scope of history means that people, for good or for evil, can find justification or prior examples for whatever they want to do. History and its people offer only a more modest insight and sometimes modest encouragement: that we are all creatures to a certain extent of our own times, but we can transcend or challenge what limits us."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sonstepaul

    While MacMillan starts this book with a few essays on typical historical figures, heavily favouring those from the 20th Century—some such as Nixon and Woodrow Wilson she herself has written more about elsewhere—in the back half we really see who this book is about. Important but overlooked figures, curious and important women, and lastly the recorders of history round out this collection. As always, MacMillan’s style is easy to fall into—something to say for an expansive historical writer—and whe While MacMillan starts this book with a few essays on typical historical figures, heavily favouring those from the 20th Century—some such as Nixon and Woodrow Wilson she herself has written more about elsewhere—in the back half we really see who this book is about. Important but overlooked figures, curious and important women, and lastly the recorders of history round out this collection. As always, MacMillan’s style is easy to fall into—something to say for an expansive historical writer—and when she treats her opinion as fact there is so much research on her part supporting that opinion, the reader can easily fall in step.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erik Jacobsen

    I would recommend listening to the author read this book on CBC's Massey Lectures, as Margaret MacMillan is an good orator. Learning about the quirks of great leaders makes them seem more human and more "real" and opens our eyes to the lessons we can learn from history. That's MacMillan's argument, and I think it stands. This book started out very strong but petered out in the last few chapters and felt like it lost its direction a little. I am glad I read it though because now I know that Willi I would recommend listening to the author read this book on CBC's Massey Lectures, as Margaret MacMillan is an good orator. Learning about the quirks of great leaders makes them seem more human and more "real" and opens our eyes to the lessons we can learn from history. That's MacMillan's argument, and I think it stands. This book started out very strong but petered out in the last few chapters and felt like it lost its direction a little. I am glad I read it though because now I know that William Lyon Mackenzie King used to talk to spirits and Otto von Bismarck would eat an entire chicken as an appetizer before his main course lunch.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nilendu Misra

    Transcripts of good lectures are perhaps easier to read than vast academic tomes. They target a broad audience, keep it lively with insights, spicy with anecdotes and well structured to conform to rhetorical and other consistencies expected from a good speech. In other words, reading these Massey lectures books are like taking a stroll in the rose garden with a very sharp conversationalist. Not a steep hike under extreme weather conditions some other history books offer as experience. Off to rea Transcripts of good lectures are perhaps easier to read than vast academic tomes. They target a broad audience, keep it lively with insights, spicy with anecdotes and well structured to conform to rhetorical and other consistencies expected from a good speech. In other words, reading these Massey lectures books are like taking a stroll in the rose garden with a very sharp conversationalist. Not a steep hike under extreme weather conditions some other history books offer as experience. Off to read Margaret’s other books!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    The book is written not as a history book covering a particular period but on interesting people who made history, Ms MacMillan gives just enough to get you interested but not enough to be dull. Lots of interesting facts are given that would lead to further investigation if that was your desire. This book certainly covers some people that are very relevant but I had never been taught to appreciate. Thanks for tbe eye opener!

  29. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    In this fascinating Massey Lectures, MacMillan focuses on key individuals from history, asserting that although historians must understand brought changes and trends across history (industrialization, demographic shifts, etc.), it is also vital to understand the impact that specific individuals had on world history, merely by being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time. Told in a light-hearted way, it does a great job of humanising many famous individuals from history .

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shishir

    Many Personalities from the past examined in context of their times and traits that made them unique to their position and place in history. The book was divided into sections that highlighted qualities such as leadership, hubris, daring, curiosity and observers. Mitchell uses drawn out language but in the process gives us perceptive revelations of people and their circumstances that made them who they were. Stories were written intertwined and in a narrative style

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