Niall Ferguson: Hosts TV series on war, which he wrote





It is safe to speculate that at some point in his young life, the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson happened upon the documentaries of the art critic Robert Hughes and believed he had found his destiny.

In “The War of the World,” a brash, copious, assured investigation of 20th-century global violence that begins Monday night on PBS, Mr. Ferguson, 44, displays a comparable presence on screen. It is the look and air of a controversial public intellectual who could just as easily have become Gordon Ramsay, screaming at wayward cooks to perfect their lamb shanks on “Kitchen Nightmares.”

Here is Mr. Ferguson, in all his engaging certainty, introducing the series, which he also wrote: “When I was a schoolboy, people tried to explain the violence of the 20th century to me in terms of class conflict or extreme ideologies like nationalism and socialism or great power rivalry. But this nasty story had a happy ending because the good guys — that was the Western democracies — won both the world wars and the cold war. Well, in this series I want to tell you that that was all wrong.”

“The War of the World” recapitulates Mr. Ferguson’s 2006 book of the same name, arguing, for example, that the West’s victories were tainted and that the rise of China ultimately reveals the imbalance of the score. In another turn at provocation, he dates the beginning of World War II to 1937, when full-scale war broke out between Japan and China, not to its more conventionally understood origins in Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.


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