Goldberg’s book is a publishing phenomena not only featuring at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists as a hardback but also, as Goldberg himself has noted in the blog he runs about the book, going into a third printing in the UK. That is enough to make many historians, used to important articles and books receiving scant if any attention from a wider public, rather envious.
When reviewing books one’s expectations can be raised by the title. In the case of The End is Nigh one could be forgiven for assuming that it must relate to the End of Time and the various ways in which the world might end – cosmic impact; neighbouring supernova; nuclear apocalypse; unstoppable virus; runaway global warming, i.e. large scale global catastrophes.
Peter Yearwood has carried out impressively extensive research to produce this account of how British foreign policy was closely linked to the formation and operation of the League of Nations in its early years.
The first principle of understanding history, I was taught, is to sympathize with the historical actors, to immerse oneself in their context and perspective.(1) Otherwise, history becomes a fabricated reconstruction – more about the writer's ideology than the events of the past.
At the conclusion of her history of Marian devotion, Mother of God, Miri Rubin states, ‘For in woman’s capacity to act as a generous host, to contain a body in her body, there is an act of tremendous hospitality’ (p. 424).
‘Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth … Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly admits and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error’.(1) David Lowenthal’s remarks on the difference between these two enterprises go a long way to explain why historians have had a rather negative view of public historical practices.
Reading an edited collection of articles can be likened to dining out on a tasting menu: you’re afforded the opportunity to sample broadly but portions can sometimes be relatively puny. A standard serving, like a monograph, provides bulk whereas essays may fire up your appetite yet fail to satiate your hunger.
'Gosh, I miss the Cold War', Bill Clinton reputedly claimed. Clearly for reasons other than historical scholarship as the demise of the Cold War has certainly not stemmed the ever-increasing proliferation of books about a subject that has been exhaustively analysed and passionately debated.
Confucius once remarked that rulers need three resources: weapons, food and trust. The ruler who cannot have all three should give up weapons first, then food, but should hold on to trust at all costs: 'without trust we cannot stand'.(1) Machiavelli disagreed.
How far should the practising historian accept the conclusion of the idealist analysis of history carried out by Michael Oakeshott in Experience and Its Modes (1), probably the most brilliant book on the philosophy of history written in the first half of the 20th century (even possibly incl