Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Quick One On History

[I wrote something for 45 minutes, then BLAMMO!, somehow it got deleted. Oy! Oh well...Some other day. - the OG]

Hey! I think we oughtta read history books to find out what "really happened," and then we'll be smart, we'll agree on what went on back then, and it will inform and strengthen our democracy.

Actually: I think almost everything in the previous paragraph is embarrassingly naive bullshit. But I do love to read history. I think it's filled with distortions, outright lies, an accumulation of errors, that it's written by the winners (so I try to read from the non-winners' POV), and that oh-so-human cognitive biases are built into even the most scrupulous, "honest"(!) and well-meaning scholar.

And I think reading history is an absolutely required entertainment if we want to build our imaginations.

I'm also in tune with James Joyce's character Stephen Dedalus, who says that history is a nightmare from which he is trying to awake. I also think it is NOT a "text" but it is only available to us via textual means.

Beyond that I will not go further today.

My three favorite historians are: Herodotus, Vico, and Howard Zinn.

Who are your three favorites?

Gosh, it was good to see you again. I hope you make it back safely! Tell Aunt Gertrude Lassie never did come home.


Rev. TaiPing Monkey said...

Three favorite historians? Howard Zinn, Harry Turtledove, and my best friend Chris.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Three favorite historians: David Thomson, David Halberstam, Will Cuppy.

michael said...

Yo Rev! What might Chris's main thesis be, summed up in a few words?

Oh wait a sec: is he the guy I'm thinking of...does he like to repeat, "GET IT IN WRITING! Their word's not worth shit!...not with the Good Lawd telling them how to fuck you on the deal!"

Or maybe that was Bill...

Turtledove will go down in the annals. Good pick. We are of some minds with Zinn. I'd like to party with YOU, cowboy!

michael said...

@ Royal Academy: everyone knows your ardent enamorizationalistic (I've hanging with Rev Al Sharpton, so cut me some slack; that jit is infectious!) view on Thomson. Halberstam: do you tend to favor the political-like writings over the sports-like stuff, vice-versa, verse-vicea, "all of it" or a select gallimaufry?

I like how Frampton worked your other historian into one of his classics:

Will Cuppy this morning
With a wine glass in my hand
Whose wine? What wine?
Where the hell did I dine?

And I'm thinking, "probably Will Cuppy's place?"

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I love Halberstam's baseball books. I've tried twice to read his Michael Jordan book, but I just couldn't get into it. I loved _The Best and the Brightest_, and I want to read his Korea book.

Spider Robinson turned me onto Cuppy's _The Decline and Fall of Practically Everyone_. I also love Cuppy's book on wombats.

PS. I find myself enjoying David Letterman's Drum Solo Week.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I will participate in the poll by naming three books:

(1) The World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown, helped spur a great deal of attention on a fascinating period of history.

(2) Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson. Great one-volume history of the American Civil War.

(3) All Our Yesterdays, Harry Warner Jr. A history of early science fiction fandom.

I like Herodotus, too, although the historian I've read the most closely is Ammianus Marcellinus.

Has Harry Turtledove actually written any history? I know he is a trained historian. "Justinian," his historical novel about Justinian II, is very good. Robert Graves is also a particularly good historical novelist.

michael said...

The World of Late Antiquity sounds interesting; do you know Pursuit of the Millenium by Norman Cohn? Subtitled "Revolutionary Millenarians and the Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages," while it was tough sledding and I remember thinking I probably would NOT want to have a beer with Cohn, the book seems great to explore "immanentizing the eschaton."

The McPherson book is my favorite thing on that war, but I know I'm woefully undereducated about that topic.

In the long bit that I inadvertently deleted I had a long bit about how I thought a big box of historical novels were superior to a big box of very densely footnoted academic histories.

Another tremedous scholar of the Waning of the Middle Ages (one of his books) is Huizinga, whose book Homo Ludens was big influence on Robert Anton Wilson.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

If I answered the three favorite historians question today, I would answer David Thomson, Frances Yates and Isaac Asimov.