Niall Ferguson’s New Book Review

Niall Ferguson is one of my favorite authors, he has a level of verbal acuity I could only dream to have, not to mention his level of education. Most notably, he received a doctorate from Oxford University, then later became a professor at Harvard. ”Most notably”, jeez I’m starting to write like him, I can even hear that thick, upper-class British accent in my head while writing this.

His book ”the ascent of money” is by far my favorite of his books, where he coined the term ”Chimerica”, which puts him way ahead of his time when it comes to understanding the rise of China. Later on, he wrote Henry Kissinger’s life story, which fills in the gap of how he had such an understanding of China. Clearly, Niall was following experts on China before writing ”the ascent of money” and he simply marketed a catchy term that sells, but that doesn’t take away from how intellectually stimulating that book was.

This book review of Doom - The politics of catastrophe by Niall Ferguson will be a little discombobulated, as I plan on reading the book, and this review simultaneously. When I hit a part that is interesting to me, I'll share it, regardless of how messy this review will seem, as a result. Please don't hate me. 

Doom – Niall Ferguson’s New Book

Why do some countries respond to tragedy better than others, why do some collapse, most hold together quite well and a few emerge stronger than before? Why do politicians sometimes make a tragic situation worse?

This is basically what the book is about ”the politics of catastrophe”, in relation to the latest tragedy in covid. The problem here is that the covid tragedy is still happening, in fact, some may say we are still in the middle of it. So, instead, Niall Ferguson decided to make this book about the history of catastrophe, he goes through historical events of catastrophe, in order to help the rest of us learn from them.

There’s also an underlining message here that I bet was Niall Ferguson’s intention for writing this book in the first place, I could be wrong though. And that is, to give people a greater sense of perspective, which I would definitely agree with, most people have lost over the past two years.

Humanity has suffered from constant catastrophes throughout history, most being far greater than this current pandemic. Sure, we can talk about casualties, etc, but without taking into account the sheer amount of people on planet Earth at the moment, the data is clearly squed in favor of confirming the agenda of some people instead of taking an independent/objective point of view.

Political Incompetence – Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson does talk about political incompetence. He outlines five reasons why the current crop of politicians are in fact incompetent:

  • 1 failure to learn from history
  • 2 failure of imagination
  • 3 failure of imagination
  • 4 threat underestimation
  • 5 procrastination

Which are all great observations, that cannot be denied, no matter what side of the political moat you are on. The strategy that all politicians use to get the outcome they desire, by funding ”experts” who give the opinions that the politician wanted in the first place. Almost, like a cognitive bias towards seeking out information that confirms what you already believe. I doubt most politicians have this type of cognitive bias though, sure their followers would have it, but surely these politicians know exactly what they are doing, by manipulating data for political purposes.

What is the Myth of Casandra?

Casandra is a tragic story of a mythical priestess who had the ability to see into the future and make outrageous predictions about future catastrophes that were about to happen. Yet, the reason why she is such a tragic mythical figure, is that no one believed her visions of the future.

The fact that Niall Ferguson mentions Casandra, makes me believe that he has been an avid follower of Michael Burry (legendary finance expert who predicted the 2008 global financial crisis). I could be wrong, but you see, Michael Burry is one of the best financial analysts in modern history, his Twitter handle is now @michaelburry Casandra and it seems like too much of a coincidence that Niall Ferguson is now mentioning the ancient trojan priestess.

This is just as interesting as the thoughts of certain people. The idea that I can read someone’s book and piece together the puzzle of how they think, where they could possibly be getting their information, which tells more about who they are. If I was correct in thinking that Niall follows Michael Burry, that would definitely give Mr Burry far more credibility in the financial realm than most would say he has.

I personally think he’s a genius. I’d love to know what Niall Ferguson thinks about Michael Burry’s intellectual weight.

  • Dragon Kings
  • Black swans
  • Grey rhinos

It was fascinating to hear Niall Ferguson’s thoughts on what people call Dragon king and black swan events. He talks about how these events are often known as Grey rhinos by experts who talk about the real possibility of these things happening in the near future ( A grey rhino is something that is big, everyone can see it coming and everyone knows it’s dangerous, therefore when it hits you, you can’t say you weren’t aware of the real threat it posed).

But the inability to take even the slightest precautions towards preparing for these grey rhino events, turns out to be reclassified as a black swan or even dragon king events due to the incompetency of leadership in preparing for them.


Spanish Flu – Book Doom by Niall Ferguson

One fascinating historical pandemic Niall Ferguson covered was the Spanish flu, it was interesting to learn of the similarities between how people reacted to historical pandemics to how we reacted today. It was interesting to hear how there were anti-vax people back then too. Niall explains in detail how, many other pandemics have played out in the past and I think the Spanish flu was by far the most fascinating because the damage seems to be similar to today’s devastation.

  • Decline in Fetal Development
  • Erosion of public trust and confidence

Especially in my country Australia, there has been a massive erosion of public trust in politicians, which is not unwarranted. This is common among most countries world wide, though the decline in fetal development was a truly shocking issue that could well start to emerge in developed countries over the coming years.

Coupled with the collapse in the global economy, imagine a secondary epidemic of a less productive upcoming generation of children in the developed world. How would we deal with that? Perhaps not so well, in my opinion. What if the Chinese have a large population of productive children coming through and the west has a weakened next generation, In approximately 2034, it could get quite messy for the current crop of world leaders.

How Eisenhower Dealt With The Asian Flu

President Dwight Eisenhower faced, not only the cold war, but in 1957 a global pandemic coming from Asia, most likely China. It was fascinating to here from Niall how Dwight Eisenhower seemed to focus more on keeping the economy going instead of shutting everything down, like we did in 2020.

It would seem that Trump and Eisenhower had many things in common. Personally, I agree with both of their strategies of keeping the economy going, while putting only mild measures in place. I found a magnificent video from back then, that I recommend you watch.

The rest of the book was a breakdown of interesting bureaucratic break downs like the titanic not having enough escape rafts, Nasa’s contractual fixation causing an explosion. The Chernobyl disaster, and the similarities between how the soviet union leadership tries to cover it up, the same way the CCP tries to with covid. Then Niall gives an interesting synopsis of events through 2020.