The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Reading History — Some Thoughts

Adapted from an e-mail I sent to a networking list, in response to a question about reading unbiased history books:
I was a history major in college and still read the occasional history book, but I’m not sure “unbiased” is possible. Recently, I read The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple, a British author.  This was an excellent book about Mughal India, and I can recommend it to most readers of history (and in keeping with the theme of this blog, it’s MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers). Is Dalrymple unbiased? Would an Indian author be unbiased? They can try, but will they succeed? Usually they don’t.
Much of what we view as “history” in this country is really the history of wars, first and foremost, with politics coming second. I think that’s a big reason history turns off some people — it’s rather flat in that regard. One of my professors had us read novels and autobiographies from the times and places we studied, because they provided us with a dimension that the traditional texts did not. This was some of the best advice I received in 4 years of college history classes. Think about 9/11, for example. There was an enormous emotional component to that, but in all likelihood history books will focus on the political developments, the rise of Al Qaeda, the subsequent conflicts in the Middle East, etc. Novels and memoirs will come much closer to capturing the emotions we all felt. I will give Dalrymple credit for having sought out the memoirs of women and civilians in order to flesh out his book, but it was still a story of politics (infused by religion) and war.
However, sometimes we just want an overview of what happened. For this, I particularly like the Traveller’s History series. These books are concise and well-written, and there is always a recommended reading section at the end in case you want to read further. I use the book on England to get up to speed any time we have tickets to one of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Shakespeare, of course, provides us with an emotional experience to go along with the facts from the history books. Having made some more Canadian friends online recently, I realized that my knowledge of their history was spotty, so I bought the Traveller’s History book on Canada. It’s 165 pages without the appendices and lists, and I think it will give me a decent background without my having to commit time to a 500-page recitation of political minutiae. Then again, it may make me want to buy such a book in the future.

September 13, 2008 - Posted by | random thoughts | , , , , ,


  1. […] Original post by The Dog Doesn’t Die […]

    Pingback by Books and Magazines Blog » Archive » Reading History - Some Thoughts | September 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the tip on the history books, I love history but minutia tires me out quickly.

    Sharon (Rusty’s mom)

    Comment by Rusty | September 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery A few weeks ago, I wrote about reading history books, noting that novels can help provide a more complete picture of history, beyond the standard […]

    Pingback by Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery « The Dog Doesn’t Die | October 16, 2008 | Reply

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