This is not fair on my part, I must admit. I've been criticizing him fairly often, even though he wrote a pretty decent book. And it's not because I disagree with him on current politics, either. Though there are many points in politics and economic policy in which I part ways with him, I don't hold that against him as a historian. Because he's a damn good one.
No, I'm picking on Ferguson for one simple reason: I recently read and reviewed his book for the Washington Post. Ferguson is a far better writer than the average academic historian, out there digging the trenches of the scholarly monograph. But he still displays, in High Financier, some academic traits. One of them, which I take to task in the review, is the isolation of various aspects of his subject's life into different chapters.
For an academic, this is a useful method. That's because the academic's concern is to analyze the material at hand—in this case, the various public roles filled by Siegmund Warburg. But I believe that a biography with literary virtues must fully process those different elements, and reintegrate them into a coherent, chronological whole. As biographers, we are trying to do justice to a life, to capture how it was lived. We want to understand and then show how someone balanced the various aspects of his or her life, faced multiple stresses, how the personal and the public were intertwined in the organic experience of living.
There is no centrifuge in our own lives, after all (as much as we would like on occasion to have one, so we can just work, or just be with our families, without the demands of one pressing on the other). Nor should we pretend that our subjects had one.