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  • NYS Writers Institute

Margaret MacMillan, author of "War: How Conflict Shaped Us"

"There are always new fields to explore in history."

-- Margaret MacMillan

We reached out to Canadian historian and bestselling author Margaret MacMillan, one of the major living historians of war, based in Oxford, England and Toronto, Canada. She's the author of the new book, War: How Conflict Shaped Us (2020), which was named one of the "10 Best Books of 2020" by the New York Times.

In addition to being an authority on the First World War, Margaret MacMillan is the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during that war.

The new book examines the many surprising ways in which war

has influenced human society.

Drawing on lessons from wars throughout the past, from classical history to the present day, MacMillan reveals the many faces of war—the way it has determined our past, our future, our views of the world, and our very conception of ourselves.

“Only a historian with MacMillan’s comprehensive knowledge, command of sources, clarity of thought, and artful writing could succeed so brilliantly with one volume on this sweeping topic.” -- Robert B. Zoellick, former President of the World Bank, U.S. Trade Representative, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State

“This important book teaches us to realize the impressive way in which war invades every aspect of our society. Read and learn.” — George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State

“[A] richly eclectic discussion of how culture and society have been molded by warfare throughout history . . . as colorful and tightly woven as a Persian carpet, showing us not just the many ways that men and women make war, but how war makes women and men . . . MacMillan writes with enormous ease, and practically every page of this book is interesting, even entertaining. . . . The greatest pleasures of this book are the historical anecdotes, moments and quotations that MacMillan marshals on nearly every page to illustrate her points. They are bold, arresting and various, and they make the book come alive.”—Dexter Filkins, military affairs journalist for The New Yorker, writing in The New York Times Book Review

Purchase War: How Conflict Shaped Us from the local, independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza:

What are you most looking forward to in your personal life in the coming year?

Getting started on my next book!

What idea, subject or field are you most looking forward to exploring in 2021?

There are always new fields to explore in history. For me, in no particular order, the American Civil War, the Roman Empire, and the Mongol conquests.

What is your biggest hope for the United States of America in 2021?

That you all start talking to each other civilly and remembering that you are so fortunate to live in a great country.

What's the most important thing we can learn from the pandemic?

The need to take responsibility for ourselves and others.

What activity are you most looking forward to enjoying after pandemic restrictions are lifted?

Nothing dramatic like trekking to Everest or going down the Amazon. Like many people I want to be able to be spontaneous and see friends and family without worrying about Covid-19 and looking for my mask and hand sanitizer.

Is there anything on Earth that you find unexpectedly beautiful?

The night sky—and it has been clearer than usual during the pandemic.

What new social or technological development excites you the most?

Dual sim cards—I can have one phone with two different numbers.

What did you most enjoy about writing War?

Discovering some of the many memoirs and novels that people have written about their experiences in war.

Visit Margaret MacMillan's website at

Margaret MacMillan is emeritus professor of international history at the University of Oxford and professor of history at the University of Toronto. She received her PhD from Oxford University and became a member of the history faculty at Ryerson University in 1975. In 2002 she became Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and from 2007 to 2017 she was the Warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.

Her previous books include the history bestsellers, Paris 1919, The War That Ended Peace, Nixon and Mao, Dangerous Games, and Women of the Raj. She currently serves as the Distinguished Visiting Historian at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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