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Specialized ProfessionIAm Jessie Kratz, the historian for the National Archives. AMA!

Mar 6th 2018 by atlasobscura • 24 Questions • 4091 Points

Hi everyone! I am Niall Ferguson. I am the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior fellow of the Center for European Studies, Harvard, where I served for twelve years as the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History. I am also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. I have written fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. I am an award-making filmmaker, too, having won an international Emmy for my PBS series The Ascent of Money. In addition to writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) and the Boston Globe, I am the founder and managing director of Greenmantle LLC, an advisory firm. I also serve on the board of Affiliated Managers Group. My new book, The Square and the Tower, was published in the U.S. in January.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/3chnemwo7ni01.jpg

You can find me online here:

EDIT: And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!

Q:

When did you first want to become a historian and why?

A:

Hi Denny! Some of my favorite Heaven Hill bourbons are the old, affordable Bottled in Bond brands. Are there any plans to help promote and push these brands for greater distribution? Much like how Henry McKenna and Rittenhouse were revitalized. Perhaps add age statements and premiumize them? Re-designed labels? I am talking brands like JW Dant, JTS Brown, TW Samuels, Old Fitzgerald and Heaven Hill.


Q:

In your recent interview with Sam Harris, you seemed to sidestep criticisms of Kissinger by saying that if he's a war criminal, then so is Obama, etc. Since this is not a political question but a legal one, and since many of us are perfectly willing to follow you on your point about Obama, what is an actual substantive argument for your lenient stance on Kissinger's actions?

A:

I’ve loved history ever since I can remember. I wanted to know more about how we got to where we are. And I had a fascination with Alexander Hamilton way before it was cool to like him--he was my first “history crush”: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2012/02/22/history-crush-alexander-hamilton/


Q:

Yes, a great example of this is the recent announcement about the Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond (check out link below for details). Old Fitzgerald is a historic brand with a history in decanters. Much like our Pikesville Rye, we champion these bottlings and look for opportunities to promote them or reintroduce them to a wider audience.

http://blog.heavenhilldistillery.com/old-fitzgerald-bottled-bond-series/

A:

I haven't begun writing vol. II, so I wasn't side-stepping Sam's question, just making sure I didn't preempt myself. My argument is for consistency. My hunch is that either there are a lot of war criminals who have led the State Department / U.S. government or none, depending on your definition. What seems highly implausible to me is that there is only one, and that is Kissinger. Remember, the main basis for this claim is a really shoddy little book by my old friend Chris Hitchens. He was many things, but a lawyer wasn't one of them.


Q:

What is on the back of the Declaration of Independence and what would happen if I stole it?

A:

Thanks for doing this. Visited the distillery last summer and had a blast.

1) How closely does HH follow r/bourbon, if at all? Are you aware of how highly regarded Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is there?

2) What is one recent, readily available bourbon or rye (i.e. not secondary market or super $$) from a different distillery that made you say "Damn, that's good"?

If you answer, I commit to 3 fingers of Pikesville tonight in your honor.


Q:

How much of your time do you dedicate to reading history?

A:

There is writing on the back of the original, signed Declaration of Independence. But it is not invisible, nor does it include a map like in Disney’s “National Treasure” movie. The writing on the back reads: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

Stealing it would be a lot harder than Nicolas Cage made it look--you would need some superhuman powers that could penetrate bullet-proof glass! And our conservators and our security officers would be pretty mad.


Q:

1) How closely does HH follow r/bourbon, if at all? Are you aware of how highly regarded Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is there?

We certainly follow r/bourbon but not at a troll level! I know I check in on occasion because I want to know what the conversations are and what people are currently interested in. And I’m not sure I knew how highly regarded the ECBP was there but I can imagine. People love it and it has become almost fanatical since we won 2017 Whisky Advocate Whiskey of the Year.

2) What is one recent, readily available bourbon or rye (i.e. not secondary market or super $$) from a different distillery that made you say "Damn, that's good"? If you answer, I commit to 3 fingers of Pikesville tonight in your honor.

Well, the Russells Reserve 10yro is pretty damn good. And if you know anything about Jimmy and Eddie it’s that they are pretty good at what they do. I would also say that Eddie has one of the best palates of anyone I’ve ever been around. He is well known for his talent to taste and describe.

A:

A minimum of two hours every day, including the work of my students, manuscripts people send me to read, historical articles. I wish it could be more, but I end up doing stuff like this instead!


