Ferguson, Niall 1964–

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Ferguson, Niall 1964–

PERSONAL: Born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow, Scotland; son of James Campbell (a consultant physician) and Molly Archibald (a physicist; maiden name, Hamilton) Ferguson; married Susan Margaret Douglas (a consultant editor), July 25, 1994; children: Felix, Freya, Lachlan. Education: Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A. (first class), 1985, D.Phil., 1989; attended University of Hamburg.

ADDRESSES: Home—England and the United States. Office—Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Adolphus Busch Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.

CAREER: Christ's College, Cambridge, England, research fellow, 1989–90; Peterhouse, Cambridge, official fellow and lecturer, 1990–92; Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow and tutor in modern history at Jesus College, 1992–2000, professor of political and financial history, 2000–02; New York University, New York, NY, Herzog Chair in Financial History at Stern Business School, 2002–04; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, 2004–. Senior fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University; senior research fellow, Jesus College, Oxford; regular op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times; director, producer, writer, and narrator of documentary films for Blakeway Productions.

AWARDS, HONORS: Shortlisted for the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Award, 1995, for Paper and Iron; Wadsworth Prize for Business History, 1998, for The World's Banker; shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award, 1998, for The World's Banker; Houblon-Norman Fellowship, Bank of England, 1998–99.


Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation, 1897–1927, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor) Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, Macmillan (London, England), 1997, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The World's Banker, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1998, published in two volumes as The House of Rothschild: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848, Viking (New York, NY), 1998, and The House of Rothschild: The World's Banker, 1849–1999, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

The Pity of War: Explaining World War I, Allen Lane/Penguin Press (London, England), 1998, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700–2000, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order: The Lessons for Global Power, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, Penguin (New York, NY), 2004, published as Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin (New York, NY), 2005.

The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of radio series Days that Shook the World, British Broadcasting Corporation, Inc. (BBC) Radio 4. Regular contributor to newspapers, including the Sunday Times, Financial Times, and Daily Telegraph. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Times (London, England), Independent, Guardian, Spectator, New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Die Welt (Germany), Past & Present, English Historical Review, Economic History Review, Foreign Affairs, and the Journal of Economic History. Contributor to books, including Secrets of the Press: Journalists on Journalism, edited by Stephen Glover, Penguin (New York, NY), 1999; Progress and Emancipation in the Age of Metternich: Jews and Modernisation in Austria and Germany, 1815–1848, edited by Andrea Hamel and Edward Timms, Edwin Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY), 1999; The Short Oxford History of Europe: The Nineteenth Century, edited by T.C.W. Blanning, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000; and Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, edited by Roger Chickering and Stig Förster, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Author of documentary films, including The History of the British Empire, a six-part series broadcast on BBC Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in 2003; American Colossus, 2004; and The War of the World, a six-part series broadcast by the BBC in 2006. Also author of e-lecture, "Why the World Wars Were Won." Ferguson's works have been published in Spain, Germany, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Italy, and Japan.

SIDELIGHTS: Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at Harvard University, has published several works on the political and financial histories of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A regular contributor to several periodicals, Ferguson has also written and presented several multipart documentaries in conjunction with his film company, Blakeway Productions. Ferguson once told CA: "I regard engagement with the media as an integral part of my role as an historian." Among other awards, Ferguson won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History in 1998.

Ferguson's first book, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation, 1897–1927, is an expanded version of his Ph.D. thesis. Ferguson drew on Hamburg's archives and other sources in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States in writing this study of the economic and political history of Germany from World War I until the mid-1920s. Ferguson focuses on the Port of Hamburg throughout the book as he describes the effects of the war, unemployment, and inflation. He examines the roles of many of the influential figures of the time, including Hamburg bankers and industrialists such as Max Warburg, Carl Melchior, and others, during the period from the Paris peace conference until the final days of Wilhelm Cuno's term as reich chancellor.

Many historians minimize the negative effects of Germany's postwar inflation, making the case that it helped to create investment, cut debt, and raise wages for the German worker. Ferguson takes a different position. Stefan Berger wrote in History Today that he "draws up a negative balance sheet by stressing that inflationary policies neither stopped political and social unrest on a hitherto unprecedented level, nor, for a variety of reasons, made sense in economic terms. All it achieved in the end was the complete alienation of the German middle classes from the republic." Business History critic Sidney Pollard wrote, "Ferguson differs from most other historians by believing that hyperinflation could have been prevented, that it was due largely to the fear of revolution which might follow deflation, to the continued weakness of the German central authorities, and to the underlying policy of wishing to sabotage the reparations payments."

