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A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century Paperback – April 7, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727672
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

History is usually classified as a social science, but Burrow eloquently demonstrates that the writing of history is an art. And since historians engage in an art form, they are required to use rigor, discipline, and, especially, analytical skill. It is that skill that separates Herodotus and Thucydides from earlier Egyptian and Mesopotamian scribes, whom Burrow classifies as record keepers rather than historians. As he examines the historical writings of Livy, Bede, McCaulay, and such twentieth-century historians as Huizinga and Bloch, it is fascinating to see the evolution of various historiographic trends. Some view history as a working out of a divine plan. Others are militant secularists with a contempt for the great man theory of development. What seems to unite all great historians is a sincere, if inevitably biased, effort to find deeper meanings that transcend particular events and help us better understand how individuals function as social actors. While this book will be especially valuable to historians, general readers can also learn much from Burrow’s superbly written analyses of these great histories and those who wrote them. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Burrow marshals a lifetime of knowledge and guides the reader effortlessly across the ages.”
Time

“A fascinating compendium.”
The New Yorker

"A triumph. . . . Reminds us of how often the narratives of the great historians resemble works of literature and of how important a secure grasp of historical fact can be to the progress of culture and the fate of nations."
The Wall Street Journal

“Absorbingly informative. . . . An exemplar of how history should be written. Witty, scholarly and, above all, fair.”
The Times (London)

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Customer Reviews

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What one should not expect of Burrow is a systematic study of great historians or western historiography.
Anson Cassel Mills
Plentiful quotations from their works illustrate the book; they are beautifully chosen, and a pleasure to read in themselves.
Ralph Blumenau
If you have an interest in history, or the craft of researching and writing history, you should read this book.
BrianB

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This splendid book gives us the flavour of Western historians from the Ancient Greeks to the Twentieth Century. Burrow does not neglect the Philosophy of History, but that is not his main concern: rather does he bring out the personality of the historians through their writings and how their books have been shaped by their own times and their own experiences. Plentiful quotations from their works illustrate the book; they are beautifully chosen, and a pleasure to read in themselves.

Burrow is very good on tracing the influence of the historians of Greece and Rome on the historians of much later centuries - of Tacitus on Gibbon, to give just one example. About a third of the book is rightly devoted to Antiquity. We are reminded how deservedly Antiquity is regarded, in this field also, as one of the cradles of European thought, and how extraordinarily relevant the experiences of the Ancient World are to our own. This was known among the educated classes in the days when Herodotus and Thucydides, Livy and Tacitus were a staple of education: they found these classics an inexhaustible fund of enlightenment and understanding of political processes, providing models as well as warnings

Certainly there is a sad falling off after the classical period. The early Christian historians abandoned the aim of being impartial, relentlessly promoted orthodox Christianity and implacably blackened the unorthodox.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on April 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
John W. Burrow is a professor of that somewhat orphaned discipline "history of ideas", or intellectual history. Burrow approaches 'A History of Histories' as an intellectual historian, and not a critic. That means you won't find critiques regarding historical accuracy. Instead Burrow emphasizes the general character of the historians achievement, relying on the work of specialized scholars and biographers: the biography lists many excellent "secondary" sources a few of which Burrow has relied heavily on.

Burrows is, in a sense, a popularizer of some the most important histories, his goal being to "give a sense of the experience of reading these histories and what may be enjoyable about them"; he assumes that you have not read or even heard of the works. Such an approach, which mixes interpretation and summary, allows Burrow to cover a great number of works across time - from Herodotus to the late 20th century - but at some cost: a reader may feel they understand the significance of a work, but a connected developing narrative seems unclear; and while there are many block quotes (in particular with the earlier authors), often one yearns for more of a taste of the work.

How can one create a narrative of a "history of histories"? Burrow examines the ideas of the past, and how today we stand in relation to those ideas as expressed in history books.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By BrianB VINE VOICE on May 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Burrow summarizes and analyzes a host of histories in this book, starting with Herodotus, and hitting most of the major western historical writers. I enjoy history, and I am interested in how historians do their work. I find that history itself is more interesting than the details of historical research, but John Burrow makes it all alluring and lively. The story deals with an academic subject, but this is a book for the general reader.

The introduction and prologue deal with historical techniques in a dry, pedantic tone, and I was afraid that it would be heavy going, but in chapter one it picked up quickly, and I was hooked. Although the narrative never reads like an edge of the seat thriller, I found myself thinking about it longingly during work or other busy times. Burrow makes the historians and their stories come alive, until some of them feel like old friends. He includes generous excerpts of many writers. If you have an interest in history, or the craft of researching and writing history, you should read this book. It will stimulate you to read the original writings.

Some reviewers have criticized the focus on western European history, and indeed that is the focus. I was untroubled by this. Burrow stays within his field of expertise, as a wise author should. This is a book that has earned a place on my shelf, and I believe that I will refer to it frequently during the years ahead.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lisa M. Laubenstein on September 27, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was suggested to me when I took a historiography class...it is a VERY thorough compendium of the various 'schools of thought' on the study and writing of history, as both an art and a science. Not for the unwashed masses....it's extremely in-depth and better suited for academics, students, researchers/writers or serious history geeks (like me). It is chock-full of fascinating insights for history lovers.
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