Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past

S. & S. Mar. 2022. 736p. ISBN 9781982195786. $40. HIST
When Cohen (How To Write Like Tolstoy) was in school, his teacher was David Knowles, author of works on monasticism in medieval England. As scrupulous a historian as his mentor was, Cohen learned early that historians too have agendas: he contends that understanding a historian’s ideology can help readers appreciate what’s truly special in their work. This book, intended for the educated layperson, not academic specialists, is Cohen’s love song to the profession of history; within its limits, it’s extremely effective. Cohen’s range is admirably broad: he discusses not just today’s historians and their precursors but also William Shakespeare, composers of the Bible, and Samuel Pepys—all of whom, he contends, shaped perceptions of history scholarship, popular history, today’s historical fiction, and the depiction of history on TV. Though mostly focusing on Western historiography, the book also touches on the influence of Arab historians and includes brief sections on Chinese and Japanese historical writing; the scantness of these sections is the book’s only drawback. Overall, Cohen’s judgments are insightful, thought-provoking, and thoroughly researched.
VERDICT History lovers will find this exceptionally well-written book as insightful as it is a pleasure to read.
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