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MARLO MEETS: NIALL FERGUSON

For the latest edition of Marlo Meets, we speak to the acclaimed author, historian, and documentary film maker, Professor Niall Ferguson.

Since being named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most Influential People in 2004, Niall has written a wide array of award-winning books such as ‘Civilisation’, ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World’ and the ‘Ascent of Money' which won an International Emmy award for its subsequent television documentary in 2009. His latest book ‘Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe’ is a global history of disaster and examines how leaders respond to catastrophes. Niall currently works as the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University - you can follow Niall on Twitter here.

Niall tells us about the release of his latest book, what wine he's enjoying at the moment and who his musical hero is.  

1. How was the release of 'Doom: Politics of Catastrophe' earlier this year?

I'd sum up my summer as: Sitting in my Room talking about Doom on Zoom. It's not the ideal medium for launching a book, let's face it, and my 9-year-old son Thomas had a great insight. "Dad," he said one evening, when I was complaining about all the interviews I was doing, "Have you considered that listening to a podcast might be an alternative to buying a book, rather an inducement to by a book?" That was a good question.         

2. Who was or still is your mentor?

Formally, Norman Stone was my academic mentor as he was one of the two people appointed to be my doctoral adviser when I was a DPhil student. Alas, Norman died in 2019, but I still think of his many words of wisdom and of the way he approached the framing of historical questions. (Whatever you wanted to ask had to pass the "So what?" test.) In other ways, of course, my mentors were my parents and grandparents; I'm fortunate to have grown up with a very loving and encouraging family, most of whom regarded the writing of history books as a perfectly legitimate way of earning a living. And then there are all the other influences who don't quite qualify as mentors, but who played key roles: not only the outspoken conservative academics (Jeremy Catto, Maurice Cowling, Roger Scruton) but also the tutors and other scholars who taught me the historian's craft: John Stoye, Gerald Harriss, Angus Macintyre, to name just three. 

3. Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
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If they have to be living people, then it would be my five children and their significant others / best friends. As time passes, I find it gets steadily harder to get my family together in the same place at the same time. Now that three of them are in their twenties, it's almost impossible. And we're an ocean and a continent apart, as they're in London and I'm in California.

4. Which books have sustained you through the pandemic?
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The novels of Walter Scott, beginning with the wonderful Waverley; Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. I should also mention the novels of J.K. Rowling and Michel Paver, who sustained both Thomas and me, as we listened to them on our daily "philosophical walks" in Montana. 
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5. Is there a wine which you're particularly enjoying at the moment?
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After years of neglect, I have begun belatedly taking white wine seriously. A bottle of Chassagne Montrachet -- a gift from a friend -- was pivotal. I've also been treating myself to a quite remarkable Portuguese red: Viuva Gomes Collares 2012. 

6. If you could own one painting in the world, what would it be? 
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Botticelli, The Birth of Venus.
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7. Do you have a musical hero?
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At the moment, Mahler. I am immersed in his symphonies, which for many years I bounced off. The pandemic was an opportunity to listen carefully and learn to appreciate these masterpieces.

8. If you could only keep one of the books you have written, which would it be and why?
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The House of Rothschild, vol. I: Money's Prophets. (The UK edition was a single massive tome called The World's Banker.) Researching that book was immensely challenging -- voluminous material, much of it in scarcely decipherable Hebrew characters. I think it's still my best work. 
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