Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is History?

I've just read a review of, "A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE, Rediscovering the New World," By Tony Horwitz. I think its great that a he realized that there were glaring gaps in his historical understanding, and chose to seek out answers. Granted, not many can afford such a journey of historical exploration, which is why we enjoy reading about others who are able to embark on such entertaining voyages.
The most interesting words of the review are those words that explore the myths of history. This brings to mind two other trade paperback books that I have. One is an excellent account of history, and the other is a book I've never been able to get through. Norma Goodrich's "Merlin," is an account of the possible truth behind the myth of Merlin. The man apparently did exist, possibly did meet one of the Arthurian-style kings, and live on the Isle of Man.
The other book is, "Lies my teacher told me, Everything your American History Textbook got wrong," by James W. Loewen. The presumptuousness of the title alone bothers me, but Loewen commits the same error that he highlights in the textbooks he lampoons. When we declare a hard-and-fast, one way fits all version of history, we often have to leave out some valuable information.
I am interested in the Tony Horwitz book, and I think I shall read it sooner or later. The reviews on cover the gambit of positive to negative, but the positive reviews seem more well-reasoned. Of the two 1-star reviews, one of them was complaining about this historical accuracy of the book, while the other reviewer was just complaining in general. From the first chapter of the book, and the New York Times review, the book seems to be designed to be an entertaining historical narrative.
Part of the book seems to be focused on the idea of exposing myths and their societal value, which gives the author some leeway with regard to the facts. Realizing this, the first negative reviewer on Amazon is arguing about a point that the author might readily agree with! The reviewer states that the maps and routes traced in the book are inaccurate. The author seems to be expressing the idea that the myth still stands, so where is the basis for this idea?

I look forward to reading this book. Hopefully I'll have some time for it over Christmas break.


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