What if John F. Kennedy had lived? That and other possibilities populate Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, a collection of nine "what if" essays edited by Ferguson, including one by Diane Kunz that speculates on what might have happened if President Kennedy had not been assassinated. Jonathan Clarke, in another essay, considers whether the American Revolution would have been avoided if Britain had pursued a different policy of taxation, whether a later war might have occurred over the slavery issue, and if continued British colonization would have avoided the U.S. Civil War.

Of the essays, Conrad Russell commented in New Statesman: "The counterfactual hypothesis is the nearest historians can manage to a controlled experiment of the sort that scientists carry out. But it is not, all the same, a proper scientific experiment: the rerun without the variable has no existence outside the historian's mind." London Review of Books contributor Peter Clarke, however, stated that in Virtual History "Ferguson shows himself both erudite and cogent in staking out the ground. While building on the insights of predecessors like Bury, Popper, or W.B. Gallie, Ferguson reformulates the essential arguments with characteristically late twentieth-century appeal to chaos theory in reconciling causation and contingency."

Ferguson's lengthy history of the Rothschild family was first published in Great Britain as The World's Banker and covered the period from 1798 until 1915. It was then reissued in the United States in two volumes as The House of Rothschild: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848 and The House of Rothschild: The World's Banker, 1849–1999. Ferguson added an epilogue to the second volume in order to extend the saga until 1999. In reviewing the first volume in Time, Lance Morrow noted that Ferguson "finds enough great material for a dozen mini-series." The one-time wealthiest family on earth were also prolific letter writers, and Ferguson was able to gain access to 135 boxes of correspondence and business documents, much of it from the family's London archives, in compiling his history. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote of the volumes in the New York Times Book Review, the Rothschilds' "enthralling story has been told before, but never in such authoritative detail."

"The Rothschilds were renowned for their intelligence, in every sense of the word," wrote Fritz Stern in the New Republic about the first volume. He continued: "Ferguson is right: they were more like royalty than aristocracy. They knew their worth, and also that it was unprecedented." Stern said that Ferguson "writes impeccably, and with empathy…. This is a major achievement of historical scholarship and historical imagination. Ferguson's work reaffirms one's faith in the possibility of great historical writing." Booklist reviewer David Rouse described the family's saga in the second volume as "exhaustively detailed and well-crafted."

The Pity of War: Explaining World War I is Ferguson's revisionist account of the war that left nearly ten million dead and fifteen million wounded in the years 1914 to 1918. A Kirkus Reviews writer called the book "moving, penetrating, eye-opening, and lucidly reasoned. An important work of historical analysis." Ferguson writes that Germany went to war not because it was militarily the strongest but because it feared it was losing the arms race to Britain, Russia, and France. He argues that Great Britain escalated the war upon joining it, supposedly to defend Belgian neutrality, prompted by the fear of a German conquest of France. He writes that if Britain had sacrificed Belgium to Germany, there would not have been a Bolshevik Revolution. Germany would have formed a European state, and Britain would have remained powerful. Ferguson feels a quick German victory could have spared millions of lives and that Germany was actually winning the war before its leadership collapsed in 1918. He wrote that "with the Kaiser triumphant, Adolph Hitler could have eked out his life as a mediocre postcard painter … in a German-dominated Central Europe about which he could have found little to complain. And Lenin could have carried on his splenetic scribbling in Zurich, forever waiting for capitalism to collapse—and forever be disappointed."

Ferguson cites the economics of casualties, noting that the German cost for each Allied death was just over five thousand dollars, while the Allies paid over sixteen thousand dollars for each German death. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Ferguson's war "simply an economic problem…. Ultimately, it is hard to feel satisfied with Ferguson's narrow analysis of what is surely a far more complex equation." But other reviewers found unique insights in Ferguson's work. V.R. Berghahn reviewed The Pity of War in the New York Times Book Review and referred to the chapter titled "The Myth of War Enthusiasm," saying Ferguson "investigates why men continued to fight long after it had dawned on them that this was not a conventional nineteenth-century war to be won in three months." An Economist reviewer felt the book "is heavily concentrated on the Anglo-German relationship. France and Russia are by comparison neglected, not to speak of Austro-Hungary and Italy." But in spite of these flaws, the reviewer concluded that Ferguson "argues trenchantly and marshals evidence fluently, on a wide front…. The Pity of War is also a work of grace and feeling."

