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Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations Paperback – 4 Apr 2013


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (4 April 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1847087329
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847087324
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 706,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of fourteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. They include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; the History of Britain trilogy and Rough Crossings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written widely on music, art, politics and food for the Guardian, Vogue and the New Yorker. His award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC stretches over two decades and includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art. The American Future: A History appeared on BBC2 in autumn 2008.

Product Description

About the Author

SIMON SCHAMA is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of fourteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. They include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; the History of Britain trilogy; and Rough Crossings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written widely on music, art, politics and food for the Guardian, Vogue and the New Yorker. His award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC stretches over two decades and includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain, the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art and The American Future: A History.

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First Sentence
'Twas the darkness that did the trick, black as tar, that and the silence, though how the men contriv'd to clamber their way up the cliff with their musket and seventy rounds on their backs, I'm sure I don't know even though I saw it with my own eyes and did it myself before very long. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Andrews on 13 July 2011
Format: Paperback
Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations. Simon Schama. 1992

Is there any writer of history that captures the imagination other than Simon Schama? The answer to that question is probably a resounding no. His lyrical style reads effortlessly from page to page, each one surprisingly full of interest and containing something quotable.

This is quite clearly one of those books where the author has been born to write it. Schama shows us his understanding of what history is and means through the study of the accounts of two deaths. That of General James Wolf (the British General credited with success in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham for Quebec in 1759) and that of a death in the family of the historian of Wolf: Francis Parkman (the influential American historian who overcame crippling neurological illness to write some of the best histories of any in the romantic period). The more we read of Schama's reproduced accounts of these two deaths, the more we come to understand his general thesis of the book: That all history is in fact the history of stories. This is a great piece that shows the subjectivity of accounts of a different nature, the prejudice of the historians reporting the facts and ultimately the fact that none of us can know the whole truth of the past.

Schama's writing style flows with dogged enthusiasm and rises and falls to the occasion he is describing, surely if all of us were blessed with such talents then we would write substantially better. The extent to which we can take this as a work of history rather than a relativist treatise is up for debate, however I myself would jump behind the book, there are a couple chapters that don't quite fit in but we are shown how easy it is to rewrite history through our imaginations.
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By M. R. Aitken on 1 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
speculative what might have beens of history from the pen of the master, fascinating -puts a human face on events
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 May 2012
Format: Hardcover
Ostensibly a book about two indirectly related deaths, those of an English general in the Seven Year War and of a nineteenth-century Harvard doctor, Dead Certainties actually is a divagation on the nature of history. The title itself gives it away, of course: for nothing is certain, and much will forever remain conjecture, as to these two deaths. History as art, history as tale, history as judicial process. Such is where Schama ultimately wishes to turn his reader's attention. As the author himself admits in his afterword, the book veers between historical enquiry and novella, between source transcription and invention, however faithful.

Dead Certainties is divided into two unequal parts. The first glosses the death of general James Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759. It is interested in the process of mythologizing that followed the battle, by which a semi-official, heroic commemoration came to substitute for other historical versions. Painting, art, monumental sculpture embody their own sublimated truths. But what are the truths of history if not also totalizing? The second, much longer half of the book is an 1850 whodunit involving the alleged murder of George Parkman by another Harvard professor, the respectable but indigent John Webster. Here the process of historical enquiry merges with that of judicial discovery, aiming, with the aid of perforce incomplete evidence, to establish a version of events 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

Dead Certainties should perhaps be classified as micro-history. If so, however, the macro-history it speaks to is to do with the nature of the discipline itself. The most effective of its two sections it the second, which draws parallels between history-writing and court processes.
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