described himself, a month after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as ‘a fully paid-up member of the neo-imperialist gang’. In 2004, the historian was listed by Time among the world’s 100 most influential people.
Huw Spanner met him twice, on 5 and 10 September 2007, at the British Museum and then at the Landmark Hotel in central London.
Photography: Andrew Firth
Tell me about your upbringing and the values and prejudices it instilled into you.
Well, only values – no prejudices. I was brought up in an atmosphere of enlightened scepticism. My father is a doctor, my mother taught physics for many years and they are both very much products of the Scottish Enlightenment. Reason was our god.
There was no religion in your background?
There was none. My parents were committed atheists who believed that religion was a source of conflict rather than enlightenment. And in Glasgow it was easy to believe that. I grew up very close to Ibrox Park, where Rangers play. The Orange Lodge used to walk down our road. The first date I knew in history was 1690, the Battle of the Boyne, sprayed on the bus shelters by the militant unionists.
So, it didn’t strike me as unreasonable that we did not go to church. Indeed, it struck me as very reasonable – literally – that I should be taught to understand the universe as (in my mother’s favourite phrase) a cosmic accident.
One profile of you refers to Calvinism…
Yeah, the implication of much that I was taught was Calvinist – particularly the notion (which I think is central to Calvinist culture, if not Calvinist teaching) that industrious work and accumulation rather than consumption are behaviours associated with godliness and membership of the elect.
I think it was a tremendous advantage. I mean, I wish I could instil it in my own children. Dear God, I’ve tried.
You have written about the parts some members of your family played in the British Empire. Has the Calvinist notion of ‘the elect’ impinged in any way on your reflections about the Empire? Was there ever a feeling that one race could deserve to govern a quarter of the world?
One of the challenges for atheism, one of its fundamental problems, is how to teach people to be good. There is no obvious reason in the natural world why people should be
Not at all. My parents were actually very committed to the idea of racial equality and were as hostile to racism as they were to sectarianism. When we lived in Kenya, when I was very young, it was made very clear to me that there was absolutely no difference whatever between me and Miriam, the nanny, just because she was black and I was white. My parents greatly admired Jomo Kenyatta – and one of my treasured possessions was a copy of a Swahili song of independence, ‘Harambe Harambe’, ‘Let’s all pull together’.
I have to emphasise that this notion of the elect is something I picked out in later life, looking back on my childhood and trying to understand my own motivation. My defining characteristic is that I work very hard. Why do I attach such importance to academic attainment? The elect which I think my parents implicitly believed in – though no one would ever have used that term at home – was simply the elect of people who come top in exams. My favourite story about my childhood is that one day I came home from school – on almost my first day in formal education – and I said, ‘Mum, Dad, great news! I came second in the class.’ And my dad said: ‘Who was first?’
The only superiority that ever mattered to my parents was intellectual superiority and – this was the extraordinary thing about my upbringing – superiority in moral terms. One of the challenges for atheism, one of its fundamental problems, is how to teach people to be good. There is no obvious reason in the natural world why people should be good. But my parents were very good at conveying to me what the difference between right and wrong was without any appeal to formal Christian teaching. I think they did this partly by example, and partly by presenting the natural world as being a great deal more benign than it really is.
Are there elements in your upbringing that you have rejected?
I don’t think I’ve entirely accepted my parents’ atheism. I took my children to church when they were younger. Rather like Alexis de Tocqueville,1The 19th-century French diplomat, political scientist and historian best known for Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution I don’t know that I’ll ever have faith myself but I think it is better that people be educated as Christians than not; and if I had to choose an ethical system to make generally available, I would choose the teaching of Christ. There’s no superior atheist alternative if you want to make a society behave well.
But I was a rebel in the usual, rather superficial, ways that teenagers in the late 1970s were. I mean, I went fairly quickly from punk rock to Thatcherism. The two had much in common. The urge to challenge the consensus was very powerful in me at the age of 15, 16, 17, and the Sex Pistols and Margaret Thatcher alike were rebarbative and critical of what seemed to me a rather stagnant country.
Would you describe yourself as a Conservative?
I think I have, throughout my adult life, been pretty consistently a liberal fundamentalist. I am passionately committed to the teachings of Adam Smith – I really do believe in the fundamentals of the free market and individual rights and responsibilities, and I am deeply suspicious of collectivism on both the right and the left.
