Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our Current Reading:

The War of the World:
Descent of the West

by Niall Ferguson

Paperback: 816 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
(March 29, 2007)

We know Ferguson is a British conservative and supporter of 'staying the course' in Iraq. But he's also an important historian and influential public intellectual. This book will give us the occasion for examining the last century in a fresh way. Here's a brief Amazon review. A long one is posted as the first comment.

Reviewer John Matcock: A most interesting view of the 20th century. Certainly the two World Wars were the climatic moments, but he also points out that more people have been killed in the smaller wars that we don't normally think about.

Perhaps 55 million were killed in World War II. Perhaps a hundred million more in the Russian collectivizing of farms, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and one genocide after another in places of which we had never heard. In this book Dr. Ferguson takes a different view of history than normal. Here is not the sweep of Rommel towards Dunkirk, but here is the relentless killing. Killing of all kinds of 'undesirable' people. It's a view of history well worth keeping in mind as we approach the next century with no hint of violence slowing down, and the incidence of Shiite/Sunni strife that we see developing in Iraq.

In the sub-title of the book, 'the Descent of the West,' he is less clear. He laments the passing of the big European empires that controlled much of the world. I'm not so sure that the people of India would lament their getting out of the British Empire. Perhaps they helped to hold the peace, but they also started World War I, and the Romans also held the peace at places like Masada.