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Niall Ferguson


Sub-title: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, Penguin Press, N.Y., 2018, 563 pgs., index, illustrations. bibliography, notes.


Reviewer comments: This is another outstanding product of Professor Niall Ferguson's impressive ability to bring together disparate historical subjects and through analysis draw lessons and conclusions relevant to today's current pressing issues. Here is defines and describes what networks and hierarchies are as human organizational structures, and their role in the conduct of personal, group, and even national affairs, The many illustrations are important for visualization of both, but especially of networks. His delve back into history with the Illuminati and focus on modern examples is sufficient to suit his purposes, but there are many examples of significant networks back to classical times that would have broadened the readers' interest and understanding had he described them.
A distraction is the manner in which Ferguson organizes his bibliography. He lists references separately for each chapter instead of in one alphabetical list. This obviously make searching to learn his sources move complicated.


Preface: The Networked Historian
The author informs the readers of his personal history with respect to hierarchies and networks and asserts that he is not an hierarchial type but strong in his networking. In writing this he gives explains what he means by modern human networks. He comments about what the general public and even professionals believe about networks and discounts it. He notes that he, himself, in previous historical studies probably did not give enough attention to the roles of networks. He intends this book to remedy that omission.


Part 1 - Introduction: Networks and Hierarchies


Chapter 1 - The Mystery of the Illuminati
The author selects a much misunderstood but popular example of a network and its reality versus myths.


Chapter 2 - Our Networked Age
It seems that the world today is inundated (well overrun) by networks that perform everything. The author writes: "This book is about the past more than it is about the future; or, to be precise, it is a book that seeks to learn about the future mainly by studying the past, rather than engaging in flights of fancy or the casual projection forward of recent trends."


Chapter 3 - Networks, Networks Everywhere
The author notes that networks exist and in some cases dominate in the natural world, and he provides examples. He writes: 'Social networks, then, are the structures that human beings naturally form, begining with knowledge itself and the various forms of representation we use to communicate it, as well of course as the family trees to which we all necessarily belong, even if only some of us possess detailed genealogical knowledge."


Chapter 4 - Why Hierarchies?
He describes hierarchies as vertically structured relationships that favor the exercise of power via centralized control.


Chapter 5 - From Seven Bridges to six Degrees
In this chapter the author demonstrates his ability to bring together facts from here and there to illustrate a central theme. Here he describes to us the famous question of - is it possible for someone to walk a path across all seven bridges at Koningsburg without crossing one twice. This was a mathematical game that received the interest even of such a profound mathematical philosopher as Leonard Euler. The answer is NO. And the study developed into graph theory. This field of study enables its practitioners to lay out models of networks as graphs.


Chapter 6 - Weak Ties and Viral Ideas
He continues to develop or describe the development of scientific study of networks. The field became of interest to economists and students of human behavior so that now 'organizational behavior' is a part of business study and of public health as it relates to the spread of diseases.


Chapter 7 - Varieties of Network
There are 'random networks' and deterministic and non-random networks of many types, each having its own characteristics. Again, drawing on his ability to bring unexpected illustrations to bear, he provides a diagram of the network of relationships among the characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet.


Chapter 8 - When Networks Meet
The author notes that for the historian the most important issue is the study of how different networks come to interact with each other.


Chapter 9 - Seven Insights
In this chapter he proposes seven 'insights' that one can draw from network theory.


Chapter 10 - The Illuminati Illuminated
Here is returns to further examination of the real Illuminati network with a detailed description and of the historical facts including its founders, members, and opponents.


Part II - Emperors and Explorers


Chapter 11 - A Brief History of Hierarchy
Another remarkable and unexpected example greets the reader. Hierarchy is all about who rules - or as Lenin aptly phrased it "Kto, Kvo' or 'Who - Whom" meaning who is the subject and who is the object of the exercise of power. The author briefly mentions classical and ancient societies that were mostly hierarchial in the distribution of power.


Chapter 12 - The First Networked Age
The author confines himself to the Medici and other family networks. But there were others.


Chapter 13 - The Art of the Renaissance Deal
Again, he describes Renaissance business- family networks. What about the networks of the Crusader monastic orders?


Chapter 14 - Discoverers
The author devotes a few pages to the Portuguese and other explorers as social networks. But was this responsible for the expansion of Western Europe to world domination?