The reason Thatcher was attractive was that she in many ways was a classical liberal who had allied herself with the Tory establishment. But when I saw authentic Toryism up close, when I taught at Peterhouse,2The oldest college of Cambridge University I had very little affinity with it. I mean, if it means anything it means a reverence for the organic institutions of the English constitution, and I’ve never had any very strong commitment to those. In fact, they are patently obsolescent.
Historians are slightly morbid individuals. If you’re really serious about history, you have to commit to spending more time with the dead than the living, thinking about their lives
You’ve written that as a student you failed in politics, journalism and acting –
And music as well. I failed at that.
– but you discovered a flair for history. Why did the study of history appeal to you?
The point about historians is that they are slightly morbid individuals. I mean, if you’re really serious about history you have to commit to spending more time with the dead than with the living, reading their letters and diaries, thinking about their lives, trying to reconstruct them. You’re in the resurrection business, really: trying to give the dead some afterlife in contemporary imagination.
For whatever reason, I think that from an early age I was quite reclusive, and so I suppose that being a historian suited me temperamentally, and when I went back to the library after trying all these different activities and failing at them, I was much happier. Much happier. I’m always much happier when I’m on my own, studying and writing.
Whether or not you prefer the company of the dead, you are notable for the amount of influence you have had on the living, especially in the United States. Is that no more than a by-product of what you do?
I think it probably is a by-product. I mean, I’ve not been politically motivated. There isn’t any real political outcome you can point to that I’ve sought to achieve. Most of the arguments I’ve made have been (as it were) of the moment but rooted in the past. The argument I’ve made about the US and its quasi-imperial power has been deeply ambivalent – it’s done me no political good, and wasn’t intended to.
Actually, my book Colossus3Colossus: The rise and fall of the American Empire (Allen Lane, 2004) alienated people on both the right and the left. The liberals didn’t like it because I said that on balance American power is preferable to the alternative (though it would be nice if it worked a bit better). People on the right didn’t like it because I was extremely pessimistic about the prospects of the project in Iraq and said that for a variety of reasons the US would not be as successful an empire as Britain had been.
I think that book was calculated to piss everybody off, and it did. It was, however, right.
It doesn’t sound like history for history’s sake, though. And you have also returned to journalism.
One studies the past for its own sake, but there’s no point in studying it (as it were) in an entirely introverted way. The real point is to try to explain the human condition, to distil the experience of the dead. I profoundly believe that we can’t understand the present without reference to the past. It seems to me that historians have a very obvious responsibility to remind people that the present is just the latest chapter in an enormously long story and that to read it out of context is almost always disastrous.
I suppose it was a kind of frustration with contemporary political debate and its historical ignorance, more than anything else, that drew me into journalism and then into making historical arguments that have a clear resonance in our own time. It seems to me a matter of moral responsibility, if you do have an insight into the human condition based on the study of the past, to try to communicate it to your contemporaries.
I think we probably are more ignorant than any previous society – at least, comparing elites. What is most worrying is that our key decision-makers are historically ignorant
Not that it’s easy to learn lessons from the past. It’s extremely easy to make facile historical parallels, and we’ve had a plethora of them in the last few years. The [George W] Bush administration has been especially guilty of this, talking about a third or fourth world war, branding critics as ‘appeasers’, suggesting that there was a parallel between Saddam and Hitler, or between ‘9/11’ and Pearl Harbor. And I’ve said all along: This is not anything like World War Two.
I mean, the Americans wanted to believe that [the conquest of Baghdad in 2003] would be Paris in 1944, and their ideologically blinkered enemies wanted to believe that it would be Stalingrad 1942; but of course it was neither. In both cases, it was a classic example of wishful non-thinking.
History doesn’t repeat itself, does it?
That would be highly unlikely, given the constant structural changes of human society and the world. Mark Twain’s famous line that it doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes4The aphorism ‘History never repeats itself but it rhymes’ is often attributed to Mark Twain. is a good one – there are certain things that allow us to argue by analogy, and at the very least you can broaden your range of plausible scenarios. The point you really can learn from history is that the range of possible outcomes is almost certainly larger than you imagine.
We do seem to live in a culture that is remarkably ignorant of the past.
