Whom would you like to interview?
Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where he served for 12 years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.
He is the author of 14 books. His first, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927, was short-listed for the History Today Book of the Year award, while the collection of essays he edited, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, was a UK bestseller. In 1998 he published to international critical acclaim The Pity of War: Explaining World War One and The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. The latter won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award.
His latest book is The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (2017).
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
If you forced his hand, probably Stalin.