The 2015 CBC Massey Lectures, "History’s People: Personalities and the Past"

What part do individuals play in the great tides of history? How would the world be different if Napoleon had never existed? Would we think differently without Mohammed or Luther

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In the 2015 CBC Massey Lectures, renowned historian Margaret MacMillan explores some of the great people - good and bad, dreamers, explorers and adventurers - who have shaped their times and ours. One historian’s view of the people of the past who have intrigued, horrified or engaged her.

Some of these great figures have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of our time. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers. Margaret MacMillan looks at the concept of leadership through Bismarck and the unification of Germany; William Lyon MacKenzie King and the preservation of the Canadian Federation; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War.

Leaders can also make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies. Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.

History’s People is about the important and complex relationship between biography and history, individuals and their times.


Listen to excerpts or purchase all lectures on

Lecture 1: " Persuasion and the Art of Leadership"
Lecture 2: "Hubris"
Lecture 3: "Daring"
Lecture 4: "Curiosity"
Lecture 5: "Observers"

massey-2015-MacMillan Margaret MARGARET MACMILLAN is the author of the international bestsellers The War that Ended Peace, Nixon in China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College and a professor of international history at Oxford University and a professor of history at the University of Toronto.

Purchase past Massey Lectures on iTunes