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Posts Tagged ‘Niall Ferguson’

(Note: I’ve been tagging and retitling lots of old posts, and some subscribers have seen an influx in their Google Readers. My apologies – things should be back to normal soon!)

Seven years ago, I spent a cold February afternoon at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, exploring and absorbing hundreds of years of colonial history (or trying to) with about 30 other American students. We stayed after closing time to listen to a few British scholars (and one poor, beleaguered American) hold a panel discussion on the topic “Is America an Empire?”. (This was in 2004, at the height – or the trough? – of the Bush administration, and certainly at the nadir of anti-American feeling abroad.)

My friend Meg, a history buff, had recently read a book by one of the panelists – a handsome, well-spoken Scottish historian by the name of Niall Ferguson. We all teased her about being smitten with him, and asking him to sign her book afterward (which he did graciously) – but we were all impressed by his knowledge, his powers of persuasion, and of course, that Scottish accent. (Not quite Sean Connery, but close.)

A couple of weeks later, Niall made a guest appearance in one of our classes, thanks to two of my girlfriends. Angela made up a talk-show theme song involving his name and words like “world domination” and “unilateralism” (the man does have some interesting views on colonialism), and served as interviewer, and Andrea (blonde, pixie-like and definitely not Scottish) played Niall. Her role basically consisted of sitting properly in a chair and answering all Angela’s “interview” questions with “I wrote a book. You should read it. It’s very good.” (In a fake Scottish accent, of course.)

Fast forward to about a month ago, when I received an ARC of Ferguson’s latest book, Civilization (already published in the UK, out Nov. 1 in the States), to review for Shelf Awareness. As I picked it up and read his name on the cover, I remembered being in that dark, chilly museum hall, sitting on a hard wooden chair, listening to that Scottish accent wind itself around the complexities and ethical questions of empire. I remembered Meg, grinning, clutching her book, and I saw Andrea nodding sagely at Angela’s questions and repeating, “Yes. I wrote a book. You should read it. It’s very good.”

Of course, I let all my Oxford friends know, via Facebook, that I was reading Ferguson’s latest book (and, for the record, it is very good), and when I added the book to my Goodreads shelf, I found out that Roxanne was a student of his at Harvard. I also talked about the book so much at home that J borrowed it after I finished, and happened to ask our friend Ryan, who teaches chemistry at Harvard, if he knew Ferguson.

“Niall?” Ryan said casually. “Yeah. He hangs out in our house’s common room sometimes. Why?”

Mind. Blown.

I doubt I’ll ever actually meet Ferguson (and who knows what on earth I’d say to him if I did!). But after seven years, thousands of miles, five more books (for him) and one book-review gig (for me), there is now only one degree of separation between us.

Sometimes the world is very, very small.

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