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Lunch » Tags » Religion » Reviews » A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century » User review

Against All Odds, Fulfills Its Goal

  • Mar 26, 2010
Rating:
+4
In A History of Histories, British historian John Burrow sets himself a nearly impossible task in the title of the book alone. Impressively, he succeeds, describing the general form of history in the west in a single volume, and even more impressive is the fact that he makes it entirely readable.

Along the way, there are some excellent summaries, some explanations for why we know Livy and Tacitus so well, as well as some laments for the lists of lost histories. But when the book gets out of the Middle Ages to the point where the modern history genre starts to take shape is where it starts to get really interesting.

Perhaps the most interesting section is when Burrow starts discussing the underappreciated legal scholars of the late Renaissance and early Enlightenment who trace the history of law through archives, only to discover that everything their societies believe about how their law is a corrupted version of "Roman law" is wrong, and it's actually a collection of compromises and creations within the context of the times, as opposed to wisdom descended from the "ancients." At this point, the book is a fascinating chronicle of the intersection of society, history, law, and perception.

If the book has a major weakness, it's that the 20th Century section seems narrowly-focused and cursory. The author freely admits that he cannot go into the entirety of 20th Century histories in the single chapter he allots to it, which is fair, but it certainly leaves the reader wanting more - perhaps a second volume on the subject? Its narrow focus on "History" as an academic discipline, as opposed to the conception of "history" within society based around that discipline is disappointing, although also understandable.

A History of Histories has a fairly narrow audience, who probably know if they would be interested simply from the title. Members of that audience likely won't be disappointed.

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March 26, 2010
This sounds like a very interesting and comprehensive book! It must be very large considering all the history it covers.
March 29, 2010
Yeah, you could do some serious damage with it. It's actually just under 500 pages.
March 29, 2010
That's actually not too bad of a length considering everything that is covered. I'm adding it to my Goodreads reading list now. Thanks for the suggestion!
 
March 26, 2010
Sounds like an offbeat and interesting book. Thanks for your review!!
 
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