Q:

Is it true all tweets are held in the national archive? Or was that just a rumor that people put out there when I was in high school.

A:

Hey Denny-

big fan of heaven hill brands. elijah craig barrel proof, in particular. i have a few questions:

  1. do you have any favorite independent or small distilleries you think we should be watching? people who are doing it right and not rushing product to market?

  2. any chance of barrel/high proof offerings of other heaven hill labels?

  3. what is heaven hill doing to stymie the oncoming pop to the bourbon bubble? does heaven hill even think this is a bubble or does hh see the current fervor as a sea change for the whiskey world?


Q:

What is the weirdest thing you discovered in your research?

A:

That was a rumor ;) It was the Library of Congress and they aren’t saving all of them anymore: https://www.google.com/search?q=library+of+congress+tweets


Q:

1) do you have any favorite independent or small distilleries you think we should be watching? people who are doing it right and not rushing product to market?

Love what Pat and Shane are doing at Wilderness Trail in Danville KY. Those guys are top notch and true experts. They have not released any of their whiskey yet but it’s coming and it will be good.

2) any chance of barrel/high proof offerings of other heaven hill labels?

Once again, will never say never.

3) what is heaven hill doing to stymie the oncoming pop to the bourbon bubble? does heaven hill even think this is a bubble or does hh see the current fervor as a sea change for the whiskey world?

As I said in a previous answer, everyone has their own perspective on this, but from my position I don’t think Bourbon is going anywhere any time soon. We’re only halfway to where the industry was in its peak in the 1970’s. And we have huge growth potential in the international markets. As the second largest holder of aging American Whiskey, we’re in a better position than most to prepare for the future.

A:

The strange truth about the Illuminati. After all the crazy conspiracy theories, it was really gripping to read about this weird little South German sect of radical Enlightenment thinkers in the 1770s who thought they could infiltrate the Freemasons and undermine Roman Catholicism.


Q:

Do you really have a warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant?

And is that where y'all have squirreled away my military medical records?

A:

How aware and tapped into the secondary/black market are you? Have your recent pricing increases for limited edition bottlings been related to prices you've seen on the secondary? or more from sales increases and market research?

as a consumer, i lament the price increase, but as a fan, it's good to see the higher end bourbon releases starting to get luxury prices more in line with products in the same family (ie, scotch)


Q:

Can we expect some of he highlights in your new book?

A:

We do! And we could quite possibly have your military records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2015/11/11/veterans-military-records/


Q:

I am not a collector so I am not tapped into the secondary market at all. Mainly what we know is what the consumers tell us. That market does not dictate at all what pricing is for our releases. We do try to manage special releases because we truly want people to drink these products and not just collect and/or resell them. However, it’s a market that has been created out of necessity so it is not a bad thing at all. It is filling a niche. I know that some products have seen increases but it is tough for us to control what the price is when it makes the shelf. We suggest pricing but that does not always dictate what it sells for. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a great example of that. Our suggested pricing is $59.99. Obviously we have seen it listed a lot higher than that. It also still amazes me that we can offer products such as Elijah Craig Small Batch and Henry McKenna 10yr BIB in the $30 price range. Unbelievable products for the price.

A:

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun!


Q:

What are some items that most people would be amazed that are in the National Archives?

A:

Hey Denny! Thanks for opening your doors to Heaven for a little bit.

Can you speak on the Bourbon industry and where you think it's going. Everyone claims the bubble is about to burst.

Also, can you explain the farm to distillery relationship and where you might get your corn, wheat and rye from? I've heard that a lot of distilleries, HH included use GMO products to keep up with demand. Any shift towards organic!


Q:

With Dodd-Frank repeal or revision an increasing possibility, do you have any thoughts on the value of that legislation? It's hard to find reliably sensible commentary amid the political debate where reps on both sides may be pandering towards special interests in their arguments.

A:

That depends on what you think is amazing.

We have two severed fingers! One is in a Libby’s pickle jar and the other an olive jar. They are part of a kidnapping claim from over 100 years ago.

We also have a mole skin that a Civil War’s widow submitted to receive her husband’s pension: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2010/12/21/mole-in-place-at-the-archives/

We also have the WWI draft card for Chef Boyardee: https://www.archives.gov/atlanta/wwi-draft/boyardee.html

And my office is right around the corner from a working miniature model of the original vault that the founding documents were stored in: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/national-archives-vault-model-mosler


Q:

1) Can you speak on the Bourbon industry and where you think it's going. Everyone claims the bubble is about to burst.

