3. Most Controversial Book

Laura Beers: Robert Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974)

How appropriate is it to compare American slaves to English poor law orphans?

Matthew Francis: David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005)

Am tempted to put Corelli Barnett’s The Audit of War, a book that was loved by many Thatcherites in spite of the fact that it was not very good, but surely nobody takes him seriously now anyway? I am going to choose A Brief History of Neoliberalism on the basis that people do take that book far more seriously than they ought to…

David Gange: Martin Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1901 (1981)

The 1980s seemed to be a decade that specialized in very bad, very influential books on British history. This was a particularly unhelpful one, beloved by Thatcher’s advisers and therefore woven into the political history of the 80s in ways that make it a great case study for historians of that decade as well as for historians of what Wiener’s actually trying, very badly, to make sense of.

Vanessa Heggie:  Thomas Mckeown, The Modern Rise of Population (1976)

Controversial in that it caused (on-going) controversy?

Matthew Hilton:  

I honestly can’t answer this – are there any truly controversial history books anymore?

Matt Houlbrook:  Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s The History Manifesto (2014)

It has to be this at the moment: controversial or just plain wrong…

Chris Moores: Niall Ferguson, Empire (2008)

It came out when I was an UG in history and seemed to be accompanied by a load of media hype and hullabaloo.

Sadiah Qureshi: Niall Ferguson’s Empire (2008)

Agree with Chris, I’m still driven mad by how students use his work to write glowing essays about the Brits abroad taking progress wherever they went. The erasure of imperial violence is just extraordinary and makes me and a lot of others very, very angry.

Jonathan Reinarz:  Anything by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Kate Smith: Catherine Hall and Leonore Davidoff, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (1992)

This is slightly different reading of the ‘controversial’ category, but this seminal work is something that aroused many important discussions and remains an incredibly important book.

More MBS ‘Desert Island’ posts:

  • Book you have referred to most
  • Most thought provoking book
  • Book you wish you had written
  • Favourite Article
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