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Publisher's Summary

In his compact, brilliant, and compulsively listenable account, Richard J. Evans shows us how historians manage to extract meaning from the recalcitrant past. 

To materials that are frustratingly meager, or overwhelmingly profuse, they bring an array of tools that range from agreed-upon rules of documentation to the critical application of social and economic theory, all employed with the aim of reconstructing a verifiable, usable past. 

Evans defends this commitment to historical knowledge from the attacks of postmodernist critics who deny the possibility of achieving any kind of certain knowledge about the past.

©1997 Richard J. Evans (P)2018 Tantor

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Enlightening

I have had no formal training in the field of writing History but I enjoy reading History. I am in awe of Evans after reading his Trilogy on the Third Reich. From my armchair I have observed some Historians can write about topics I had little or no interest before starting and keep me up all night, while others, even when writing on my favorite topics can put me to sleep in a page or two. Evans’ keeps me up all night. This book is the perfect example. A book on writing history - boring right? Nope, even this book was a page turner. I was surprised to find that historians are in crisis (or at least some are). Like Fake or Blatantly Biased News is destroying Journalistic integrity, Fake History or Blatantly Biased History is an equally big problem. I though for an Academic Historian - objectivity, attention to detail, and a gift for writing, even if limited, were prerequisites. A History book should stand up to fact checking and peer review and have a talented editor. Just the basics. Every “Professional” should have certain training and guidelines. For example your family Doctor - You should expect at a minimum that they have gone to Medical School, Residency, and completed a Board Exam. Yes it is reasonable to expect they passed all of them. Your would expect your Doctors colleagues and the relevant State and Federal licensing Organizations to approve of your Doctors practices. It’s no shock to find out some Historians plagiarize, outright lie, are incompetent, lazy, boring, or even crazy. Not all Doctors are perfect so you would expect not all Historians to be perfect either. Still there are minimal standards. Recently like Evans points out I have noticed some really bad History Books. Books that seem to lack any attempt at objectivity. It is probably impossible to be totally objective when it comes to History. Everyone knows that. Regardless the Historian is supposed to try - right? Apparently not. In a few books author’s have actually stated in the introduction that they have an agenda and anything you’ve ever read before that, if it goes against their agenda is a lie, a coverup, a conspiracy. I appreciate that kind of honesty since that alerts me that the book is more opinion piece than History and I need not waste time on it. I assumed these occasional books were written by self publishing fringe dwellers and destined for the bargain rack on eBay. Apparently the problem is bigger than a few outliers. The problem is big enough to have a major Historian of Evans stature write an entire book about it. In a culture where most of us learn History from Hollywood - be it John Wayne or Oliver Stone, it’s hard for us amateurs to know fact from propoganda. Evans gives us some of the major issues and examples in a book that is quite entertaining and enlightening. I would love to hear what some of the “Historians” he calls out have to say. What are we supposed to think when Academics state - paraphrased - “The Holocaust never happened and if it did we can’t really know i did?” How can any reasonable person, never mind an academic encourage this kind of absurdity? Evans is much kinder to the Post Modernist Historians than I would be. On the surface Post Modernist’s appear to offer nothing but contrariness. It’s refreshing when someone thinks outside the box but Post Modernist’s don’t believe there is a box to think outside of. I have to admit maybe I just don’t understand Post Modernism when it comes to History. Apparently neither does Evans so I’m not going to worry to much about it.

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A wonderful defense of the historians craft

Richard J. Evans is a well regarded and prolific historian who has written extensively on European history and The Third Reich. He also enjoys a well deserved reputation as a fascinating and erudite speaker, lecturer and expert witness see the film Malice. This volume is Evans response to the need for something to update E.H. Carr's classic "What is History" and G. R. Elton's "The Practice of History" both excellent but now dated. Evans outlines how historians work and how they differ from chroniclers, antiquarians and journalist. Evans also give some guidance to budding historians as to how he himself organized his research and construct's his narrative specifically using his "Death in Hamburg " as a example. This was his study of the great Hamburg cholera outbreak which killed over 10,00o Germans in the 1890's
Evans is an excellent writer with many bestsellers he firmly believes historians should write with in clear prose and is highly critical post modernism and some other new trends. His account of the "Sokal Hoax" and the "David Abraham affair " are both fun reading and an object lesson to all future graduate students. In summary one of the best books I have read this year.