The War of the World
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The War of the World

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  1,368 ratings  ·  117 reviews
Astonishing in its scope and erudition, this is the magnum opus that Niall Ferguson's numerous acclaimed works have been leading up to. In it, he grapples with perhaps the most challenging questions of modern history: Why was the twentieth century history's bloodiest by far? Why did unprecedented material progress go hand in hand with total war and genocide? His quest for...more
Paperback, 880 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1998)
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This is the first book by Ferguson that I've read. I was pleased with this effort--it was well-researched, and although it covers material amply familiar to any 20th century history buff, it was engaging not only because of Ferguson's fluid style but also because of his unconventional take on the causes and dynamics of human conflict and cruelty. You may or may not agree with some of his interpretations but he makes convincing arguments which make one want to research the topic in greater depth....more
The explanations that we learn in high school for history's most horrible events tend to remain with us unchanged, unless we really look deep. Ferguson challenges many of the assumptions about the causes of the 20th Century's dreadful violence and is convincing. Living in Jerusalem, I've often seen how conventional wisdom about the persistent violence of the Middle East seems to miss the mark. That only makes me more convinced that Ferguson is right in refusing to accept the reasons advanced by...more
There is something about this guy’s work that is a little annoying. Like his The Ascent of Money, it was almost there, but not quite. I needed something on World War Two recently and saw this and bought it, but it has a much broader interest than just that conflict.

The idea behind this is fascinating – pretty much that we like to think most of the conflicts of the last century were ideological, when in fact they were mostly ethnic. There is some fascinating stuff on the formation of Turkey and t...more
Pretty poor. Tries to be "controversial" and "iconoclastic" etc, but is actually a pretty standard history of WW2 with few if any new insights. What's worse, it has little logic (he often contradicts himself: at one time WW1 is shown by analysis of the financial markets to be completely unexpected and a few pages later it's the outcome of a long period of rising tension), and shows little historical sense (quite reasonably slagging off Bernard Shaw for falling for Stalin's regime, he never asks...more
"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's...that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied...With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter."
-- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Niall Ferguson, the young Oxford fellow who gratingly insist...more
Jan 25, 2008 Curtis added it
Recommends it for: Historians Political Scientists General Public
OK today I have the time to follow up on this book. This is a bit off the cuff but for those undergraduates of you who didn't read it until the day before you were assigned to speak in front of the class it will give you some nuggets to work with.

Firstly the author Mr. Furguson has a penchant for writing what one might almost call big history that is looking beyond the titles we find convenient when analyzing say the 20s or the 30s or even World Wars One and Two. This author may delve into some...more
Ferguson attempts to address the question of what made the 20th C so bloody with a surprising hypothesis. He says that racism and ethnic hostilities were the culprit, triggered by economic volatility and declining empires. He then, beginning with WWI and ending in current times but focusing mostly on WWII, describes the ethnic and racist aspects of major wars, minor wars, wars within wars, internal wars of totalitarian regimes, etc.

He calls his premise a hypothesis, and he makes a good start at...more
Brilliant! This is a very serious and dense book when Ferguson explores the deep themes of war. His main premise is that in the 50 years between the start of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/5 and the end of the Korean War, that more humans died in conflicts that at any time in the history of mankind. He documents that opinion at length and explores major themes:
- economic volatility,
- ethnic conflict; and
- the descent of European power.

Details: Ferguson explores issues of racial tension in very s...more
This is a book about killing. That's about it. Mostly it's about the mass extermination of humans. And the economics of killing lots and lots and lots of people. If you're interested in why people hate and kill millions of people, this might be a book for you. But there isn't even much "why" in the book. There are a lot of numbers. Pages and pages of numbers...of people...killed by the tens of thousands. There's not much else in its 646 pages.

Niall Ferguson is a well-respected historian. He loo...more
Niall Ferguson's breath-taking overview of the violent 20th century is certainly worth the time taken to read it. Even with my familiarity with history, I feel that there was something to learn and contemplate on every page. While his conclusions are complex and difficult to sum up, the endless atrocities of the bloody previous century were a result of man's infinite ability to see other classes, ethnic groups, religions and tribes as enemies, and practice unconstrained mass brutality, whether d...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Niall Ferguson approaches history from an economic point of view. This gives them something most histories of the 20th century do not have. His research is careful and he thinks about things in a new way. This was one of the best books I've read in the last year. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say:

"Why, if life was improving so rapidly for so many people at the dawn of the 20th century, were the next hundred years full of brutal conflict? Ferguson has a relatively simple answer: ethnic un...more
Steven Peterson
Niall Ferguson's The War of the World has received a fair amount of "buzz." And, indeed, as one reads it, the scholarship, the knowledge of historical nuances, and the command of the sweep of the 20th century are all readily apparent. However, in the end, the book is somewhat unsatisfying.

The book begins with an interesting notion, namely that life was rapidly improving as the twentieth century began. However, the puzzle addressed by Ferguson follows from that: why did the rest of the century b...more
Niall Ferguson writes thick history books with controversial ideas. His argued in the Pity of War that Britain should have just sat out World War One and dealt with a German dominated Europe. In Colossus, he put forth the idea that the world needs America to be a real empire, but believed the country isn't up to the tasks. One of more recent books is War of the World which explores the incredibly violent 20th century. His argument is that the break up of empires and the expansion of the national...more
Carlo Ba
Typical Book written by and made for Establishment.

2 out of 5 Stars. Ferguson didn't add any thing new to the historical view of "World War" but only reinforced the same old song and dance.

