In a work that neatly marries the subjects of his previous books, Ferguson, who made his name with controversial popular histories of World War I (Pity of War, 1999) and the Rothschild banking empire (House of Rothschild, 1998), continues to challenge conventional wisdom. Here, he argues that the enormous expense of war, which forces governments into fiscal innovation, is the primary agent of financial change and its political repercussions, which sometimes include starting new wars. In Ferguson's view, political crises defined broadly to include those spurred by religion, law and culture cause both wars and financial disasters; the ensuing political outcomes determine the long-term economic fallout. Economic events, on the other hand, affect politics in indirect and unpredictable ways. Emphasizing the nuances and exceptions to his argument, he marshals economic statistics to support it, though he does not discuss alternative explanations for financial change. Despite frequent, jarring digressions into the minutiae of 1980s British politics and in praise of Thatcherism, the book is lucidly argued. But for a history that focuses so much on war, it includes little discussion of the military. Most controversially, Ferguson challenges the orthodox assumption that the world is headed toward a peaceful, prosperous and democratic global future. Economic success does not always lead to stability, he argues, and economic freedom is neither necessary for economic growth nor sufficient for political freedom. Nor, he warns, will economic globalization necessarily lead to greater economic or political cooperation. (Mar.) Forecast: This book will be more talked about than read, though it will attract serious readers. Like Ferguson's The Pity of War, its merits should outlive the controversy over its predictions.
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001 Release date: 03/01/2001 Genre: Nonfiction