Chapter 15 - Pizarro and the Inca
In another jump the author moves to Peru and Pizarro. He illustrates the family networks involved.


Chapter 16 - When Gutenberg Met Luther
No doubt, as the author demonstrates, the creation and use of the printing press spread rapidly through out Europe and in tern enabled the rapid spread of knowledge via multiple networks. From this the author describes a conflict between the networked reformers and the hierarchial 'establishment' of power holders.


Part III - Letters and Lodges


Chapter 17 - The Economic Consequences of the Reformation
The author devotes 2 pages to the well understood economic as well as political transformation that took place.


Chapter 18 - Trading Ideas
The chapter is about intellectual, scientific and merchant networks.


Chapter 19 - Networks and Enlightenment
The author turns to Voltaire as his example of the actual limits of personal networking.


Chapter 20 - Networks of Revolution
The central example here is Paul Revere and the network of revolution minded citizens around Boston. Apparently the Freemasons were involved.


Part IV - The Restoration of Hierarchy


Chapter 21 - The Red and the Black
The Bourbon dynasty failed in its attempt to restore hierarchial power in the face of post-revolutionary French networking.


Chapter 22 - From Crowd to Tyranny
We meet Napoleon as he restored 'order' after the excesses of the Jacobians.


Chapter 23 - Order Restored
The combination of the hierarchial monarchal ruling Houses and their network of the Great Powers brought a period of relative peace.


Chapter 24 - The House of Saxe-Colburg-Gotha
What an amazing family network, but it didn't prevent World War I.


Chapter 25 - The House of Rothschild
Another family network which the author has described in another full book.


Chapter 26 - Industrial Networks
The process of gradual improvement of the organizational methods and physical equipment that rapidly increased industrial output at lower costs is described here with an example of the contributors to the development of the steam engine.


Chapter 27 - From Pentarchy to Hegemony
This is 2 pages on the 19th century.


Part V - Knights of the Round Table


Chapter 28 - An Imperial Life
The example in this chapter is John Buchan and his novel - The Thirty-Nine Steps.


Chapter 29 - Empire The British Empire, of course.
The subject is the expansion of economic activity, wealth and all as a result of networks of communication such as undersea cables and steam powered ships.


Chapter 30 - Taiping
The topic is the rebellion that created mass casualties and example of networking against a hierarchy.


Chapter 31 - 'The Chinese Must Go'
In opposition to the increasing emmigration from China and immigration into the United States exclusionary laws were passed to reduce such immigration.


Chapter 32 - The Union of South Africa
The author claims that the 'populist' political movement of the late 19th century was a reaction to the financial crisis of 1873. Then he mentions the issue of the gold standard and then concern over socialism. His main example of imperialism is Alfred Milner who was appointed High Commissioner of South Africa. The author discusses Milner's staff as an example of a network (or not). He believes that Professor Carroll Quigley greatly exaggerated the group as a conspiracy.


Chapter 33 - Apostles
The chapter title refers to the "Conversazione Society' founded at Cambridge University, another network. His focus on individuals as examples is Keynes and Strachey And his example of a network -complete with diagram - is he Bloomsbury Group.


Chapter 34 - Armageddon
The author turns to World War One, noting that continual efforts by historians to establish guilt for it is a wasted effort. Instead he focuses on the various international networks that linked the 'Great Powers" with each other in various combinations shifting over time.


Part VI - Plagues and Pipers


Chapter 35 - Greenmantle
This chapter relates several different topics but the main content is about the German effort during World War One to attract Muslim support by attacking the British power in the Middle East using the slogan of 'Pan-Islamism'. But the British were able to counter this by betting that the Arab desire to be freed from the Ottoman Turks would be a stronger incentive.


Chapter 36 - The Plague
This is an interesting chapter title for a discussion of the 'plague' that Germany unleashed on the world by giving Lenin transportation and financing to create the Russian Revolution. Ferguson describes the results well, but the connection to the topic of networks and hierarchies is not clear.
Now we have the definitive story of this process in Sean McKeekin's terrific book - The Russian Revolution.


Chapter 37 - The Leader Principle
The chapter consists of 3.5 pages on the National Socialist movement in Germany. The author notes that it began as a revolutionary network but evolved into a vicious hierarchy.


