Niall Ferguson has made somewhat of a reputation for coming up with novel ways to look at history. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook continues that tradition.
First, the stats. The book is 432 pages of text in IX parts and 60 chapters arranged both chronologically and thematically. It includes an appendix, 54 pages of notes and a 44 page bibliography. The main focus of the book is analyzing history from a network centric viewpoint. This is actually a fairly interesting take on things. This is especially so given the usual big-man view of most history.
The first several chapters are an in-depth explanation of network theory and how it can apply to historical analysis with some very good examples thrown in. The best is what he opens with, an analysis of the actual historical Illuminati from a network perspective. In this analysis he not only debunks modern conspiracy theories, he heavily implies that people that believe in them are idiots although he never comes right out and says so.
The rest of the book is an analysis of historical actors and trends from the renaissance to the present from a network perspective. He analyzes the first network age, the age of printing and draws some interesting comparisons between the dawn of the printing press and dawn of the internet. He discusses the Rothschild’s banking dynasty, the various royal houses of Europe, the Congress system, and other events and people.
I am not certain that a network analysis provides a whole lot in the way of answers for causation but it certainly makes for some interesting avenues for further research. It also provides an illuminating way of examining the interconnectedness of statesmen, businessmen, and states themselves and how those connections influenced the ways in which events unfolded.
Dr. Ferguson is always worth reading as all of his books are at least thought-provoking and this one is no different. A very well written book that is illuminating and explanatory while at the same raising questions for further consideration. An excellent book that I highly recommend.