Everyone has their own perspective on this, but from my position I don’t think Bourbon is going anywhere any time soon. We’re only halfway to where the industry was in its peak in the 1970’s. And we have huge growth potential in the international markets. As the second largest holder of aging American Whiskey, we’re in a better position than most to prepare for the future.

2) Also, can you explain the farm to distillery relationship and where you might get your corn, wheat and rye from? I've heard that a lot of distilleries, HH included use GMO products to keep up with demand. Any shift towards organic!

All of the corn comes from four local farmers who we have worked with for generations. We typically get our wheat from these same farms since they will grow the wheat on the same property once the corn is harvested. Our rye comes from the Northern US and Canada. We just cannot grow it economically here in KY. As for GMO, we do not dictate to the farmer what they should grow. They know what is best to grow on their land. That being said, no GM material makes it through distillation thus the reason why we do not mandate what the farmer must grow.

A:

I am writing an update to the Ascent of Money which will tear into Dodd-Frank as a really badly designed mess that didn't address more than a tenth of the causes of the financial crisis. Should be out in September.


Q:

Seeking advice that suits your expertise:

I have my grandfathers journal from WW2, he was a medic in the pacific theater. My family would like to get the document preserved and digitally archived, but have no idea where to even start to get that done. What would you recommend?

A:

We have the same last name. You get a lot of Harry Potter references anytime someone notices your name?


Q:

Can you talk a little bit about your political transition from Glasgow-born to Thatcherite / Romney supporter? In a similar vein, would you ever work for a presidential administration here in the states?

A:

Our Preservation staff have put together some helpful tips for preserving family heirlooms: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives


Q:

Yes, I get that question all the time!

A:

That happened at Oxford. I was a Labour supporter in 1979. Then I went down South and met English socialists -- boarding school boys who wanted the miners to go on strike -- and I was appalled. I quickly realized the smartest and funniest people at Oxford were Thatcherites (like my old friend Andrew Sullivan). The rest is not quite history. As for working for an American administration, I am not yet a citizen, so can't.


Q:

If you were to sit down and have dinner with any one historical figure, who would it be and why is it Tupac?

A:

I love Pikesville! Is it really the same mash bill as Rittenhouse, just aged longer? Will there be any special editions in the future?


Q:

Who’s been the most influential historian in your career? Most overrated? Most underrated?

And why is Cambridge better than Oxford?

A:

Tupac because I assume he would also be a fan of the Hamilton musical.


Q:

Yep, it’s the same mashbill. You can see all of our mashbills at this link: http://heavenhilldistillery.com/making-americas-whiskey.php. The difference really is in the aging and barrel selection process. We always pick Pikesville from higher storage. I’ll never say never, but right now we’re comfortable with Pikesville as it is without any special editions planned right now.

A:
  1. A.J.P. Taylor. He could write.
  2. Richard J. Evans.
  3. Maurice Cowling. With Oxford it was like marriage. With Cambridge it was a passionate affair.

Q:

Good morning Jessie!

1). What advice would you have someone doing Oral Histories?

2) What subject got you interested in History?

A:

Hello Denny, thank you for doing this.

What is our chance of ever seeing older age stated Mellow Corn bottlings? Maybe even at cask strength? Mellow Corn is pretty unique, and I'd love to see that happen as a special release, even if it's not yearly.


Q:

Do you think Facebooks power and reach has peaked?

A:

1) Just come up with something you want answered and a list of folks who can give you those answers. Then contact them! The first time I did an oral history I was so nervous then I realized it’s not about me--it’s about what your interviewee has to say. Here is some more information on our program: https://www.archives.gov/about/history/oral-history-at-the-national-archives

2) I’ve always loved the American founding. I like to find ways to include that in my work--and it helps that we have the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights!


Q:

Love to see your passion for Mellow Corn! A true fan. Actually, there is a bottling out right now that is older aged corn whiskey that has been rebarreled. It is available at our Visitor’s Center and is under our Heaven Hill Select Stock line.

A:

It's getting close. But we're not quite there yet. "Short Facebook" will be an epic trade for whoever times it right.


