Montefiore, Simon Sebag. “Titans of History”, Vintage, 2018.
The Giants Who Made Our World
Having enjoyed Simon Sebag Montefiore’s “Jerusalem”, I was ready to sit down and have another wonderful reading experience with “Titans of History”. It is a collection of people, including “conquerors, poets, kings, empresses and whores to psychopaths, composers and explorers.” This is a history of the world through the people who made it what it is. The biographies are brief and unfortunately shallow with little analysis of who the titans are. Montefiore gives us history through biographies of some of the most fascinating characters of all time yet this is something missing here.
Montefiore includes over 170 notable figures and he includes almost everyone from Charlemagne to Elvis thus being interesting to everyone. This is a history through people and it is meant for those who don’t want to be bogged down with statistics and just really want the main points of history. There are many fascinating facts about everyone you need to know.
These who Montefiore calls titans of history include “queens, empresses, and actresses, kings, sultans, and conquerors, as well as prophets, artists, courtesans, psychopaths, and explorers—lived lives of astonishing drama, courage and adventure, debauchery and slaughter, virtue and crime. The subjects range widely throughout time and geography from Buddha and Genghis Khan to Nero and Churchill; from Catherine the Great and Anne Frank to Toussaint l’Ouverture and Martin Luther King; from Mozart to Mao; from Jesus Christ and Shakespeare to Einstein and Elvis.” It is through the lives of the titans that we get the most momentous world events from ancient times to the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the Gulf Wars.
These are the historical figures that everyone should know but I found details to be quite scarce and it also sees to me that Montefiore favors villains over good guys. We get psychopathic dictators, warlords and malevolent dwarves. He also finds room for “a few gods, one or two secular saints, American founding fathers, Lincoln and Churchill, and some artists and scientist. I do have bit of a problem with the fact that two African dictators like Idi Amin and Macias Nguema get a place as Titans but other far more influential African leaders are not mentioned.