In The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700–2000, Ferguson examines the twin forces that are commonly considered those most responsible for the current world order. He analyses the competing philosophies of Marxism and capitalism, rejects them both, and moves on to explain why capitalism and democracy should not be considered cojoined forces. Basically, Ferguson theorizes, capitalism and democracy frequently end up opposing each other—rather than reinforcing each other—as countries struggle for global power. War, however, has proven an advantageous conduit for both. Along the way Ferguson demonstrates the fragility of democracy as a political institution by examining the fluctuating roster of democratic countries throughout the twentieth century. "In Ferguson's analysis, the development of global democracy appears cyclical rather than linear," wrote Victoria E. Thompson in the Journal of Modern History. She concluded that the author "moves smoothly between history and contemporary issues, politics and economics, and builds a strong case that history can be a useful tool for those seeking to understand contemporary issues."

Ferguson concentrates on U.S. hegemony in Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, which argues that the United States's empire status, which is not necessarily a problem in itself, will nevertheless be threatened by its own inability to understand its position in the context of world history. Failing to recognize the fatal flaws of the doomed empires that came before it, the United States shows no sign of having learned from their mistakes, nor any interest in using its power to alleviate any of the various ills that afflict the globe, according to Ferguson. Yet international relations expert Ian Jackson, writing in the Contemporary Review, stated that Washington's decreasing influence on the world economic stage, and the relative strength of up-and-coming powers such as China, reveal that "American power and influence is not as clear-cut as the author would have us believe." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly admired how Ferguson's "erudite … argument" contains "flashes of wit" that can be construed as scornful of both liberal and conservative agendas.



Ferguson, Niall, The Pity of War: Explaining World War I, Allen Lane/Penguin Press (London, England), 1998, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.


American Historical Review, April, 1997, Robert Forster, review of The World's Banker, p. 471.

Booklist, October 1, 1999, David Rouse, review of The House of Rothschild: The World's Banker, 1849–1999.

Bookwatch, October, 2004, review of Colossus: The Rise and Fall of America's Empire.

Business History, April, 1996, Sidney Pollard, review of Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation, 1897–1927, p. 116.

Business History Review, spring, 1997, Elizabeth Glaser, review of Paper and Iron, p. 140.

Choice, January, 1996, G.P. Blum, review of Paper and Iron, p. 848.

Contemporary Review, November, 1995, review of Paper and Iron, p. 280; January, 2005, Ian Jackson, "The New American Empire Examined," p. 47.

Economist, June 21, 1997, review of Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, p. R9; November 14, 1998, review of The Pity of War, p. 1; February 13, 1999, "Banking Dynasties," p. 1.

English Historical Review, June, 1997, Susan Tegel, review of Paper and Iron, p. 807.

Historian, fall, 1996, Ben Lieberman, review of Paper and Iron, p. 186.

History Today, April, 1995, review of Paper and Iron, p. 54; July, 1996, Stefan Berger, review of Paper and Iron, p. 54.

Journal of Economic History, June, 1996, Ulrich Wen-genroth, review of Paper and Iron, p. 506.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1997, Harold James, review of Paper and Iron, p. 127.

Journal of Modern History, September, 2004, Victoria E. Thompson, review of The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700–2000, p. 654.

Kirkus Reviews, March 19, 1999, review of The Pity of War.

Library Journal, October 15, 1998, Steven Silkunas, review of The House of Rothschild: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848, p. 76.

London Review of Books, November 13, 1997, Peter Clarke, "Someone Else, Somewhere Else," pp. 16-17.

New Republic, February 8, 1999, Fritz Stern, review of The House of Rothschild: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848.

New Statesman, June 6, 1997, Conrad Russell, "Castles in the Air," p. 45.

New York Times Book Review, December 20, 1998, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Family Business," p. 12; May 9, 1999, V.R. Berghahn, "No Man's Land," p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1998, review of The House of Rothschild: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848, p. 63; March 8, 1999, review of The Pity of War, p. 56; January 26, 2004, review of Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, p. 238.

Spectator, April 26, 1997, David Caute, review of Virtual History, p. 34.

Time, December 7, 1998, Lance Morrow, "The Legendary Rothschilds Established a Great Fortune," p. 222.


Niall Ferguson Home Page, http://www.niallferguson.org (April 29, 2006).

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