Margaret MacMillan is well-known for her prize-winning books on history.
She has been the provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and is now the warden of St. Antony’s College, a professor of international history at Oxford University and a professor of history at the University of Toronto. But it is her writing ability that has earned her reputation. Her books include The War that Ended Peace, Nixon in China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.
This one takes a special look at the importance of certain figures in both their own history and the times that came after them. She examines William Lyon MacKenzie King and the part he played in the Canadian Federation; she looks too at Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War. Apart from well-known figures, she has sections of the book on the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers who defied their own societies (and are not so well-known), and finally the observers, many of whom kept notes and diaries that bring the past to life. There is an excellent section supplying key readings for all these chapters.
The book is subtitled Personalities and the Past and it does take a fascinating look at the complex relationship between biography and history – something that has intrigued Margaret MacMillan from the beginning of her writing.
Reviewed by Anne McDougall