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The Uses and Abuses of History [Paperback]

Margaret MacMillan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 17 2009 0143054783 978-0143054788

History is useful when it is used properly: to understand why we and those we must deal with think and react in certain ways. It can offer examples to inform our decisions and guesses about the consequences of our actions. But we should be wary of looking to history for dogmatic lessons.We should distrust those who abuse history when they call on it to justify unreasonable claims to land, for example, or restitution. MacMillan illustrates how dangerous history can be in the hands of nationalistic or religious or ethnic leaders who use it to foster a sense of grievance and a desire for revenge.


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The Uses and Abuses of History + The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 + Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
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"'In a world where the spin doctor has replaced the historian, MacMillan reminds readers of the importance of dispassionate, fact-driven narrative, as opposed to reassuring or self-serving accounts that pass for history while burying the unpleasant truths.' - Ottawa Sun 'This is history used as its own best argument' - The Toronto Sun" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

MARGARET MacMILLAN is the renowned author of Women of the Raj, Stephen Leacock (Extraordinary Canadians series), and the international bestsellers Nixon in China and Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which won the 2003 Governor General’s Award and the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. She is also the author of The Uses and Abuses of History. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is now the warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.

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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History: Proceed with Caution! Sept. 20 2008
Historian and best selling author, Margaret Macmillan, shares her generalizations about the study of history in this thought-provoking book, which is a must read for students of history and policy- makers everywhere.

Macmillan argues that while history cannot teach steadfast lessons per se, it provides useful analogies to help guide us in the present. She cautions, however, that the correct analogies must be chosen in order to avoid serious errors in judgment. A case in point, was the use of the appeasement analogy by the Johnson Administration in the mid-60's, when deciding to further involve the U.S. in the Vietnam War. The majority of policy- makers used the Munich analogy of 1938 to argue that communism had to be stopped in Vietnam, otherwise it would spread throughout the region, much like the appeasement of Hitler by Great Britain and France, led to his conquest of parts of Europe. As history shows, the American debacle in Vietnam proved that this was the wrong analogy because communism did not subsequently take hold everywhere in Southeast Asia. The correct analogy was the one put forward by policy advisor, George Ball, who contended that the French experience in Indochina, a decade earlier, was a far better guide. In retrospect, Ball's analogy proved to be the right one.

Analogies act as guides to help us narrow the field in times of crises. By looking at the past for similar situations, we can better choose the right course of action in the present, knowing that a certain action engendered a particular consequence. Macmillan reminds us that historical events are always unique, but similarities exist between them that are useful.

The abuses of history make up the better part of this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By SnowPharoah TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the second book I have read by Margaret MacMillan, bought after having been very impressed by "Paris 1919". The book provides a number of angles from which history can be used by those who have different agendas, to promote ideas or simply to advance personal, social or otherwise collective issues. It is a set of essays first delivered as a set of lectures at the University of Western Ontario.

At least four points really need to be underlined with regard to "The Uses and Abuses of History", as well as the author in more general terms. First, MacMillan writes beautifully. This is not a small compliment, as MacMillan is an academic and it would have been possible for her to get bogged down in technical terms or details that make it difficult for complex subject matter to be accessible to the non specialized reader.

Second, MacMillan obviously has a passion for the study of history and can draw on a wealth of knowledge to make points clear about how history can and has been misused in different contexts. It was a real education for me to read the different cases when history was referred to by different leaders to make decisions. The examples are taken from the traditional "bad guys" of recent history, such as NAZI Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea and others, but they also involve decisions made and agendas put forth in other countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, France, Israel, Australia and other western or westernized nations, as well as from more distant history. History has also been misused by religious leaders, captains of industry, as well as educators and politicians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History is what someone simply says it is! Sept. 20 2010
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In a well written and easily read text taken from a lecture series that examines how 'history' is created, Margaret McMillan has produced a Must Read for the citizens of the world. History, according to the author, is what the creator of it has made it to be. Sometimes this is objectively accurate but most of the time it is slanted either in the manner that the author intended it to be or is bent to either the right or the left through political interpretations. Numerous wars have been fought on imcomplete or 'cherry-picked facts', governments attain or maintain power through the exclusion of events from the past that discredit their actions and even clear minded individuals remember historical events that occured with their own lifetime through a darkly colored prism. As the closing words of this book states ".....always handle history with care."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History for today! Dec 2 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have long been a fan of this author's work. This is what I expect from one of the premier historians of our times. Thoughtful,
involving, and so delicatley drawn. Plaudets for another gem
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