Summary and book reviews of Dangerous Games by Margaret MacMillan

Dangerous Games

The Uses and Abuses of History

By Margaret MacMillan

Dangerous Games
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2009,
    208 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2010,
    208 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

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Book Summary

Margaret MacMillan, an acclaimed historian and “great storyteller” (The New York Review of Books), explores here the many ways in which history – its values and dangers – affects us all, including how it is used and abused. The New York Times bestselling author of Paris 1919 and Nixon and Mao reveals how a deeper engagement with history in our private lives and, more important, in the sphere of public debate can guide us to a richer, more enlightened existence, as individuals and nations. Alive with incident and figures both great and infamous, including Robespierre, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush, Dangerous Games explores why it is important to treat history with care.

History is used to justify religious movements and political campaigns alike. The manipulation of history is increasingly pervasive in today’s world. Dictators may suppress history because it undermines their ideas, agendas, or claims to absolute authority. Nationalists may tell false, one-sided, or misleading stories about the past. Political leaders might mobilize their people by telling lies. Adolf Hitler, for instance, blamed the Jews for Germany’s humiliation at Versailles and its defeat in World War I. It is imperative that we have an understanding of the past and avoid the all-too-common traps in thinking to which many fall prey–as MacMillan skillfully illuminates. This brilliantly reasoned work will compel us to examine history anew, including our own understanding of it, and our own closely held beliefs.

Chapter One

The History Craze

History, and not necessarily the sort that professional historians are doing, is widely popular these days, even in North America, where we have tended to look toward the future rather than the past. It can be partly explained by market forces. People are better educated and, particularly in the mature economies, have more leisure time and are retiring from work earlier. Not everyone wants to retire to a compound in the sun and ride adult tricycles for amusement. History can be helpful in making sense of the world we live in. It can also be fascinating, even fun. How can even the best novelist or playwright invent someone like Augustus Caesar or Catherine the Great, Galileo or Florence Nightingale? How can screenwriters create better action stories or human dramas than exist, thousand upon thousand, throughout the many centuries of recorded history? There is a thirst out there both for knowledge and to be entertained, and the market has responded ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

There are dozens of historians who have criticized the efficacy of history as an authority; In this short volume, MacMillan does this with wit and an accessible, engaging style. Drawing upon a wealth of historical examples, MacMillan reminds the reader that history is malleable, and too often distorted for political and sociological gain.   (Reviewed by Derek Brown).

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Media Reviews
The Denver Post

In her latest effort, MacMillan seems to have forgotten how important it is to envelop the reader inside a story... Her desire to put the authority back in the hands of "professional historians" is disheartening and seems at odds with the evidence presented in her book.

The Washington Post

... Dangerous Games should be read by anyone concerned with making the public dialogue as open and honest as possible.

New York Times

Dangerous Games is a frequently mordant and consistently provocative indictment of the myriad ways in which history as a way of understanding the world is too often distorted, politicized and badly mishandled. MacMillan lays about with rhetorical broadsword and with fearless abandon.

NPR

MacMillan has formed a powerful and important argument that people — and not just the people in power — must know their true histories. This book is a great place for everyone to start.

Booklist

For both historians and lay readers, this thoughtful and provocative work will be enlightening and useful.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the importance of correctly understanding the past.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A wide-ranging and provocative testament to transparency as the best historical education.

Reader Reviews
WIU College Student

Frustrated!!!!!!
First of all, I would like for all persons reading this to understand my situation. I am an undeclared freshman in college. I am enrolled on basic classes. One particular class is Western civilization since 1648. For this class, "Dangerous Games...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A brief history of borders
Most of us take it for granted that every person on earth is the citizen of a nation state, but this is a relatively recent concept.

Take Europe for example. Although there had long been empires that stretched across large tracts of land, up until the Middle Ages Europe was essentially made up of multiple city states. Indeed, the modern day passport is believed to have begun as a medieval document required to pass through the gate ("porte") of a city wall. In general, documents were not required when arriving at sea ports, which were considered open trading points.

It was not until the 15th century that the concept of a national border came into being - triggered, in part, by the Hundred Years War (...

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