Yesterday I attended the Petworth Literary Festival where Simon Sebag Montefiore was interviewed by Davide Soskin about his new book The World.
This is a history of the world through families.
His thesis is that the treatment of history is too narrow – whether of a country or a particular war or event – and more can be understood through knowledge of the key families, many of whose generationally acquire and maintain power.
He is an expert on Russia.
He told of Catherine the Great’s lover, a Prime Minister and co-Tsar, Potemkin effectively colonised Ukraine which was hitherto a Muslim state.
Sebastopol, Mariupol, Odessa and Kherson were all cities founded by Potemkin and when Putin came to power he expressed interest in Simon Sebag Montefiore’s writings on the subject.
Although I have yet to read his tome, which was only recently published, I do firmly believe that David Soskin, himself a notable historian with a first in the subject at Oxford, was absolutely right in affirming that less mistakes might have been made by leaders studying history.
I made the point to David afterwards that PPE in Oxford – which course has produced many a Prime Minister – does not, of course, include history.
The event lasted just over an hour as later Hugh Bonneville was speaking on his book but was hugely entertaining and informative.