Chapter 38 - The Fall of the Golden International
In this chapter the author discusses how the role of Jews in Germany was claimed falsely to be a network of conspiracy


Chapter 39 - The Ring of Five
The author returns to Britain and to the universities. He notes that despite the 'repulsive' nature of the Nazi and Communist regimes there were rings - networks - of supporters - even to the extent of being spies. He focus again on he Apostles and a wider group of Cambridge intellectuals favoring socialism. He describes in considerable detail - naming names - the network of British spies for the Soviet Union from the 1930's through World War II and in some cases later.


Chapter 40 - Brief Encounter
The central individuals in this chapter are Ana Akhmantova and Isaiah Berlin. The theme is the international network of intellectuals and its confrontation with Soviet paranoia. And another theme is the way in which Stalin's centralized regime destroyed private networks perceived as threats to hierarchy.


Chapter 41 - Ella in Reform School
Dr. Ferguson begins by asserting that the "mid-twentieth century was the zenith of hierarchy". He provides many examples - the totalitarian dictatorships - armies of all nations - and central planning bureaucracies in economic, social and cultural spheres . His wire diagram chart of the organization of General Motors as of 1921 is a clear example. He notes that the conduct of war brings with it such central planning and hierarchies of command and control. His point is that belief in the success of such structures carried over into civilian practice. He even mentions the Mafia as a counter vailing network.
Here is a typical Fergusonism in the concluding sentence of this chapter: "Fittingly, what had begun as a wave of man-made ideological plagues ended with a pandemic of self-induced liver and lung malfunctions".


Part VII - Own the Jungle


Chapter 42 - The Long Peace
This is a 2.5 page connecting piece. He is about to contrast the hierarchically structured central governments that waged WWII with developing networks of revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries developing far from headquarters.


Chapter 43 - The General
The chapter title comes from C. S. Forester's book - The General in which Forester describes a hierarchial minded World War One British General. In contrast, Ferguson discusses the growth of British recognition that a different organizational structure was essential for fighting insurgents in jungles. His hero is General Sir Walter Walker who defeated Indonesian backed fighters in Borneo. Walker's motto was 'own the jungle' and he accomplished this by developing local networks. But the lessons taught by General Walker were lost of ignored for decades.


Chapter 44 - The Crisis of Complexity
When General Walker was transferred to become deputy Chief of Staff, Allied Forces Central Europe he was in a totally different environment. His published warnings were not in keeping with British political desire for detent. He was roundly mocked by the media. Government bureaucrats continued to think only of central planning and hierarchies. But the world was shifting toward ascendancy of networks and global networks at that..


Chapter 45 - Henry Kissinger's Network of Power
The author opens with this: "Nothing better illustrates the simultaneous efficacy but illegitimacy of the emerging networked order than the career of Henry Kissinger." And American strategic failure in Viet Nam, he claims, is Kissinger's and is own illustrative assessment. The author includes an interesting diagram of President Nixon's 'ego network' he created from analysis of Nixon's memoirs as well as a similar network created for Kissinger. He contrasts these networks and points out that they show "the 'difference between 'the world according to Nixon' and the 'world according to Kissinger'". He describes his own growing appreciation of networks from his work writing a biography of Kissinger. Such the creation and analysis of such personal networks, he writes, can be developed from statistical methods applied to all the names authors mention in their extensive writings. In explaining the methods used now in the study of networks he uses the terms like nodes and edges, proximity, arrow direction betweenness centrality and frequency.


Chapter 46 - Into the Valley
The author is drawing here to his theme. He writes: "Why did hierarchial power structures plunge into crisis in the 1970's?" And: "To all the world's states, it is now clear, that new informational, commercial and social networks of the Internet Age pose a profound challenge, but the scale of that challenge only gradually became apparent." But the relative cause and result of expanding technology and breakdown of hierarchial organization has not been understood. He does include some discussion of the technology.


Chapter 47 - The Fall of the Soviet Empire
This chapter begins with the note that Viktor Glushkov began his effort to create a Soviet "Internet' in 1972 but he failed.
I smile and applaud when Dr. Ferguson inserts, as a not subtle dig, his comment that establishment economist Paul Samuelson included in his widely used economics text book his prediction that the Soviet economy would overtake the US economy between 1984 and 1997. Yes, I was saddled with that text in undergraduate economics along with thousands (millions? ) of other students. He continues by contrasting the Soviet system with the expanding social networks in Poland that then supported also political networking. A diagram illustrates this.


