Tim Stanley

Lives of Others

History’s People: Personalities and the Past

By Margaret MacMillan

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I’m sure there’s some point to this book but I can’t find it. Margaret MacMillan has produced a collage of history-making personalities that doesn’t make an argument for itself. Its potted bios are categorised by qualities of character such as ‘hubris’, ‘curiosity’ or ‘daring’. The labels are arbitrary: all three apply to Winston Churchill but he only appears under the heading ‘daring’. The message is unclear. Are we supposed to beware leaders with too much daring or aspire to it ourselves? At times, MacMillan comes dangerously close to business book prose: ‘How to succeed on the stock market – the Joseph Stalin way!’ One can easily imagine finding this book in an airport lounge, endorsed by Donald Trump.

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