REVIEW: The Square and the Tower, Niall Ferguson

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Most history is hierarchical: it's about emperors, presidents, prime ministers and field marshals. It's about states, armies and corporations. It's about orders from on high. Even history "from below" is often about trade unions and workers' parties. But what if that's simply because hierarchical institutions create the archives that historians rely on? What if we are missing the informal, less well documented social networks that are the true sources of power and drivers of change?

DNF @ 40%
I honestly cannot be bothered to continue to drag myself through this anymore. The Square and the Tower started off as an incredibly interesting look into the power that networks have had on society and the path that it has forged. It pits networks, which are generally thought to be more balanced in the power that all components/members have, against hierarchies and yet, though it points it out at various points, it continually seems to forget that the boundaries between hierarchies and networks are not so cut and dry. For most networks are hierarchical, are they not?
Niall Ferguson jumps from network to network, from century to century, in a way that I assume is supposed to mimic the rush of time, but even this structure fails to make the book anywhere close to fast-paced. Again and again I put the book down, thinking that I had read a large chunk of it, but instead finding that I had barely managed to scrape through a few pages. There are also historical events that The Square and the Tower jumped to that I found odd and wholly unnecessary - the differences in ideology between students at Oxford and Cambridge, and the random criticism of the Bloomsbury Group's polygamy and conscientious objection, particularly confused me.
Although I found the first quarter or so quite compelling and interesting, the longer the book went on, the less it held my interest. By 40%, it had grown tedious, dull and, with no end in sight, I cannot be bothered to read another word so here I am, saying adieu to the concept that all I know about history is wrong and not giving a damn about it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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