... stimulating ... it’s [Ferguson's] historical analysis of how disasters occur, rather than his crystal ball gazing, that’s the most interesting part of his book ... there many new insights here, notably that for all the criticisms levelled at Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and others, it’s facile to blame the person at the top for all that goes wrong when usually the real culprit in a catastrophe is a system failure ... Much of Ferguson’s story is told with zest, with extracts from Monty Python, Daniel Defoe and the poetry of John Donne deployed in the course of his arguments, although at other times his text is challenging ... I also wonder why a book published here by a British historian is presented in Americanese, even if Ferguson does now live in the US. Allen Lane would have done well to have produced an edition properly tailored to a domestic audience ... Its range seems strange at times too, with an analysis of US policy towards China, which Ferguson believes was broadly successful under Trump, at odds with earlier discussions of earthquakes and other natural disasters ... Each chapter of this thought-provoking book is worth reading for the ideas, perceptiveness and well-told stories of landmark events. The subject might not seem immediately appealing in such bleak times, but readers will find much to relish nonetheless.
Much is thought-provoking, much fascinating, much in this accumulation of detail wearisome, much confusing. I would guess that this is a book many will dip into and find fascinating information and speculation, but few will read through ... Ferguson is at his best when he examines government and public responses to disasters ... Ferguson ranges widely, sometimes confusingly, and deluges us with statistics. His book is fascinating at times, boring at others, now clear as a summer day, now murky as a winter night. He raises and examines big questions, yet is often at his best evoking small-scale responses to disasters. What justifies the book and makes it valuable is his recurrent insistence that disasters and catastrophes are not just something which happen to us and before which we are powerless, but are often consequences of social and economic development and of political decisions
... a book that hopscotches breezily across continents and centuries while also displaying an impressive command of the latest research in a large number of specialized fields, among them medical history, epidemiology, probability theory, cliodynamics and network theory ... If the book’s vast temporal scope leads it to resemble histories written in earlier times, its drive to pronounce on events in cultures spanning the globe and its heavy reliance on cutting-edge theories makes Doom very much a product of our moment. It belongs on the shelf next to recent ambitious and eclectic books by authors like Jared Diamond, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Steven Pinker. What unites these writers is their disregard for traditional disciplinary boundaries and a determination to reach for synoptic knowledge of stupefyingly complex subjects ... The result, in Ferguson’s case, is a book containing some genuine wisdom, but also some perplexing lacunae ... Ferguson’s own arguably irresponsible actions do not inform his analysis in any notable way ... Reading Doom, it’s hard to escape the impression that responding intelligently to pandemics depends on people in high office being smart enough to listen to Niall Ferguson so they will do a better job of disrupting the behavior of people like Niall Ferguson ... worthwhile points that promise to make a contribution to improving our management of future disasters ... Unfortunately, Ferguson raises doubts about his own judgment by seeming to wave away concerns about climate change — the most widely understood and anticipated catastrophe looming on the horizon ... It is this spirit of aloofness that gives Doom its boyish, winsome energy as it skips along from one historical episode and high-powered theory to the next. But it’s also the source of Ferguson’s unsuitably arch tone as he genially narrates the suffering and deaths of countless millions of souls down through the millenniums ... often insightful, productively provocative and downright brilliant. But it’s also a book very taken with its own polymathic virtuosity. That makes it an exemplary artifact of the culture in which it was written — very smart, but not quite as smart as it thinks it is.