Scottish historian credits ‘family, teachers, mentors and friends’ for honour

An award-winning Scottish historian who became a household name when he wrote and presented a landmark TV series has been knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours list.

Professor Sir Niall Ferguson, whose 16 books include The Pity Of War and The Ascent Of Money: A Financial History Of The World, first came to the attention of many in the UK with the hit 2003 Channel 4 series Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World, and a best-selling book of the same name.

Born in Glasgow in 1964 and educated at the city’s Glasgow Academy, Sir Niall went on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, before pursuing an academic career that has seen him a hold a number of prestigious posts at universities in Europe and the USA.

Sir Niall, who is married to author and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.

He has written biographies of banker Siegmund Warburg, and the first part of a two-volume biography of former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who also formed the subject of a full-length 2011 documentary by his film company Chimerica Media.

Responding to the news he was being made a knight for services to literature, Sir Niall was keen to credit “the family members, teachers, mentors and friends” who supported him throughout his life.

“When an individual is honoured by the King, implicitly his formative influences are the real recipients of the honour,” he said.

“Anything I have achieved is in truth the achievement of my grandparents; my parents, Molly and Campbell; my school, the Glasgow Academy; my college, Magdalen, Oxford; and all the family members, teachers, mentors and friends who encouraged and supported me.”

He also stressed that throughout his work he has tried to “remain faithful to the historian’s true mission” and communicate the full complexity of real life in the past, while also bringing history out of the ivory tower.

“In an era when too much historical writing is political and one-sided, I have sought to remain faithful to the historian’s true mission, which is to show how it actually was for the people of the past, with all the contingency and complexity of real life, with a constant awareness of the roads not taken, and without the anachronistic judgments that are today in fashion.

“I have also striven to reach the widest possible audience, for history is too civically important an enterprise to be confined to ivory towers.

“I am grateful to His Royal Highness for this recognition, and to God and Great Britain for my good fortune.”

Sir Niall’s many prizes and awards include the 2009 GetAbstract International Book Award, the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service, the 2012 Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2018 he was awarded Columnist of the Year at the 2018 British Press Awards for his journalism.

He also holds honorary degrees from the University of Buckingham, Macquarie University in Australia and the Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Chile.