As professional 21st-century historians cede the literary field to the popular amateur, history and its meanings become muddled - especially in the punditocracy championed by modern media. Copious amounts of cherry-picked facts and manufactured heroes are used to create a narrative rather than give any insight into past events. MacMillan offers an antidote to this by providing the necessary tools to help interpret history in constructive ways.
©2008 Margaret MacMillan; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the importance of correctly understanding the past." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
The book itself is interesting, though somewhat obvious. I was drawn to it by a good review in the New York TImes, which made it seem more provocative than it turns out to be. The author, a Canadian, belabors a very good point - that history is used to justify many actions, some good and some not so good, and that history is a malleable thing. The book is prone to redundancy - it would be a better New Yorker article than a book. But I didn't stop listening to it, and in this day and age is a useful reminder of the use and abuse of 'history'.
However, nothing good can be said of the inept producer of this reading. Who is to blame? The producer, the director, the engineer or the narrator? Clearly there was no quality control step taken by any of them - sentences are split oddly, emphasis misplaced, words pronounced oddly and proper names and places poorly spliced into the text. I found listening to be a thoroughly annoying experience. If you are a fussy person, you may wish to avoid anything produced by this team, including this book.
Although I do not completely agree with author's thesis on the use of history by public personalities, it made me think about the subject of history and its uses to formulate public opinion and policies. Sometimes, it is used for positive formulations, but many times, it used to set policies that are not true to the "real history" of the subject. It more than worth the time to listen to it. I am sure that there will more questions than there are answer to the subject. But is that not the job of an historian in the long run.
While this is not a bad book, if you'd read a lot of history, you might find it a bit rudimentary. Dr. MacMillan is a very insightful historian and has a great breadth of knowledge, but this book is really more at the level of a popular lecture series than an original thesis.
The author's message - that history can be abused - is a bit self-obvious to any educated person. Some of the author's particular understandings of abuse aren't obvious, and are interesting, even if some might be objectionable...or rather not objectionable, but if the point is that history can be misused, and you show an example of misuse, there's often at least a germ of an argument as to whether that use is the right use. (I can't entirely fault the book for that, because each of those discussions would likely prove exhausting, and this is more of a survey.) There are big problems, however. The general thesis is that professional historians have a duty to correct the mistakes of people who get the wrong messages of history. It's not happening, especially in the U.S. with the current anti-intellectual fervor. Similarly, the sorts of people who might be challenged by this book are the least likely to read it, and the most likely to dismiss it outright once it starts to challenge an opinion.So, the book's not bad, it's just stuck out in a sort of range that really doesn't speak to anyone. Subpar narration does not help.
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