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Why History Matters Paperback – 28 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (28 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230521487
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230521483
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 27.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Tosh is refreshing, and impressive in getting away from the false parallels and clichés that can bedevil the use, and abuse, of history in today's media…This is an important book – which policy-makers, media men and women and, dare I say it, politicians, should all read.' – Gordon Marsden, History Today

'The text fills a gap in providing a student text on why study history, while also appealing to a broader audience interested in history's media and policymaking dimensions.' - Peter Beck, Professor of International History, Kingston University, UK, and author of Using History, Making British Policy: the Treasury and Foreign Office, 1950-76 (Palgrave Macmillan: 2006) 
'I would eagerly recommend it to a class of history majors or beginning graduate students, and would look forward to talking about the main findings.' - Peter Stearns, Provost, George Mason University, USA

'Does history matter? Of course it does! And John Tosh, Professor of History at Roehampton University and author of The Pursuit of History, makes a convincing case for studying the past as a way of understanding the present.' - David Sinclair, Tribune

'...an accessible brief introduction.' - Penelope J Corfield, The Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

John Tosh argues we are in danger of missing history's principal contribution, and provides a practical introduction to thinking with history.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James White on 15 Dec 2009
Format: Paperback
Written in clear and comprehensible language, Why History Matters is crucial reading for the lay person who wants a grasp of contemporary issues. I learned that, all too often, public debate is ill-informed because historical process and perspective is lacking. John Tosh succeeds in his aim of empowering the active citizen to make better informed political and civic decisions. By adopting a longitudinal view he demonstrates, for example, that our nostalgia for "the good old days" is misplaced. Street crime has been fanned in the media into a present day crisis, yet it has been a feature of British cities since the 18th Century. In the 1983 UK election, Margaret Thatcher held up the Victorian family as an ideal, calling for a return to "family values". Tosh's case study shows that child sexual abuse, neglect and violence was rife when the NSPCC was founded in 1883 and that other features of Victorian family life were quite contrary to the picture painted by the Thatcher regime. Similarly gun ownership, long toted as a fundamental right dating back to the Founding Fathers, only dates back to the era after the Civil War. Politicians and lobbyists can distort or reinterpret historical events for their own ends; for example, Saddam Hussein, Ho Chi Minh and Nasser were each demonized as Hitler in their time.

I gained a great deal from reading this book: how to become a better-informed citizen; how to take a developmental approach in understanding current issues and how to explore other cultures. I wish I had been taught his approach instead of the factoid/date focus of my High School history courses.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Good argument, though blighted by ingorance of economics and axes to grind 31 Oct 2008
By Sirin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Why History Matters should be read by everyone who is a teacher or student of history. There are innumerable books on historical themes, but few which make an effort to justify the study of the subject at a time when history in schools is threatened by debasement by the citizenship lobby and vocational course providers.

Tosh argues that history is a lively and relevant subject, emphasising the need to study historical themes to make sense of the current world. He invokes plenty of good examples to illustrate his argument - from the occupation of Iraq in 1917 to the consensus in British Government over the formation of the NHS in the 1940s when Conservatives and Labour agreed on several of the tenets of the new institution.

Tosh is a man of many niche interests and prejudices. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but he does hammer home a cliched and one dimensional argument undermining those who uphold the nuclear family as the basis of social life, claiming the 'Victorian' happy family never existed in practice and was merely an edifice of social and female opression. His political bias is all the commonplace liberal left tolerance for everything, and plenty of money that must grow on trees to pay for it all. He is unaware of the trade offs between personal responsibility and welfare that must be adhered to in order for civil society to be a fair and functioning one. And his views on September 11 could be straight from a Guardian editorial:

'Fred Halliday pointed out that the attack only made sense when it was seen as a convergance of a number of processes, not all of which had previously been considered together: the growth of Islamic fundamentalism; the collapse of central power in several Islamic countries; the resentment against US intervention in the Middle East, especially since the Gulf War; and the instability of international relations since the end of the Cold War'.

Oh yeah? US pulls out of the Middle East, the international order stabilises and those rational thinking Jihadist types will leave us alone. The hell they will. They want some dark and barbaric conception of an Islamic caliphate, not a quiet and isolationist America.

Aside from the naive liberal pap of his political view, Tosh's argument is worth considering. He evaluates the worth of history from a number of angles, including public history and the ability of the subject to arm powerfully informed citizens. And this is an argument that badly needs to be made.
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