Chapter 48 - The Triumph of Davos Man
Ferguson turns to the World Economic Forum, founded in 1971 whose annual meetings are held at Davos, Switzerland. He assesses this affair (it is not really an organization) as a network of networks. It is a powerful network. For an example individual Ferguson selects Nelson Mandela who delivered an address to the assembly in 1992 in which he fundamentally renounced the socialist theory and program he had followed in South Africa for the capitalist method and urged capitalists to invest in South Africa.


Chapter 49 - Breaking the Bank of England
In this chapter we come to the infamous hedge fund speculator George Soros. We learn that he was able to 'break the Bank of England" not by relying exclusively on the amount of capital he personally could control to short the bank's currency, but by relying on a network of fellow hedge fund and other investors who together could assemble such a mountain of speculative capital that even the venerable BOE could not match it. Ferguson provides a full account. The hedge fund speculators borrowed capital from banks and then the banks themselves joined the mob of shorters. But the broader topic is the development of the international network of monetary institutions and wealthy individuals through which massive quantities of capital flow. Ferguson's point - a network had defeated and seriously damaged a hierarchial institution.


Part VIII The Library of Babel


Chapter 50 - 9/11/2001
As usual, Ferguson cites an author and story - Jorge Luis Borges's story 'The Library of Babel'. The story relates to the Islamic attack on American financial and transportation networks. Of course the attacking Muslims formed a network and the author provides a diagram of a Salafi network with Osma bin Laden in the center. He notes that the U.S. Army began to respond with the publication of its FM 3-24 on countering 'insurgency'.


Chapter 51 - 9/15/2008
The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was rapidly repaired. Ferguson writes his own opinion about the causes of the financial crisis of 2008. He describes some of the financial networks through which the demise of Lehman Brothers rapidly spread around the world.


Chapter 52 - The Administrative State
This is a valuable chapter. The expansion of the Administrative State has been described in many other books. But this chapter is a clear summary of its most recent developments. The author provides incisive statistical examples. He doesn't like it.
"What are the forces responsible for the rise of the administrative state" Why did Washington degenerate into a version of the hypertrophic bureaucratic state once imagined by Franz Kafka".
He provides some answers, including a few of his own. But surprising for an historian, he does not look back into the 19th century and the early development in Bismarck's welfare state for origins.


Chapter 53 - Web 2.0
Here is boldly states that the administrative state, being a super hierarchal entity, had "typed and filed its way towards the ultimate crisis of hierarchial order, the networked world was passing through a dramatic phase transition."
No doubt about crisis, But the current scene in Washington indicates that the establishment administrative state (aka the swamp) is fighting and rather robustly so far. Ferguson cites various authors and their books, as usual. He narrates the expansion of the IT revolution. He specifically notes Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, plus others.
He concludes with this; "The real question is how far this vision of global community is a realistic one - and how far the unintended consequences of Facebook and its ilk lead in quite the opposite direction."


Chapter 54 - Coming Apart
The author states that by 2010 there have been two revolutions - a rising expectation of betterment in the developing world and an expectation of decline in the developed world. He uses Charles Murray's phrase for American society 'coming apart'. He expands on this theme in the context of 'globalization' and extensive and increasing social change.


Chapter 55 - Tweeting the Revolution
This is another of the most important chapters. The author continues to discuss Facebook and Twitter. He is shifting from mostly historical exposition to analysis of contemporary conditions. He discusses IT, the financial crisis, Al Qaeda, Wikileaks, the Obama administration, Iran, ISIS, and more, all in the context of the conflict between hierarchial government and change promoting networks.


Chapter 56 - 11/9/2016
The date clearly is that of President Trump's electoral victory. The author's effort is to place this in his context of hierarchy versus network. As usual he melds into his framework many, many different examples, ideas, event, personalities. He includes the British vote to 'leave the EU'. In one chart he shows the 'Clinton campaign as a failed hierarchial structure'.


