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Customer Review

on 22 September 2009
This is not in itself a history book, but a book about history (or histories as the author prefers to call them). Burrow's is a retired academic, and it is said that he has ventured a bit outside his usual domain to write a history about how people wrote about history over the past 2,500 years.
I am not a particular fan of histories about precise periods or so-called famous people, but I do like books that try to paint a big picture - and this book truly tries to do just that.
The author has limited himself to Western historians (Europe and North America), and to those who wrote in English (or available in translation). I've seen a comment suggesting that ignoring Confucius or belittling Montesquieu weakens the overall objective of the book - possibly, but every book has to set limits to its coverage, and this book certainly covers an enormous amount of ground.
The first third of the book is dedicated to historians from ancient Greece and Rome (Herodotus and Thucydides), and clearly Burrow's is in his element. He claims that they set the standard against which historians must be measured (a focus on big political issues of public consequence, great deeds often in war, lessons of statecraft, and aiming at truth through first person experience). His text is lucid, easy to read, and dare I say it, for a history book positively interesting.
The second part of the book focuses on the humanist antiquarian (often living in considerable comfort) and their focus on the evolution of society through solid well documented research and the study of archaeological remains. Again this makes for an enjoyable read, but perhaps lacks the witty comments found in the early chapters.
The later part of the book runs rather rapidly (some would say hurried) through the Enlightenment and emergence of the modern professional historian, with his reliance on proof through trusted documentation, and his interest in the social and economic history of civil society.
Some reviewers have more or less aggressively claimed that the author has ignored one or other masterpiece or great writer. I don't think that it is possible to be really comprehensive in writing a book intended for the non-specialist reader. The author did not hide his anglo-focus, I accepted it on face value, and it leaves space for others to try to better his work.
No matter how you look at this book the result makes for an interesting and enjoyable read (even if at times the style is a little bit academic and possibly old fashioned - but for a history book this simply lends more charm to the text). You feel that the author has really read every last one of the many, many texts referenced in his book, and has re-drafted and re-drafted his proses to make it just right. As I said above, I found the latter part of the book a bit rushed, but this certainly did not detract significantly from my pleasure, and I turned the last page convinced that I will search out more regularly similar texts on the history of history.
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