“We should not be impressed when our leaders say firmly, "History teaches us" or "History will show that we were right." They can oversimplify and force inexact comparisons just as much as any of us can. Even the clever and the powerful (and the two are not necessarily the same) go confidently off down the wrong paths. It is useful, too, to be reminded, as a citizen, that those in positions of authority do not always know better.”
Margaret MacMillan, The Uses and Abuses of History
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.
First publication date: 2015
In 1912, Stephen Leacock’s comic masterpiece Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town made him an international star overnight. He was published in magazines and newspapers across Canada and in New York and London. Charlie Chaplin asked him for a screenplay; a young F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed his admiration. Eminent historian Margaret MacMillan argues that, while much of what Leacock satirized in small-town Canada has disappeared, his humour endures. His skewering of pretension and his self-deprecating wit entertained thousands during his heyday, even as it defined a quintessentially Canadian stance. But Leacock, MacMillan points out, was also a public intellectual, engaged with questions about government, war, and a just society. Writing with her usual brio, MacMillan has created a wonderfully insightful and affectionate portrait of a man who mattered.
First publication date: 2009
History is useful when it is used properly: to understand why we and those we must deal with think and react in certain ways. It can offer examples to inform our decisions and guesses about the consequences of our actions. But we should be wary of looking to history for dogmatic lessons.We should distrust those who abuse history when they call on it to justify unreasonable claims to land, for example, or restitution. MacMillan illustrates how dangerous history can be in the hands of nationalistic or religious or ethnic leaders who use it to foster a sense of grievance and a desire for revenge.
First publication date: 2008
In February 1972, Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China. His historic one-hour meeting with Mao Zedong ended the breach between the United States and China, which had lasted since the Communist victory in 1949. Just as significantly, the visit changed the face of international relations from a bipolar Cold War to a three-sided struggle involving the Soviet Union, China, and the United States.
First publication date: 2006
For six months in 1919, after the end of “the war to end all wars,” the Big Three—President Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau—met in Paris to shape a lasting peace. In this landmark work of narrative history, Margaret MacMillan gives a dramatic and intimate view of those fateful days, which saw new political entities—Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Palestine, among them—born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the modern world redrawn.
First publication date: 2001
During Britain's rule of India-the Raj-women were expected to create a replica of British society in the face of almost insuperable difficulties. Exiled to a strange land, surrounded by people whose language, customs, and religion were mysterious and for the most part alien, how did these women react and live? How did they adjust, if at all, to life in bungalows with teams of servants, to repeated moves and heartbreaking separations from their families, to the heat, illness, loneliness, and boredom, to holidays in hill-stations and the unforgettable Indian landscape.
First publication date: 1988