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History General

History's People

Personalities and the Past

by (author) Margaret MacMillan

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Sep 2015
General, Historical, Social History
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2015
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2015
    List Price

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Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series

In History’s People internationally acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan gives her own personal selection of figures of the past, women and men, some famous and some little-known, who stand out for her. Some have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of their times. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers. She looks at the concept of leadership through Bismarck and the unification of Germany; William Lyon MacKenzie King and the preservation of the Canadian Federation; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War. She also notes how leaders can make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies. Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.

History’s People is about the important and complex relationship between biography and history, individuals and their times.

About the author

MARGARET MacMILLAN is the renowned author of Women Of The Raj, Stephen Leacock (Extraordinary Canadians series), and the international bestsellers Nixon In China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the 2003 Governor General’s Award and the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.

Margaret MacMillan's profile page

Editorial Reviews

MacMillan deftly and engagingly shows that history is a process of capturing the minutiae of life as much as time’s epic strokes.

Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

It’s a rare history book that makes it to the top of the charts, and this collection of profiles is definitely in its own class… MacMillan is a friendly but intelligent writer. Her profiles are interesting and they keep you reading, but they’re also chock full of details and historical information that place these personalities in history.

Vancouver Sun

Avoiding arid timelines, MacMillan, an Oxford professor , instead provides intimate human encounters. She seems to love sifting through the revealing details. “I want to gossip,” she confesses — and so do we.

New York Times Book Review

Through this series of lectures, MacMillan demonstrates in rich and provocative detail, how history is an important tool for understanding our own world - as well as the world of others.

The History Eduation Network

Margaret MacMillan doesn’t just document the past; she brings it to life

Readers' Digest

History’s People is a refreshing perspective on history as a discipline and on people both well-known and obscure. This, coupled with MacMillan’s magnificent ability to take the most complex issue and render it clearly, is what makes the book such an engaging read. MacMillan has proven that her love of gossip only adds to her credentials as an historian, and one can only hope that she continues to find further subjects to write about for a long time to come.

Qull and Quire, STARRED REVIEW

MacMillan draws on an astonishing well of scholarship…The house of history is vast, and as the Massey Lectures come to a close, two voices sound a very different, and more urgent, note: the observers Harry Kessler, born in 1868, the wealthy son of a German banker, and Viktor Klemperer, born in 1881, a German-Jewish professor in Dresden. Through their diaries, Kessler and Klemperer attempt to keep hold of their particular way of observing and thinking, which is to say, their souls. MacMillan powerfully recreates the era; she brings to life not simply their personalities, but their personhood.

Globe and Mail

Margaret MacMillan rightly is a darling of Canadian letters, an acclaimed historian of international stature, a superb writer and author of several award-winning bestsellers. Her talents and intellect are so formidable she can do no professional wrong -- if she writes something it is worth reading, no question. This has been true of everything she has turned her mind to, and it is true of her latest work, History's People…the stories -- in the end is what is so richly rewarding about reading History's People. If the personal stories command MacMillan's interest, it goes without saying that they will command the attention of her readers, too.

Winnipeg Free Press

She is one of those rare scholars who can write for a larger audience without becoming bogged down in academic jargon. In her latest book, MacMillan shows this talent again in five absorbing lectures about a wide range of historical actors—from Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to Samuel Champlain and Elizabeth Simcoe—offering insight into their personal motivations and historical significance… With the federal election campaign underway, the party leaders could help themselves by heeding MacMillan’s words of wisdom.

National Post

A concise, educational overview of some of the men and women who have carved out spots in the annals of history and why they should be remembered. Fans of the author are in for another treat.


History comes alive when Margaret MacMillan writes it, and here she gives readers her own selection of people of the past, ranging from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Samuel de Champlain.

Vancouver Sun

wonderful… History’s People urges us to see the past in another way. MacMillan has provided us with a brilliantly guided tour through a dramatic and emotionally penetrating account of the human beings who by accident or design (and often through the luck of good timing) created the world we live in. She encourages us to see the human qualities, the frailties and passions of men and women who make history… Many readers of MacMillan’s book will want to give a copy to young people whose brains have been deadened by textbooks.

National Post

this book is an inspiring one, and the lives of the people included have lessons for all of us.

Victoria Times Colonist

MacMillan’s passion for the subject is clear and will certainly be passed on to anyone who reads this book.

Parry Sound North Star

[History’s People] very enjoyably explores how individuals not only make history, but also record it.

Toronto Star

Other titles by Margaret MacMillan