Who else wishes that good historians could stay away from television? This is a spin off book and little more, on a subject that Ferguson - my favourite historian of the moment - could have tackled in a far more serious and rigorous way.
The bottom line is that this book fits in with a TV series, and you can see the skeleton of the TV series throughout - the 'killer aps', the scant development of arguments, the highly visual backdrop to each section (you can imagine him striding through markets or staring broodily into the middle distance surrounded by ancient ruins).
As a result, the arguments are undercooked and it doesn't feel as though Ferguson engages with them with his full intellect.
Yes, there are insights and splashes of detail and argument, but they are few. The essay that makes up the conclusion is the first time that it feels like Ferguson is really tackling the subject head on, although it feels bolted on to the rest of the book. The logic behind the medicine chapter is tortured and the consumerism chapter feels whimsical - that is not to challenge the intellectual underpinnings of these chapters: it's rather to say that they've got lost in making the TV series.
I think I'd learn more from sitting opposite Ferguson with a pint, listening to him explain these things properly. That's what I mean by him dialling it in, as supporting material for the main project - serving the great god of TV.
If he'd tackled the subject with his full force, we'd have ended up with a book as good as those that he mentions - the ones by David Landes, Jared Diamond (although deeply flawed) and Paul Kennedy.
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