Born in Glasgow in 1964, he was a Demy at Magdalen College and graduated with First Class Honours in 1985. After two years as a Hanseatic Scholar in Hamburg and Berlin, he took up a Research Fellowship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1989, subsequently moving to a Lectureship at Peterhouse. He returned to Oxford in 1992 to become Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, a post he held until 2000, when he was appointed Professor of Political and Financial History at Oxford. Two years later he moved to the United States to take up the Herzog Chair in Financial History at the Stern Business School, New York University, before moving to Harvard this year.
His first book, Paper and Iron: Hamburg Business and German Politics in the Era of Inflation 1897-1927 (Cambridge University Press, 1995), was short-listed for the History Today Book of the Year award, while the collection of essays he edited, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (Macmillan, 1997), was a UK bestseller and subsequently published in the United States, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. In 1998 he published to international critical acclaim The Pity of War: Explaining World War One (Basic Books) and The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild (Penguin). The latter won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History and was also short-listed for the Jewish Quarterly/Wingate Literary Award and the American National Jewish Book Award. In 2001 he published The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000 (Basic), following a year as Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England.
He is a regular contributor to television and radio, and recently wrote and presented a six-part history of the British Empire for Channel 4, broadcast in the UK in 2003. The accompanying book, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Basic), has been a bestseller in both Britain and the United States. His latest book, Colossus: The Price American Empire, was published last year by Penguin. The accompanying film, American Colossus, was screened in the UK in June 2004.