Q:

A few black history months ago I bumped into a showcase of documents Tuskegee airmen, including flight/ bombing plans on northern Italy. My late father had a close encounter with an aviator in one such eposode, of which he shared vivid remembrance. In which facility can I find those documents to learn more? I tried looking in your online DB but records are scattered and not identified other than by military designators. Thanks!

A:

Hi Denny! Where do you see the future of brands like Old Fitzgerald, and Heaven Hill 6yr BiB headed? Is it a focus to see these brands nationwide?

Long live BiB!


Q:

When I was a post-doc at Oxford, I was told by the landlady that you used to live in the flat that I rented from her. She said that you had gone through some bad break up or something at the time and got lots of flowers and also that her husband agreed with you about monetary policy. Did you have a good time living there despite the apparently horrible break up? And any advice for a young academic just starting his first tenure-track job?

A:

Do you have a copy of your dad’s DD-214? That might be a good place to get started. https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

For the documents, our experts over at the History Hub should be able to help you locate them: https://historyhub.history.gov/welcome


A:

I have happy memories of Oxford in those days, despite the inevitable romantic ups and downs of my twenties. And if we're thinking of the same flat, it was a lovely flat! My advice is to expect romantic ups and downs. Post-docs and early-stage academics are at the bottom of the food-chain and very few boy- and girlfriends understand how hard you have to work and how little you get paid!


Q:

Do you have a favorite episode of Drunk History?

A:

How do you get to be a Master Distiller? What advice would you give to someone who wants to be one?


Q:

Thank you for doing the AMA! I wrote a term paper on The Pity of War in college and thoroughly enjoyed your challenges to the conventional wisdom about WWI—I’ve even read the book a second time independent of any course work.

Do you consider yourself to be a historical contrarian? If so, at what point in your education and/ or career do you think you realized this? What do you think has led you to view many historical events and phenomena differently from other historians and commentators?

A:

I love that show! It’s hilarious. I would love to be on it. And my favorites are all the ones that deal with Hamilton.


Q:

Well, I don’t think it was anything I ever set my mind to. All I ever knew was that I LOVED working in a distillery. I love the science behind it and the people involved. So, being willing to do anything in the operation is key. And I’m talking working nights, weekends, holidays, etc. You have to be willing to do that if you want to be a true Distiller, much less a Master Distiller. I have also been extremely fortunate to work with some legends in our industry: Booker and Fred, Bill and Rob Samuels, the Nelthropp family at Cruzan, Parker and Craig, the Shapiras. I think all of that has helped land me in my MD Position. I am VERY lucky to be where I am and to have worked with so many great people.

A:

Worth reading / seeing The History Boys by Alan Bennett on this. I was always taught to challenge conventional wisdom when writing history essays. Otherwise, why bother? So the conventional wisdom on the First World War was just sitting there waiting to be challenged: that the war was a tragedy, but somehow inevitable. The Pity of War is a direct assault on that. Probably teaching the subject at Oxford pushed me further along the contrarian path. Students would come in with essays that said the same old thing, and my job was to ask: "Are you sure about that? What if Britain had simply stayed out?"


Q:

Thanks for this AMA! I have a question specifically about the discontinued NAS Old Heaven Hill BiB (red, gold, black label). What was the approximate age of whiskey going into these bottles? I find it quite extraordinary for the price and tastes (certainly noses) well above four years. When I find these I make sure to buy them, as they’re nearly unbeatable for the value. Thanks again!

A:

Hi Niall,

You defend Kissingers alleged war crimes by pointing to the crimes of other secretaries of state. Aren't you dodging the question of whether or not Kissinger himself committed war crimes in Indochina?


Q:

Old Heaven Hill BIB was 4 year old whiskey. Today, I drink our Evan Williams White label when I’m looking for a 4YO BIB.

A:

Read volume II. First I need to write it. The book will at least have a consistent definition of "war crimes."


Q:

What’s your favorite kind of cheese 🧀? Also, is a taco a sandwich?

A:

What advice do you have for the younger historians attempting to take this route as their passion and careers?


Q:

My favorite cheese is probably colby. Straight colby, not on a sandwich. There is NO way a taco is a sandwich.

A:

Read, read, read. Learn as many tricky languages as you can. And choose a PhD subject that a) can illuminate some present problem b) is technically difficult so you have minimal competition.


Q:

My SO has taught me a considerable amount about wine and I've taught her a lot about bourbon. I've really grown to appreciate wine and I feel like my experience with tasting bourbon has made it easier to pick up tasting wine.