Part IX Conclusion: Facing Cyberia


Chapter 57 - Metropolis
Again the chapter title references an author and his work. This time it is Franz Lang's 1927 movie Metropolis - the downfall of a hierarchial order by an insurgent network. Ferguson describes the content as very relevant to today.
He writes:. "The key question is how far this network of economic complexity now poses a threat to the hierarchial world order of nation-states comparable to the threat that networks of political complexity have recently posed to established domestic political hierarchies - notably in 2011 in the Middle East, in 2014 in Ukraine, and in 2015 in Brazil, and in 2016 in Britian and America."


Chapter 58 - Network Outage
Dr. Ferguson again turns to Kissinger and to his book on world order in which Kissinger states that the world is in a 'perilous condition verging on international anarchy."
Ferguson notes that this appears something like the situation that Europe encountered in 1914. "An unstable network of power has emerged that has the potential to 'go critical' even in response to a minor perturbation."
He quotes Kissinger's outline of four scenarios which he regards as "the most likely catalysts for a large-scale conflagration." Among them he references the 'Thucydides Trap' which is the subject of Graham Allison's Destined for War: America, China, and the Thucydides's Trap.
This book we will also review.
The author continues: "Globalization is in crisis. Populism is on the march. Authoritarian states are ascendant." And: "Technology has enormously empowered networks of all kinds relative to traditional hierarchical power structures..."
He proposes the analogy to today's Internet networks is the advent and expansion of use of printing press in the 16th century (see previous chapter). But there are 3 major differences between the present networked age and the 16th century. 1 change is faster today and geographically wider. 2 the "distributional consequences of our revolution are quite different". 3 the 'printing press had the effect of disrupting religious life ..before it disrupted anything else - but the Internet began by disrupting commerce and only recently politics. He provides pages of illustrations and examples of these three.
The major similarities he considers is that both technologies main impact was on the rapid spread of knowledge. This significance of knowledge is what George Gilder has been claiming for years, but Ferguson does not mention that.
Ferguson digresses and mistakenly agrees with the false description of the issue of Russian 'hackers' in the American election of 2016, an example of jumping ahead of current information available after he wrote the book. But his general discussion of 'cyber warfare is reasonable.


Chapter 59 - FANG, BAT AND EU The author focuses on the big cyber powers - Google, Facebook - in the information - knowledge - sector. He discusses the counter attacks from Europe and China. He writes that the Europeans have decided not to fight by creating their own versions but rather to regulate and tax.
But the Chinese have decided to create their own versions in competition and are being successful. They are censoring foreign information flow. But their major strategy is to limit access itself and promote their domestic entrepreneurs' efforts to match the Americans - for instance Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu. He writes that the Western establishment (conventional wisdom) theory has been that the expansion of networks would be 'inimical' to the power of the Chinese Communist Party. He disagrees. He analyzes the actual networking in China and provides a diagram of nodes and edges between the individual members of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. One conclusion he states is: "China's leaders seem much more adept at 'webcraft' than their American counterparts".
The chapter concludes with Ferguson's comments about digital currency.


Chapter 60 - The Square and the Tower Redux The author's general conclusion is that American ( and Western) leadership is still thinking in 20th or even 19th century concepts. He cites Keynes' ideas - George Kennan's - Winston Churchill's -Hugh-Trevor Roper's -and many others. He believes that the libertarian utopia and the "Silicon Valley vision of utopia" are just utopias. He expects the disruption will generate chaos - like the French Revolution - not universal peace. He contrasts the physically horizontal headquarters of Facebook and Silicon Valley networkers with the vertical structures in New York City that match the hierarchial organization of power with a specific mention of one 58 story building. He concludes with a subtle but clear reference without naming names. "And no one individual in he world has a bigger say in the choice between networked anarchy and world order than the absent owner of that dark tower.'


Afterward: The Original Square and Tower: Networks and Hierarchies in the Trecento Siena.
In this chapter Ferguson describes how and why he selected his book title. I comes from his seeing the famous fresco created by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Sala dei Nove of the tower government building of the Sienese Torre del Mangia, which dominates over the more or less horizontal Plazzo Pubblico. Obviously - these represent hierarchy and networks. He describes these frescos - 3 entire walls - both visually and symbolically.


Appendix - Graphic Social Networks in the Nixon- Ford Era
This is a more detailed description of the methods mentioned in Chapter 45 on creating networks showing Nixon's and Kissinger's personal networks.


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