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VINE VOICEon 11 June 2005
Arnold takes 'historiography' to be the process of writing history, and 'history' to be the result of that process, i.e. to be a set of true stories about the past. If you enjoy reading history, then you should read at least something about historiography, to help you evaluate and interpret what you read. This short introduction to the subject is probably as good a place as any to start and for many readers will be as much historiography as they think they need.
Major figures such as Thucydides and von Ranke are discussed and central issues in the philosophy of history, such as the extent to which people of other times were essentially different from us, are introduced. Arnold presents a wide range of opinions on these various topics, but has a bias toward the politically correct.
His style is readable, if sometimes clumsy, but overall this little book succeeds admirably in its task and contains a wealth of information and opinion. It is recommended for anyone wanting to get beyond the 'true stories' to what history really is.
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on 1 February 2001
This is a lively, provocative book. Arnold introduces, in a very personable and readable manner, some central questions about what history is, and can claim to be, and how it can be "done". He explores these questions through some entertaining and refreshing examples of historical source material.
Arnold strikes a balance that carries the reader through the complexities of the issues at hand without descending into patronising simplification, or bewildering jargon. He obviously has a passion for his subject, and this comes across very strongly in the book.
If you think history is all "kings and battles" and BBC2 programmes about archaeology, read this book- it might change your mind.
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on 18 May 2009
History is surely one of the most difficult and profound subjects to write a subject on, and John Arnold writes it brilliantly, the book neither being too academic, nor too simplistic.

His enthusiasm comes off every page as a professional historian, and the carefully selected fascinating examples of history really show his passion to give the reader an interesting read.

In the analysis of these examples Arnold shows how history is written (historiography) and that when there is no definite truth, we can infer from what evidence we have to make effectively a collection of truths and stories.

Anyone who thinks history is dreary, or anyone who is slightly interested in it, should give the book a try.
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on 9 June 2002
This is an excellent, well written and thought provoking book about what it might mean to do History (and most other things). Students and readers of all ages will find it a valuable aid to reaching an understanding of the many different kinds of history there are and of how to go about choosing, reading and enjoying them.
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on 5 November 2009
This is simply and beautifully written, but at the same time, deeply thoughtful. John Arnold uses lively cases studies to illustrate big ideas about the activities and knowledge that makes up 'history'. I hadn't had much interest in history since dropping it in school, but reading this I realized why some people are such history enthusiasts.
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I have always been fascinated with history. The combination of storytelling and solid factual information about peoples and events that are very distant from us, both in time and space, has a lot of intrinsic appeal to me. I have read many books dealing with various historical topics, and have to a lesser degree enjoyed several works of historic fiction. However, I have not reflected much on the art and science of historiography. This short introduction aims to do exactly that - make the reader, and nonspecialist in particular, consider what is it that historians exactly do and what are the limits of historiography.

The book begins with a description of and incident that happened in the early years of the fourteenth century. Using this example, the author demonstrates several important concerns that historians may have when discussing it: the reliability of sources, the context of the incident, possible placement of the incident within some larger narrative and if so which one, etc. Depending on how those concerns had been handled many different schools of historiography had emerged. It is one of this book's strongest features that it doesn't aim to convince the reader in validity or superiority of any one particular approach to writing about history. Instead, it aims to inform and educate the reader so that he or she can read works of history with a more discerning eye.

This is a very well written, thought provoking and informative introduction to history. It manages to challenge the reader to think about history in all sorts of new ways, and yet it remains straightforward and accessible. It is one of the best very short introductions that I have come across.
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on 4 November 2010
This book isn't so much about history, rather historiography (the study of History.) Unlike many academic texts, this short pocket book is easy to follow and read, and the author uses some interesting stories from the past to keep your attention. There are plenty of images too, to jazz up the book. If you're considering studying history at university level - this may be the book to read before deciding. It details the whole history of historiography, and begins to explain the inner workings of studying the past. A good value introduction to the study of history - it might persuade you to learn more!
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on 14 May 2013
In this short book on historiography (study of history), the author deals with issues such as
--what is historical "truth", how the concept has evolved
--what is the role of the historian, the purpose of his work (+how it has evolved over time)
--the way writing on past facts has evolved over the centuries. [style, codes, rhetoric]
--how to give past events a meaning, how to understand them.
--are people who lived a few centuries ago to be considered different enough from us for methods used by anthropologists for studying foreign cultures to be applied to historiography?
--Who are the people the historians chose to concentrate on and write about, do they exemplify their entire community?
-- what are the advantages and inconvenient of dividing (arbitrarily) the studied past into periods (antiquity, middle ages, modern times, etc), how and why?
--What is an historical "source"? (+ how that concept has evolved).

A few historiographic schools are mentioned (e.g. the "Annales" with French historians such as Febvre, M. Bloch and Braudel, or the influence of Karl Marx), but their study is not the main purpose of this book, which doesn't address history students.

The author's style is such that the reader feels invited to join as he is questioning short excerpts and sources. However, you might find it difficult to sum up the book afterwards, the key-ideas being loosely organised and somehow swept away by the conversational flow. I found the language register sometimes unpleasantly low, casual (e.g "I have ideas about these things but they are "my" ideas, p. 12, or "inquisitors who had particular jobs to do", p.10), and some readers might also think the font is a little too small. Nevertheless, a large number of important themes are approached from several standpoints in a short 123 pages, which in itself is an achievement. This is a good introduction.
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on 21 February 2014
I've read a number of books in the 'very short introduction' series, on a variety of subjects. This one left me cold. Not really much about history, just seemed to ramble on with a few jokes put in to enliven the dull prose.
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on 5 September 2015
Some chapters are better than others. His treatment of the schools of history was very 'overview'ish, and despite continually reminding that schools of thought are not clear cut, that is is still something of the impression left. However, his examinations of particular lives and events (a cathar murder, a transatlantic nonconformist) are VERY good, based on evidence and encouraging the student to explore the evidences and understand the sources.

Overall a few niggles but recommended.
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