Do you find that bourbon has expanded your palate while tasting other things? Other than bourbon, what other types of alcohol do you enjoy in your down time?

A:

In a previous answer, you said you believe the benefits of the British Empire outweighed its costs for a long time. Can you talk more about this? Benefits/costs for whom?


Q:

Yes, tasting American Whiskey over the years has certainly helped expand my palate, or at least improved my ability to explain what I’m tasting. As for other types of alcohol, I love aged rum. I actually ran a rum distillery in the Caribbean for 3 years and fell in love with the rum making process and the people that make it happen.

A:

For humanity. The argument is there in Empire, as well as in other works (The Cash Nexus, Colossus, Civilization -- also War of the World). I have a paper that I never published that pulls the economics together, but I decided it was futile as the post-colonial types aren't interested in quantifying welfare or considering counterfactuals (which you have to do).


Q:

Hi Denny,

I appreciate what you guys are doing at Heaven Hill. Does Heaven Hill have a place where I can find events that you guys participate in? Festivals, dinners, shows etc.

A:

Hi Niall, many thanks for doing this AMA.

What do you think will cause the next recession? (In the UK)


Q:

We do keep this page (http://heavenhilldistillery.com/visit-us.php) updated specific to events happening at both of our visitor centers, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Downtown Louisville and the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown. We also participate in all 4 WhiskyFests and Whisky Live!

A:

The Fed. Or the People's Bank of China.


Q:

Hi Denny, first off thank you for doing this AMA & making such a wonderful product. My question is how did you become a master distiller? What was your experience, education, and other factors that contributed to you landing such a wonderful job?

A:

Whats up Niall! Big fan of your work!

I'm curious to hear any strategies you have when wanting to learn about some topic, and how you go about finding work that is accurate and not overtly bias. How do you gauge it's validity?

I enjoy your work particularly bc you delve into topics with the understanding that there's good and bad things about everything and everyone.


A:

Doing history well is all about the ratio of pages you read to pages you write. For many books it's close to unity. I shoot for 1000:1. There's no substitute for being comprehensive. It's only by reading as much as possible that you are able to screen out the garbage and identify the quality research -- the stuff based on deep archival research. And then you go to the archives yourself.


Q:

How can bourbon go up in proof as it ages? If it is barreled at 125°, how are there bottles of 130°+ Bourbons? Wouldn't the alcohol evaporate before the water?

A:

Thanks for the AMA, Niall. Looking forward to reading the Square and the Tower.

There are two broad views of the future of China, from what I can tell. There's a Graham Allison view, wherein China's meteoric rise as a great power will cause friction and perhaps war with the United States, and a view like Michael Auslin's, wherein China's growth is deceptive and we may see a backslide in the Middle Kingdom's power.

Putting aside the question of which one is right, which view of China's future is more problematic from the view of the United States, or for global security and stability in general? A confident and aggressively growing China, or a backsliding insecure China? Which one do you think is more likely?


Q:

Due to there being more moisture on the lower floors, you will typically see more alcohol escape than water, thus the proof is reduced. On higher floors that are considerably hotter, you lose more water than alcohol because a water molecule is less complex than an alcohol molecule. In the summer the 7th floor could be 30-40 degrees hotter than the first floor.

A:

Graham's thesis is looking good as Xi Jinping becomes ever more Kaiser-like and foreign policy ever more Weltpolitik-like. On my last visit to China, I thought how right Kissinger has been to compare our time to the pre-1914 period. There is a new over-confidence in Beijing which is like Berlin circa 1900. But I think Auslin may win in the end. Behind the cult of Xi there's a potential for Gorbachev-like disaster. The worst time for a bad regime is when it tries to reform itself. If they try to deal with their over-leveraged economy, it's going to get interesting. Or if they get drawn into a shooting war, which they're not ready for.


Q:

Y’all hiring?

A:

Hello Niall, a big fan of your work. Even if I don't always agree, I always find your arguments interesting.

In light of your work on the legacies of the colonial era, I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the recent vote to expropriate land from white farmers in South Africa?


Q:

Are you a mixologist? We have an opening at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. If not, keep tabs on our open jobs at https://heavenhill.com/careers.

