- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Viking (April 15 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067006680X
- ISBN-13: 978-0670066803
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.2 x 22.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #344,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Uses and Abuses of History Hardcover – Apr 15 2008
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
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.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
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. The point is well made and reading through the different examples and ways in which history has been called on to justify courses of action is absolutely fascinating.
Third, one of the main points that are made concerns not only the misuse of history, but the difficulty involved in using history to chart a course of action, especially in difficult, national circumstances. Should Obama visit Iran to begin a peace process in the middle east, as Nixon visited China, perhaps beginning the thawing of relations between the west and China that is now present? Is it wise to always look at Chamberlain's actions of appeasement as a form of weakness and to use this as the only interpretation of those events to justify the use of quick, resolute and forceful action against problematic national leaders, as was the case in the lead up to the recent, 2003 Irak invasion by the US and other nations? Might it not be sometimes helpful for the development of a peace process not to act forcefully? How do you distinguish between something that would be a clear injustice now (e.g., internment of Ukrainians and Japanese during WWII) and what might have been a logical decision at the time the actions were made? Does history always allow us to judge the past correctly? The present with discernment? I especially appreciated the nuance and humility with which MacMillan wrote, giving us reason to ponder the present era in which we live with the different political, social, religious and economic challenges it presents. And, of course, MacMillan urges us to view history with prudence, as the events of history can be viewed from different angles.
Fourth, I appreciated the emphasis on "what actually happened". This, to me is the most important lesson learned from this book, although perhaps the most difficult. MacMillan gives many examples of how telling the stories of events in part can lead to biased understanding of situations. Telling the whole story requires more integrity, leaves situations less clear in terms of possible courses of action, but probably reflect something closer to "reality" than anything else. However, I cannot help but think that we cannot escape this problem. How do you know if the story has been correctly told? None of us were there when Napoleon lost at Waterloo and we depend on "experts" to recount the chain of events... do they agree as to the reasons? A reliance on "what actually happened" should leave one more humble in the manner in which they work with history.
The only down side I have regarding this book is that there is not enough mention of how values and contexts are part of how one thinks about history. At times, MacMillan argues that some uses of history are good or not so good, reflecting her particular set of values, her context, her time... it might have been helpful to read a few lines about how even those values and judgements are part and parcel of her specific understanding of humanity and the record of human activity that is history.
In particular, MacMillan is concerned about the "abuse" of history for nationalistic purposes. The dangers of revisionism through selective emphasis and narrow interpretations which according to MacMillan have been used by demagogue leaders to further their jingoistic agendas.
On the positive side, MacMillan discusses the recent popularity of genealogies in this increasingly post-modern society that we live in. Again, however, MacMillan cautions us about the tendency to narcissism without seeing the bigger picture.
MacMillan's writing is clear and easy to follow. Overall, this is a great book for the average reader to understand a little more about historiography and the challenges the contemporary professional Historian faces.
Want to see more reviews on this item?
Most recent customer reviews