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  • Published: 4 May 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241501764
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $35.00

Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe




A provocative, original and compelling history of catastrophes and their consequences

Disasters are by their very nature hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all. Yet the responses of a number of devloped countries to a new pathogen from China were badly bungled. Why?

The facile answer is to blame poor leadership. While populist rulers have certainly performed poorly in the face of the pandemic, more profund problems have been exposed by COVID-19. Only when we understand the central challenge posed by disaster in history can we see that this was also a failure of an administrative state and of economic elites that had grown myopic over much longer than just a few years. Why were so many Cassandras for so long ignored? Why did only some countries learn the right lessons from SARS and MERS? Why do appeals to 'the science' often turn out to be mere magical thinking?

Drawing from multiple disciplines, including history, economics and network science, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe is a global post mortem for a plague year. Drawing on preoccupations that have shaped his books for some twenty years, Niall Ferguson describes the pathologies that have done us so much damage: from imperial hubris to bureaucratic sclerosis and online schism. COVID-19 was a test failed by countries who must learn some serious lessons from history if they are to avoid the doom of irreversible decline.

  • Published: 4 May 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241501764
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is a Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire and Colossus, he also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world. Since 2003 he has written and presented three highly successful television documentary series for Channel Four: Empire, American Colossus and, most recently, The War of the World. He, his wife and three children divide their time between the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Praise for Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

Magisterial reach ... immensely readable ... Ferguson [applies] his prodigious intellect to placing the present pandemic on a wider historic canvas.

Douglas Alexander, Financial Times

Stimulating ... Each chapter of this thought-provoking book is worth reading for the ideas, perceptiveness and well-told stories of landmark events ... It's a useful reminder that what may feel like having unprecedented restrictions imposed on our lives today is nothing new... readers will find much to relish.

Martin Bentham, Evening Standard

Niall Ferguson's Doom is often insightful, productively provocative and downright brilliant.

New York Times

A superb history of the lost art of handling a crisis.

The Telegraph

Elegant, pacey, gripping ... a wealth of deep research.

The Economist

Doom covers an impressive sweep of history at a lively narrative clip and weaves a lot of disparate strands together into an engaging picture.

Rafael Behr, The Guardian

This is not just about a virus but a collision of politics, panic, digital media, human behaviour and incompetence. Niall Ferguson's Doom looks at each of these aspects, putting them into historical perspective in a book of dazzling range and rigour.

Fraser Nelson, The Spectator

Timely and refreshing ... An informative, amusing and thought-provoking read that is full of steadying good sense for these troubled times.

Peter Neville-Hadley, South China Morning Post

Performs a crucial public service ... Doom is far more than just a page-turner, though that it certainly is: it's that most precious of things in a history book - an account of the past that truly helps us understand where we are today.

Ryan Bourne, CapX

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