Essay on History's People: Personalities and the Past

Published: 2021-08-11
532 words
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Vanderbilt University
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The book History's People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan gives an account of campaigners, observers, politicians, dreamers, rulers, explorers, men and women who stand out in the past. Some of the figures directed the current of their times while others changed the course of history. Margaret focusses on the concept of leadership and the role of observers such as Elizabeth Simcoe and Fanny Parkes who ignored and managed to defy the controls of their societies (MacMillan 2016). She also systematizes the book around personality traits such as curiosity, daring, persuasion and hubris. She believes that historians have widen out from economic, intellectual and political history to include the study of prejudices, tastes, attitudes and emotions and such approaches should coexist peacefully (MacMillan 2016). As a historian, he enjoys the gossip of the past and sees history as enlightening and fun.

In the first chapter of the book, Macmillan examines mini-biographies, the characteristics of effective leadership and circumstances, which allow people escalate to power. The rest of the chapters focusses on figures who have held powerful positions. The book has nestled short case stories, which enables the reader to hope from accounts of Thatcher and Stain (hubris) to FD Roosevelt and Bismarck (persuasion) to Samuel de Champlain and Nixon (MacMillan 2016). Margret is alert of areas where individual life was able to obscure a more public history. For instance, Nixon showed courage and flair when he extended a hand to China, which took its rapprochement steps it still play today (MacMillan 2016). However, I do not feel that add anything original to the understanding of leadership.

Margret does more than just retelling stories about powerful white people together with their armies. She presents Elizabeth Simcoe who is impressed and intrigued by Indians and embraces and embraces their local customs like eating black squirrel, raccoon and small tortoises (MacMillan 2016). Equally, Macmillan engages in the study of the emperor of India, Babur. Although the emperor was born in 1483, his memoirs connect with Indians across all centuries (MacMillan 2016). She also presents Victor Klemperer who provided an account of his experience while living as a Jew is poignant. Macmillan chronicles his life through his diaries that he kept through the 1930s war and provide an insight about the Nazi regime and dehumanizing Jewish (MacMillan 2016). The dehumanization and cruelties shown to Jewish ended in genocide.

With the ear for the voices and eyes for detail of the past, she recreates the figures with all their complexities and frailties. Such stories brings in the monolithic narratives during the Holocaust (MacMillan 2016). However, Skeptics may argue that Margret focused more on personalities from the past and the book may make readers to wonder if such impersonal and abstracted approach accounts are relevant to our lives today. Besides, the historians that Macmillan chose are not well known, but it is important to note that there are no less important that those well-known historians. Her prose is also informative and succinct although the transition is not the smoothest. Like best history books, the book introduces the reader to people in history and can change how one perceives the past and present times.


MacMillan, Margaret. 2016. History's People: Personalities and the Past. London : Profile.



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