Yes. I think we probably are more ignorant than any previous society – at least, comparing elites. What is most worrying is that our key decision-makers are historically ignorant. Tony Blair was probably one of the most historically ignorant prime ministers we have ever had. Ever had.5For example, when Blair visited the White House York after ‘9/11’, he told George Bush: ‘When Britain was under attack, during the days of the Blitz … there was one nation and one people that, above all, stood side by side with us … and that nation was America, and those people were the American people.’ In fact, the US did not enter the war until seven months after the end of the Blitz, after it had been attacked by Japan. Canada, on the other hand, entered the war only seven days after Britain. Both he and the current president of the US were notably ignorant of the history of the Middle East when they embarked on a military intervention there. And that combination of historical ignorance and a kind of naive interventionism is really quite toxic.
So, if I have a mission it’s public education. (The reason I do television is that you’ll never reach three million people with a book.) Of course, you end up addressing the audience that already knows some history and you never get to those that know none. But if I spend my life beating this drum and saying, ‘Look, you can’t make a decision without knowing the history. If you do, you’ll almost certainly screw it up,’ and if I get that message through to even 25 per cent of the British or the American electorate, I will die feeling justified.
Did you not write in favour of invading Iraq in 2003?
Be careful what you say. I actually argued that Britain should not be involved. I argued that it was in the interests of the US to get rid of Saddam, but I was very sceptical about whether it could succeed. This was a very challenging assignment and I always said it would take much more time and cost much more money – indeed, more lives – than Americans were prepared to sacrifice. I warned consistently that the timeframe should be 40 years, not four, if there was a serious intent to transform Iraq into a stable state, never mind a democracy; and that the budget would be at least 10 times larger than the White House had forecast. It was easy to see that it needed at least a million American troops.
I’ve said that all along – I’ve looked over my journalism to make sure of that. It’s very important to go back and check these things.
We look back and say, ‘Ah, it all started then,’ but of course it didn’t. Back then, there were multiple futures. We are programmed to make up stories retrospectively, and they’re very dangerous
My mistake, which I have freely admitted, was that I underestimated the balance-of-power implications. That the principal beneficiary of the overthrow of Saddam would be Iran was obvious, and yet somehow hardly anybody said it.
Responding to the charge that you are a contrarian, you said recently: ‘It’s about being willing to test all hypotheses in the way that Karl Popper said scientific enquiry should be conducted.’ Is being a historian then a scientific pursuit?
Obviously, history can never aspire to being a true science: we can’t rerun the past, we can’t conduct experiments, we’re not working in a laboratory. But at least we can adopt scientific methods of argumentation and try to get larger sample sizes than just one. Most historians have only the haziest grasp of the scientific method. (I think I would except from that economic historians, who have tried to base the discipline on empirical foundations and understand the need to put forward hypotheses and then attempt to disprove them, which is really the essence of the scientific method as I understand it.)
My approach is slightly different from – and, I hope, more sophisticated than – most historians’ in that I very clearly spell out the counterfactuals, the alternative hypotheses. If you say that Hitler caused World War Two, you’re implying that if Hitler had been killed in a car crash, say, there would not have been World War Two. I think you have to spell that out and then try to convince the reader of that; otherwise, all you’re doing is making assertions.
Rather than constructing narratives that have a kind of teleological integrity – in other words, that somehow lead inexorably forward from one end to the other – my approach is to show how many different futures lay before people at any given time – and that often it wasn’t the most probable future that happened. I think the best history shows all the time the contingencies, the forks in the path, the alternative routes people could have taken – not least because we are in the business of trying to recapture past experience, and past experience includes uncertainty.
In scientific terms, human history is a chaotic system, isn’t it?
Yes. I argue that in Virtual History.6Virtual History: Alternatives and counterfactuals (Picador, 1997) ‘Stochastic behaviour in a deterministic system’. Basically, we can’t predict it.
The future is indeterminable.
No, no, there’s no such thing as the future, only futures. It’s a fantastic illusion of human expression that we talk about the future in the singular. Before us there are multiple futures, and the challenge is to choose from these futures as best we can. But we’re all simultaneously choosing, of course.
In a chaotic system, you can identify many causes but it’s very hard to say which are more important. Does that not make history very difficult to analyse?
