Niall Ferguson: The Global Empire of Niall Ferguson

Historians in the News

... If Ferguson has had a signature theme, it is this: the importance of an energetic liberal empire and how best to carry it off, as did, for the most part, the British and Romans. Though his next few years will be dedicated to his other principal interests, namely money, German-Jewish history, and power, it is his multiple works on empire that have brought him notoriety.

At the age of 43, the prodigious Ferguson has produced eight meaty, weighty books, and has another two in progress; hundreds of scholarly articles, tumbles of introductions and book chapters, and an assembly line of regular columns and op-eds for American, British, and German newspapers, all while editing the Journal of Contemporary History. (He once told an interviewer, “My puzzle is with people who spend 10 years not producing a book. What do they do?”) And all while commuting among Harvard, the Hoover Institution at Stanford (where he is a senior fellow), and the United Kingdom, where his wife Susan, a media executive, and their three children live.

Moreover, in the United Kingdom, he is also quite the media celebrity. In 2002-3, for Britain’s Channel 4, he wrote and starred in a six-part history of the British empire. In 2004, he followed with American Colossus—both programs based on his books. And in 2006, Britons watched his six-part The War of the World, dramatizing his latest, a huge volume subtitled Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West.

Visiting Ferguson in his office at the Center for European Studies, I asked him about the strain of separation from home and family, what he has called his transatlantic “trilemma.” “I can testify that it is extraordinarily hard,” he said. “It’s unfair to the family, and I’d so much rather they were here. But with every passing year, as children get older, they become harder to move. So I feel that I’ve lost this particular argument.” After a pause, though, he added, “Another way to look at it is that historically it’s not that abnormal for husbands and fathers to spend significant time away from their families—seamen, army officers, colonial administrators. Actually, funnily enough, these long separations perhaps do allow me bouts of extreme work, which suits my temperament.”...

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