As a Hedge Fund Investment Banker during the height of the Financial Crisis, I found "his" research a bit disingenuous that he didn't write a thing about how banks FUND most of the wars around the Globe especially when the title of this book is "The War of the World".

He admits in the credits that he had at lea...more
This is, by far, Niall Ferguson's most dangerous book. In what many believe to be a far-flung example of historical revisionism, Ferguson attempts to explain the 20th Century as one long episode of racial conflict. In the process, the line is often blurred as to who the heroes and villains of the century actually were. Ferguson's critique of the allied forces at the end of the WWII might leave a good many allied vets more than a little chafed. This book also takes a foray into interpretive histo...more
Bloody brilliant....this is what revisionist history should be....a second reading has left me less enthused but still a very good book...but the descent of the West? Only if you decided America cannot be included in this. The 20th was, after all, the American century and the East did not begin its true rise until near the end of the century...mostly EU propaganda...but a very good book for all that.
Well written, but Ferguson never really gets around to the "descent of the West" part of the book. The story is mostly a boiled down account of the first half of the 20th century with less than novel emphasis on the idea that much of the conflict was in fact ethnically driven and that even the victors did not come away from the era with clean hands.
Steve Evans
There will no doubt be people who take issue with this remarkable account of organised violence the first half of the century just gone. They will perhaps want to dispute that it was the most violent period in human history, as the author admits might not be right in a postscript. It doesn't really matter, just as the nuance of historiography that some might find wrong-headed doesn't matter: the narrative Ferguson offers really shows clearly how awful this time was for people caught up in the co...more
Daniel Kibsgaard
An enlightening read that gives the events of the 20th century an informed analysis using a very wide range of historical sources. A fantastic read I recommend to anyone who wishes to have a deeper view of our own inhumane past.
Vast research on the origins, idiosyncrasies, and parallels, of 20th century conflict.
This is one of the most important contributions to 20th Century history ever written. This book claims that there was not two separate world wars but simply a single world conflict that contatntly moved theatres throughout the 2oth century. If you were to pick a start point and finish interesting he picks the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia in 1914 and the Bosnian war in 1999. Ferguson also suggests that the reasoning behind these conflcits was purely racism and that man is capable...more
Talk about and effing tome! Sheesh!
This was a book that I first read in high school as I began to show interest in history and I decided to read it again since I forgot most of the message of the book. One of the aspects of this book I immediantely appreciated was its scope; very few historians would try to contextualize and create a unified theory on all the major wars of the 20th century.

Regarding the three-pronged thesis, I agree that ethnic conflict and the descent of multi-ethnic Western empires was a major cause of the incr...more
War of the World served very well as an introduction to the first half of the last century, specifically from the standpoint of conflict and genocide. The prevalence, origin, and supporting conditions of ethnic cleansing were very plainly laid out, serving as a clear framework around which to build a Historical outlook.

The sections on the Russian Revolution and Stalinist Russia, and World War I were particularly enlightening. WWII was also covered in depth, but I found those topics a review of...more
Overall, a very impressive achievement, but there seems to be at least two distinct books going on here. On the one hand, the author’s original intention was for this to be a companion to his book on the First World War that would cover the Second World War. As he set about doing this, he began to see connections between them, to the grander sweep of European and world history. As stated in the introduction, then, the ultimate aim of the book was to detail the history of extreme violence in the...more
I have now read four of Mr. Ferguson's works, the others being Empire, Colossus, and The Ascent of Money, and this one is by far his best work (although, Empire was great too). No other book on WWII has done what this one has done: explained WHY WWII happened and WHY it was so violent. All other books explain HOW WWII transpired, but this one cuts right to the meat of the matter. The results and conclusions are devastating to anyone with a firm belief in humanity's central goodness. Mr. Ferguson...more
Alan Jacobs
Aug 16, 2011 Alan Jacobs rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
This was a tough book to get through. It attempts to explain the rationales for all of the wars of the 20th Century. Considering that Ferguson is an economist as well as a historian, I was surprised that he concentrated less on economics than on age-old animosities between nationalities, or "races." "Nationalities" at the beginning of the century did not conform to any particular national boundaries. It was not even though necessary for each nationality to have a nation. Instead, they were large...more
The central premise of Niall Ferguson's latest tome is that the 20th century marked a "fundamental reorientation of the world," by which he means that the west is no longer running the show. Two bloody wars resulted in the loss of Europe's empires, and the consequent rise of the east. With muslims filling the population vacuum in fast-aging European countries, the dividing line between east and west runs through every European city. Ferguson, I must say, is a little bit of a Downer Debbie - he b...more
Huw Evans
Ferguson is a rarity, a literate historian who I rate alongside Schama for their clarity of views, no matter how controversial. In this book he reviews the sorry fact that we have spent more time fighting each other in the last one hundred years, for whatever reasons, and killed more people doing so. It is a sobering read which, when extrapolated against imminent food and water shortages, makes the future look bleak unless we start doing something soon. This is an extraordinary read but should c...more
An informative narrative history of twentieth century conflict that avoids the conventional narrative and focuses on less well-known details. However, it's not a particularly compelling argument of Ferguson's ostensible thesis of the "descent of the West". In fact, through most of the book Ferguson seems to be arguing that ethnic conflict combined with modern ideology and economic volatility caused the violence of the 20th century. This argument is convincing but a little obvious, and Ferguson's...more
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Niall Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) is a British (Scottish) historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdal...more
More about Niall Ferguson...
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

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