Not only that, but we’re very strongly biased by quirks in human cognition to invent causes for events. I mean, we would love to believe that a major crisis like ‘9/11’ can be traced back to events in Egypt in the 1950s, or that the First World War had its origins in the naval arms race of the 1890s; but it’s all invented after the fact. Both of those events came to contemporaries as bolts from the blue.
We shouldn’t write just the history of what happened; we should also write the history of what didn’t happen, which is just as important
It’s a kind of human impulse to invent causal chains retrospectively. ‘Oh, my divorce was always going to happen, because this marriage was fundamentally flawed from the outset.’ We rationalise our setbacks with these chains of causation which were invisible at the time – non-existent, in fact. We look back and say, ‘Ah, it all started then,’ but of course it didn’t. Back then, there were multiple futures and it took a whole range of different, unforeseeable factors and forces to get you to this crisis.
That’s the sense in which history is difficult. We are programmed to make up stories retrospectively, and they’re very dangerous.
But you do that as well, don’t you?
I think I’ve become more aware of the dangers in recent years, the more I’ve thought about causation. I’ve argued for a long time now that we shouldn’t write just the history of what happened, we should also write the history of what didn’t happen, which is just as important. I’ve striven fairly consistently not to write pleasing, internally satisfying narratives. I don’t think any of my books do that.
Take my book The War of the World7The War of the World: History’s age of hatred (Allen Lane, 2006) (which has been poorly understood in this country – at least, the reviews were certainly rather crass and superficial). The point of the book is to try to understand that there really wasn’t a Second World War in the way we tend to think of it: there were multiple wars which we group together as ‘the Second World War’, and in many ways there was something quite accidental about the way they turned out. Particularly about the ultimate Allied victory. Not many people would have predicted it with any confidence, even in 1942. Certainly not in 1939.
I think that uncertainty is really one of the most important leitmotifs that run through my work.
When you look back at history, do you see any evidence of Providence?
Er, no. I don’t think that anyone who has ever stood in a death camp can feel that Providence is a very meaningful concept.
When the 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ was that just bunkum?
Well, it’s a pretty long arc – and it’s not an arc, is it, because for most of history the majority of human beings have lived lives that, in Hobbes’s famous phrase, were ‘nasty, brutish and short’, and had no real access to justice. I would characterise history not as a long arc but as a kind of L shape.
A sudden lurch towards justice?
For most of history, only a tiny elite enjoy the privileges of wealth and only a tiny part of the world enjoys really meaningful law and justice; and then, with extraordinary speed, beginning in the 18th century and reaching a remarkable crescendo in the 20th century, two things happen. One is that economic life dramatically changes and there is suddenly a possibility of not only a few people but the majority rising above the subsistence level. At the same time, there is a dramatic shift in the way human societies are governed, as the principle of representative government spreads. But these processes are incredibly unarclike.
Progress is a problematic notion. In the 20th century, people acquired more leisure and longer life-expectancy and were more likely to be able to vote, but they also committed unprecedented crimes
The War of the World made it very clear to me that progress is a very problematic notion, because at the same time as humanity advanced materially and scientifically in the 20th century and as people acquired more leisure (as well as longer life-expectancy) and were more likely to be able to vote, they also committed unprecedented crimes against their fellow men. Of course, the people committing these crimes said they were acting (as it were) on behalf of Providence. The Germans in the 1930s and ’40s thought it was a providential event that made Hitler Führer in 1933. It all makes me extremely sceptical of notions that simplify the historical process and identify some kind of upward arc.
Organised conflict in the 20th century cost about 175–200 million lives – and some of the most lethal acts of violence were authorised by highly educated people, including people in this country. I mean, it wasn’t a bunch of uncouth barbarians who initiated the strategic bombing of German and Japanese cities in the later stages of World War Two.
You’re writing a book about Henry Kissinger at the moment, I believe.8Kissinger: 1923–1968: The Idealist was finally published by Allen Lane in September 2015. Is he a case in point?
I don’t think he’s an especially good example, actually. Much better than talking in terms of particular individuals is to ask whether there is any evidence that higher education has discouraged people from acts of violence; and there is certainly none.
Do you think that the secular idea of the march of progress is dangerous as well as mistaken?
Well, my approach to this is slightly more nuanced. Clearly, there is a difference between London in 1607 and London in 2007, and I know when I’d rather live. Our progress in material terms has been astonishing – and highly beneficial to me personally, as I’d almost certainly not have lived to be 43 in any previous century.
