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Telling the Truth About History (Norton Paperback) Paperback – April 17, 1995


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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312867
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Three historians here team up for a worthy, demanding foray into the battle over the academy, taking on "both the relativists on the left and the defenders of the status quo ante on the right." The authors argue that skepticism and relativism about truth, in science, history and politics, stems from the democratization of American society and higher education. They survey the "heroic model" of science produced in the Enlightenment, the roots of relativism in Hegel, and the influence of Marx, Durkheim and Weber on latter-day historical schools. They tackle the virtuous mythologies of American history, and critiques by progressives like Charles Beard and post-WW II social historians. They also cite 1960s historians of science who launched politicized critiques and postmodernists who attacked claims of objectivity. The authors urge historians to have a "stronger, more self-reflexive and interactive sense of objectivity." In a final chapter addressing "political correctness" and multiculturalism, the authors sensibly call for a middle ground, but diminish their message with a paucity of models. Appleby teaches at UCLA, Hunt at the University of Pennsylvania and Jacob at Manhattan's New School for Social Research.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In a tightly reasoned narrative full of -isms and -ists, the authors, all academic historians, relate how religion and science legitimized the writing of history as a vehicle for the revelation of truth, progress, and nationalism rather than as a medium for the examination of collective individuals. They critically dissect various schools of historiographic thought and make a plea for a multicultural democratization of history in America. We are reminded of the authors' championship of women, minorities, and workers at every opportunity. The prose bounces along more than it flows, and the dashes of irony are welcome. Footnotes conclude each chapter. Rather than aggressively screaming for reform in the writing of American history, this book describes how we arrived where we are and suggests we begin the journey anew, only this time allowing everyone to participate. This is an enlightening overview of American historiography for public and academic libraries.
- James Moffet, Baldwin P.L., Birmingham, Mich.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Nonetheless, a book chock full of interesting insights and ideas, although somewhat dated by today's standards.
Ronald H. Clark
The book traces the evolution of history from the enlightenment model of scientific history through postwar issues of postmodernism and relativism;.
Coleman J. Goin
This is generally well done, though the need for concision may have led the authors to some incomplete and inaccurate statements.
R. Albin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Written by three distinguished historians, this is a well intentioned but only partly successful effort to develop a systematic approach to historical truth. The authors open with a set of historiographic chapters covering the development of history as a discipline since the 18th century. This is a generally concise and nice precis of the importance of the natural sciences as a model of inquiry, the idea of history of a teleological and progressive model of modernity, the development of secular and nationalized professional history in the 19th century, and especially the emergence of a strong and rather distorted triumphalist historical narrative about the USA. This is followed by some good descriptions of how this tradition then began to run into problems. The somewhat "heroic" model of scientific history became its own form of dogma, and with the Progressive era, serious doubts aroase about the 19th century triumphalist model. The authors are also justly and conventionally critical of naive positivist views of historical explanation.

This is generally well done, though the need for concision may have led the authors to some incomplete and inaccurate statements. For example, the authors' facile attribution of late 19th century racism as the inadvertant consequence of Darwin's theory ignores the substantial contribution of influential non-Darwinist thinkers like Gobineau and Agassiz. Similarly, the authors' discussion of 19th century historiography ignores the fact that the greatest 19th century American historian was the disenchanted Boston Brahmin Henry Adams. Adams' work is a sustained and brilliantly written presentation of history as irony.

The authors really go astray in the middle of the book with their chapter "Discovering the Clay Feet of Science.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Coleman J. Goin on January 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be one of the most valuable and most hopeful books I have read in a long time. As a High School teacher of American history, I have long grappled with the question of historical truth and how best to teach it to students. I have also wondered if I could justify my own profession, since American history instruction so often seems to be simply political indoctrination in one form or another. This book gave me hope that my efforts are not in vain. The book traces the evolution of history from the enlightenment model of scientific history through postwar issues of postmodernism and relativism;. and the authors persuasively argue that historical truth is possible, even if not absolute. The book is not light reading - I was not able to race through the book, but had to wade through it, so to speak. However, I do feel the book is well worth reading. It is well written, balanced and fair-minded, and it transcends the simplistic conservative-liberal debate over the teaching of history. I feel the book should be read by everyone who is concerned with the teaching of history or the question of historical truth.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Edward Bosnar on July 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Since this book was written in the wake of the intellectual `wars' at U.S. universities involving multiculturalism, political correctness and the subsequent backlash to these, it primarily focuses on the history profession in the United States rather than worldwide. Thus, some of the book's shortcomings in not dealing adequately with non-American or non-Western European views or concerns can be forgiven. Despite these flaws, "Telling the Truth About History" very successfully addresses the many criticisms hurled at the scholarly pursuit of history in recent decades, and the three authors' conclusions can be useful and edifying even for those historians living and working far beyond America's borders. In line with the pragmatism and practical realism the authors extol in their last several chapters, they essentially call for a middle ground between the extremes of postmodern relativism and the apparent absolutes of the Enlightenment `heroic science' model. This means not abandoning the pursuit of verity while incorporating many of criticisms and even methods of the postmodernist theorists. Truth may still be elusive as ever (to say nothing of absolute truth) but, as they say at one point, even provisional truths are better than ignorance or outright falsehoods - with a nice example from the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev years to illustrate this point. This is a very well-written and persuasive argument for history as a rigorous and expansive (and mind-expanding) academic discipline. Along the way, the authors also provide a very informative overview of historiography from the Enlightenment era to the present, albeit in a largely American context.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Grublet on July 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this historiographical work, the authors convincingly argue that the overthrow of absolutisms which has characterized much of the historical and scientific scholarship of the past century does not carry in its wake the disavowal of all knowledge or truth. In place of the old absolutisms and of the new skepticism, Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob, offer a new model based on a more pragmatic understanding of objectivity and truth.
The authors spend the bulk of this book tracing the development of Enlightenment absolutisms in history and science and cataloguing their demise. While this section is more than adequate, the strength of this book lies in the authors' response to history's current postmodern crisis.
The authors are more than willing to acknowledge that the pursuit of knowledge is subjective and affected by the personalities involved, yet they insist that a greater diversity of perspectives also brings historical fact into greater focus.
As part of their argument, the authors provide the following illustration: let's assume we are all sitting at a table and an object is placed in the middle of it. We are all historians, and that item is a given part of human history. The postmodernists would say that because my perspective differs from yours, we can never know what the object TRULY looks like. The traditionalists would say that our perspectives must be the same, because the item is the same. A, H, and J would claim that our perspectives differ, but that they differ in such a way that, when combined, they provide a better and truer sense of the object's characteristics.
Overall, I find this argument very convincing. Multiculturalism (or, the pursuit of multiple perspectives) is not the enemy of Truth, but rather its friend.
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