The CBC Massey Lectures are a prestigious, annual public lecture series. They’re meant to share thoughts from the greatest minds of modern times. 

Every year, one pre-eminent Canadian is asked to give a talk on a topic of their choosing, and House of Anansi press publish a book to coincide with the lecture’s tour. The Massey Lectures have been happening since 1984, and this year sees historian Margaret MacMillan at the helms.

Her topic, and title of the accompanying books, is “History’s People: Personalities and the Past.” She’ll be giving her own personal selection of figures of the past who have changed the course of history and directed the currents of their times, and others who were memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers.

She’ll also note how leaders can make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies.

Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.

MacMillan is the author of the international bestsellers The War that Ended Peace, Nixon in China, and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize.