Niall Ferguson v Pankaj Mishra: battle of the historians

It is shaping up to be the tastiest historical scrap since Rob Newman's comedy professor character compared the girlfriend of David Baddiel's don to Peter Beardsley. The warring academics, beloved of 1990s students for their "that's you, that is" repartee, have made way for Niall Ferguson and Pankaj Mishra, after the latter likened Ferguson to Tom Buchanan in the Great Gatsby.

As with all the best academic spats, spectators are advised to equip themselves with a dictionary and a history degree to follow the action.

Mishra, the Indian author and essayist, argued in the London Review of Books that Ferguson was "homo atlanticus redux", a "retailer of emollient tales about the glorious past" whose books "are known less for their original scholarly contribution than for containing some provocative counterfactuals". Summing up Ferguson's latest tome, Civilisation: The West and the Rest, as "gallimaufry", Mishra accused the TV historian and Harvard scholar of ignoring facts that complicate his narrative of Western dominance, such as Muslim contributions to science. Ferguson's acknowledgment of colonial misdeeds was "very selective" and he was "immune ... to humour and irony".

Ferguson responded with a letter to the "notoriously left-leaning" coterie at the LRB, raging that Mishra's critique was "a crude attempt at character assassination" that "mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist". Mishra, huffed Ferguson, "owes me a public apology" for his "libellous and dishonest article"....

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