The lectures were even better ...,
This review is from: The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Hardcover)I had the privilege of attending Prof. Gaddis' lectures in Oxford, and enjoyed every minute of it. His writing accurately reflects the lectures; the only thing missing is the Q&A at the end.
This is not a methodological how-to for historians, it is a philosophical look at the tradecraft, mostly done by comparing it to other disciplines, especially the hard sciences and social sciences. Historians will no doubt enjoy reviewing (maybe reitering) what they've been doing all along; students will undoubtedly learn much from this study.
Many of the critical comments during the Q&A reflected current fads in historiography, such as subaltern studies, triumphalism, etc. Some of this made it into the book, in Prof. Gaddis' emphasis on solid academic analysis. It is impossible to achieve a totally detached point of view, but the historian should strive toward that goal through the rigors of an honest review of the facts, and the subsequent interpretation. Causation is a difficult point here, in that the latest fads attempt to ascribe causation to whatever their favorite subaltern. Prof. Gaddis notes that causation is perhaps the best we can hope for, turning the clock backwards, searching for the point of no return in events leading to the subject in question.
His use of metaphors lends much humor to the book, I especially empathized with the one about the spilled truckload of Marmite on the highway between Oxford and London.
All in all, a delightful book to read, I hope it quickly replaces the really tedious textbooks normally assigned to the study of historiography; it will add greatly to classes on methodology.
Thanks you, Prof. Gaddis, for this witty, eminently readable gem of a book.