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Historical Truth and Lies About the Past: Reflections on Dewey, Dreyfus, de Man, and Reagan Paperback – Bargain Price, August 14, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (August 14, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807845981
  • ASIN: B006QS8IOK
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,124,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

[A] hard-hitting defense of objectivity.

American Historical Review

Book Description

"This provocative volume, compact and readable enough to be assigned in either graduate or advanced undergraduate courses, is a hard-hitting defense of objectivity."--American Historical Review
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
I must agree with Alan Kirby above. Spitzer is far more concerned with impressing his post-structuralist colleagues with his familiarity with the latest in literary theory than in doing serious history. I was expecting a serious grappling with misrepresentation of truth in history, and instead got the tired academic canard of truth as not really existing in the first place. I guess Spitzer didn't feel the need to do the hard archival work to find out what really happened in the Bitburg case, or in the cases of Paul de Man, or Dreyfus, or Dewey.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alan Kirby on March 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Spitzer's writing style is very difficult and cumbersome, and often it was very hard to follow where he was going. As a senior undergraduate history student, I found this book to be not worth wading through, (though I unfortunately had little choice). Probably good for professional historians, but otherwise I would recommend Appleby et al or Gilderhus for better, clearer, more concise texts on historical philosophy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Schaich on January 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have to confess that I don't know what the title of this review means. I'm also not sure what the phrase means in its original context: I'm quoting it from page 111 of Alan Spitzer's "Historical Truth and Lies About the Past". I feel it's still an appropriate title, however, since it reflects the essential character of the book: unwieldy jargon-heavy prose without much in the way of clear meaning or importance.

In short, "Historical Truth and Lies About the Past" is (so far as I can tell) a book that does not have much to say, and what it does have to say is neither important, interesting, informative, nor well said. Spitzer, an octogenarian professor emeritus of French intellectual history, seems to be writing for postmodernists or those studying postmodern historical philosophies. Those who don't fit that description (and quite possibly those who do) will most likely not enjoy the book nor find it useful for any purpose.

There is really only one worthwhile observation in "Historical Truth and Lies About the Past", and it's simple enough to state fully here. Spitzer notes that in "politically-charged" debates involving historical issues, people usually argue in terms of evidence and objective fact even if their beliefs were adopted for other reasons, such as ideology or pragmatism. For example, a Stalinist arguing that Trotsky was a counterrevolutionary traitor to the working class would not come right out and say that he believed this because it was the Party line. That would not be very convincing to those who did not necessarily accept the omniscience of Stalin and the Communist Party. Instead the Stalinist would talk about meetings between Trotsky and other traitors, nefarious plots, menacing conspiracies, etc.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is no better book in print for teaching the basic rules of historical argument and why those arguments are a mainstay. Faced with Postmodern literary theorists, who reduced agents, events, and institutions to the words that recounted them; denied objectivity and truth, rejected the science model of knowledge, and courted extreme relativism staring into the nihilistic abyss, Alan Spitzer posts a pertinent statement: there are "historical truths and lies about the past." Presenting four case studies of "politically charged events"--including the Paul de Man debacle--he shows that "when the political chips are down" all the contenders, including the Postmodern relativists, resort to the type of "historical argument" they derided and dismissed. None with more gusto than Jacques Derrida, the defender of his defender, de Man, a perpetrator of historical lies documented. Although the concept of "historical truth" has been questioned, he says, almost everyone claims to know "what a lie about the past looks like." And because "the refutation of a falsehood" depends on "some criteria of veracity," that truth criteria is exposed in the "heat of debate" no matter what the "theoretical affirmation or repudiation of epistemological standards" is advanced. Arguments that adhere to the science model--fact finding, contextualized interpretations, reasoned conclusions--prevail simply because they outperform other types. (The case studies include Dewey's defense of Trotsky, the Dreyfus affair, Derrida's defense of de Man, and Ronald Reagan's speech at Bitberg). Sarah Hanley (Professor Emerita of History and Law, University of Iowa).
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Herbert G. Whitman on June 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
Democracy cannot survive without the support of an informed public, which is why dictators seek to control the media from day one. Nothing can be more timely now than the search for the truth. This important book, which is used as a college text, should be read by the general public.
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