A:

It worries me, but I haven't yet seen the small print. History generally gives very low marks to most expropriations of land, because of the effect on rule of law of direct attacks on property rights, as well as the inefficiencies that arise when you break up big units. But there are ways to get this kind of thing right. Hernando de Soto would be the person for the South Africans to consult.


Q:

Hi Niall,

I read The Square and the Tower and enjoyed it very much. In the book you only mention cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin and Ethereum) towards the end. Can you elaborate on what you think the possible futures of cryptocurrencies are for business as usual? Could you also give your opinion on the potential for smart contracts to disrupt traditional fiat currencies such as the US dollar? Do you think national governments are beginning to worry about cryptos competing with their own established currencies?

A:

Hard to answer briefly. I don't think cryptocurrencies are either encrypted or money. Blockchain has a big future as the new platform for smart contracts and record-keeping. But I don't think fiat currencies need to be replaced by a blockchain based money. It will only happen if, say, China decides to do it in order to eliminate cash and have completely indelible records of all transactions.


Q:

Hi Niall What historians/historical works have shaped your historical thinking?

A:

And that's it folks. It's 11:02am in Stanford and I have to get back to my day job. Thanks to all of you for really great questions. My RSI is now killing me, but it was fun.


Q:

Hello Professor Ferguson,

What are your views on the end goal of the wave of right-wing populism that has spread across the world? Do you think any actions taken by Orban in Hungary or Kaczynski in Poland will produce any legislation or changes in the political structure that will be difficult to reverse if these countries return to a more liberal democracy?

A:

I think this is all a bit overblown, with all due respect to my colleague Larry Diamond. The "wave" hasn't actually changed the political structure of all that many countries, any more than the recent wave of left-wing populism fundamentally changed Latin America. The key issues are always: Can they change the constitution? Can they politicize the judiciary? Can they rig the next elections? If it's just legislation, then it's nearly always reversible. I am less pessimistic about Hungary and Poland than the consensus view.


Q:

Hi Niall,

Appreciate all of your scholarly efforts!

Which current global leader has the best grasp of 'big picture' politics?

Also my goodness did you see the rugby last week? I was fortunate enough to be at Murrayfield - was a tad taken with patriotic fervour.

Thanks!

A:

I'd day Wang Qishan. He's about to come back to the foreground of Chinese politics. A serious historical thinker and formidable strategist. On rugby, I was there too, with my eldest son and it was one of the happiest days of my life. The final minutes, as "Flower of Scotland" filled the air, were unforgettable. But I remain a believer in the Union. Part of the fun of being both British and Scottish is that we can give vent to all that national sentiment, and then head off to work down in London with no hard feelings. Hats off to the English fan in front of us who turned round and shook our hands at the final whistle. That was the true spirit of Six Nations rugby!


Q:

In the modern political context, and maybe drawing on your knowledge of some historical examples, how exactly can a government or society counter negative social engineering and radical ideas in a free and open society without trampling over first amendment rights?

A lot of people recently will accuse people who have conservative views of being Russian trolls. I guess my question is, in the hypothetical case that say a huge surge in conservative views was an act of some sort of foreign influence, how could a government or power counter it ethically? How can you counter division and radical ideas from the governmental level (as is often discussed with recent events) without trampling over free speech?

A:

Regulation of all political advertising exists for TV and newspapers. It didn't exist for the Internet in 2016. That needs to change. If those ads had said words to the effect of "Sponsored by the Russians," they would have been far less effective.


Q:

Would you consider your histories factual?

A:

Yes.


Q:

Hey Niall. I always read your books because they provide two things: a personal touch to go with the information (I like how you start your sections with someone involved in the history's perspective, maybe through a letter, and go from there) and always a clear argument to be mulled over while reading.

Sometimes, though, I read your books and am overwhelmed by the amount of info. How do you recommend readers of history go about tackling history books? Read first and last chapter's first, read intro and conclusion chapter sections first, read first and last sentence of paragraphs first, or go straight through like a novel?

Hopefully this makes it up there.

A:

Great question. Most people who are close to my kids in age have concentration issues because of all the messages, emails, alerts in their lives. So a bit of mental fitness helps: get your brain to read faster and in a more focused way -- like taking your head to the gym. Then read ruthlessly. If it's boring, skim. Read intro, then conclusion, then dip. If it's good, you'll get drawn in. If it's not so good, you can be done inside half an hour and know all you need to know. A total lack of respect for authors is important. The truth is that most books don't deserve more than half an hour of your life.