The question is whether there can be any progress of the mind in a secular world. That is to say, if we turn away from the ethical teachings of Christ, or for that matter Muhammad, what is left to guide us? What incentive do we have to be good if there is no afterlife? The problem that militant atheists confront, including recent popularisers of atheism like Richard Dawkins9Interviewed for High Profile in February 1995 and Christopher Hitchens, is that there isn’t really a very good answer to that.
And there’s a lot of evidence that mass secularisation makes people prey to pseudo-religions purporting to be secular. The old line that wasn’t ever said by G K Chesterton but should have been, that when men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything, happens to be true. [The historian] Michael Burleigh has argued that in the final analysis the only really effective resistance to Hitler and the pseudo-religion of Nazism came from people who had a true faith. I have a lot of sympathy with that position.
At the beginning of Empire,10Empire: How Britain made the modern world (Allen Lane, 2003) you quote a stirring passage from Joseph Conrad about the Thames that is freighted with romantic historical references. It put me in mind of C S Lewis’s denunciation in The Abolition of Man11The Abolition of Man: Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools (OUP, 1943) of ‘the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water’.
Do you think that already maybe rationalism and empiricism have reduced us to that level?
We’re extremely bad at thinking about our problems rationally. That’s why the Enlightenment project can never be abandoned
That’s such a difficult question. No. I think the difficulty the Enlightenment view of the world encountered very early on is that human beings struggle to see the Atlantic in a completely rational way. It’s not that it’s just a vast quantity of water: it’s also a vital part of the planet’s ecosystem, it’s probably the most important determinant of the weather in Britain… If we thought rationally about the Atlantic in the way that my parents encouraged me to think, we wouldn’t currently be despoiling it with the effluents of our industry and fishing its fauna to the brink of extinction. We would treasure it.
So, I don’t think we are rational enough about the natural world. We have this typically schizoid approach: we treat it like a sewer, essentially, but at the same time we make ourselves feel better by romanticising it. We walk along the seashore watching the sun set and saying to one another, ‘Gosh, you get a great sense of the infinite from the sea, don’t you?’ – and then we toss another crisp packet onto the beach.
I’m very conscious of how irrational human beings remain despite the best efforts of the Enlightenment. We’re extremely bad at thinking about our problems rationally. That’s why the Enlightenment project can never be abandoned. We have a long, long way to go before we get human beings to behave rationally. Probably we’ll never get there.
We’ve talked about the notion of goodness, and in your books you are not slow to judge whether certain historical outcomes were good or bad. However, I’m still not sure by what criteria you judge whether an outcome is good.
Well, let me give you two examples. In The Pity of War,12Allen Lane, 1998 I argued that it was a mistake for Britain to intervene in 1914 as we weren’t really ready for a major war and the consequences of German victory would have been supportable. That was ‘good’ from the point of view of the British national interest – or, broadly, the interests of the British Empire.
In Empire, I argued that the British Empire was on balance a good thing, not just for Britain but for the world, because the realistic alternatives to it in both the 19th and the 20th century were all worse.
You seem to argue that largely on economic grounds.
Substantially, but not exclusively. I doubt that the Mughals would have governed India half so well – and in 1940 if there had been no Empire the chances of an Axis victory would have been extremely high. In fact, the existence of the Empire is the thing that ultimately prevents Axis victory, which I think most of us would agree would have been a bad thing.
But I’m still not clear… For example, if it could be demonstrated that under the Incas their subject peoples were happy, as some people argue, does that mean it would have been ‘better’ if their empire had survived?
It would have been better for the Incas.
But for their subject peoples? Is the sum of human happiness the measure of a good outcome?
The most important thing is being alive; after that, we can debate about how happy people are. I would make any judgement of a historical event first and foremost a judgement about the death toll compared with alternative scenarios. And that, like all moral judgements based on history, has to imply a counterfactual. There is no point saying, ‘It was dreadful that Cambodia was bombed!’13From 1970 to 1973, the US airforce carpet-bombed Cambodia, a country that was not at war with the US, in order to deny its territory to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Henry Kissinger was deeply complicit in this strategy. Well, yes, I’m sure it was; but what was the alternative scenario?
