Question: Whom would you like to interview, and what would you ask?
Ferguson: I hate interviewing people because they very rarely level with you. And so although it would be interesting to sit down with Joseph Stalin and say, “Why on earth did you delude yourself about Nazi plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and nearly destroy your own country?” I don’t think he would tell me the truth.
On balance, as an historian, I’ve always chosen the dead over the living for the very good reason that their letters and diaries are far preferable to what they might have told me in an interview.
So if you forced my hand, I would probably elect to spend some time with Stalin, even though he was probably the most frightening man of the 20th century. Most people who spent time with him were filled with fear throughout. Still it would be a fascinating experience.
Recorded on: October 15, 2008