That’s the defence that is made for the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945…
Right. If you don’t bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there has to be a land invasion: the Japanese had a huge army at the ready, so it would have been extremely bloody. I always say: If you want to make judgements like these, fine – but make sure you’re comparing what happened with what would have happened otherwise. Otherwise, you’re imagining utopias that could never have existed.
Let me put my question in a rather more trivial way. If you ruled the world, what would your priorities be for reordering it?
I am not a megalomaniac, so I never ask myself that question.
No, but I’m asking you now.
The first thing I would do would be to make sure that I didn’t rule the world, because there is no more disastrous basis for human organisation than absolute power. I mean, absolute power over a country is bad; absolute power over the whole world would be a catastrophe. So, I would very rapidly devolve my powers to elected assemblies as far as possible.
So, what is the best index of progress in the ordering of the world? An increase in peace? In prosperity?
Or an increase in democracy and self-determination?
Let’s first of all try to avoid violent death – or all forms of premature death – after all, an epidemic can kill you just as surely as an invading army. Let’s make that the first priority. Then, let’s try to remove people from the drudgery of subsistence agriculture.
Frankly, those are the things that really determine whether an individual’s life on this earth is happy or sad. Those are the things that matter.
This edit was originally published in the November 2007 issue of Third Way.
[ + ]
|1.||⇑||The 19th-century French diplomat, political scientist and historian best known for Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution|
|2.||⇑||The oldest college of Cambridge University|
|3.||⇑||Colossus: The rise and fall of the American Empire (Allen Lane, 2004)|
|4.||⇑||The aphorism ‘History never repeats itself but it rhymes’ is often attributed to Mark Twain.|
|5.||⇑||For example, when Blair visited the White House York after ‘9/11’, he told George Bush: ‘When Britain was under attack, during the days of the Blitz … there was one nation and one people that, above all, stood side by side with us … and that nation was America, and those people were the American people.’ In fact, the US did not enter the war until seven months after the end of the Blitz, after it had been attacked by Japan. Canada, on the other hand, entered the war only seven days after Britain.|
|6.||⇑||Virtual History: Alternatives and counterfactuals (Picador, 1997)|
|7.||⇑||The War of the World: History’s age of hatred (Allen Lane, 2006)|
|8.||⇑||Kissinger: 1923–1968: The Idealist was finally published by Allen Lane in September 2015.|
|9.||⇑||Interviewed for High Profile in February 1995|
|10.||⇑||Empire: How Britain made the modern world (Allen Lane, 2003)|
|11.||⇑||The Abolition of Man: Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools (OUP, 1943)|
|12.||⇑||Allen Lane, 1998|
|13.||⇑||From 1970 to 1973, the US airforce carpet-bombed Cambodia, a country that was not at war with the US, in order to deny its territory to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Henry Kissinger was deeply complicit in this strategy.|
Niall Ferguson was born in 1964 and educated at the Glasgow Academy. He took a first in history at Magdalen College, Oxford, and then studied in Hamburg for two years as a Hanseatic Scholar, gaining his DPhil from Oxford in 1989.
In 1988–89, he was Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England.
He then moved to Cambridge University, first as a research fellow at Christ’s College and then, from 1990 to ’92, to teach at Peterhouse.
Returning to Oxford, he was lecturer in modern history until 2000, when he was appointed professor of political and financial history.
In 2002, he became John E Herzog Professor of Financial History at the Leonard N Stern School of Business at New York University.
Two years later, he took up his current post as professor of international history at Harvard. Since 2003, he has also been senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford (where he is also visiting professor in modern European history).
He is the author of Paper and Iron (1995), which was shortlisted for the History Today Book of the Year Award; The World’s Banker: The history of the house of Rothschild (which won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award) and The Pity of War (both 1998); The Cash Nexus (2001); Empire (2003); Colossus (2004); and The War of the World (2006).
The last three of these accompanied two six-part series, Empire (2003) and The War of the World (2007), and a 90-minute documentary, American Colossus (2004), which he wrote and presented for Channel 4.
He also edited Virtual History: Alternatives and counterfactuals (1997).
He appears often on radio and television, and has contributed to a long list of academic journals, newspapers and magazines in Britain, France, Germany and the United States. He has been married to Sue Douglas since 1994 and has two sons and one daughter.
Up-to-date as at 1 November 2007