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Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History Paperback – November 3, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is a very good book, full of historiographical wisdom. I recommend it strongly as a sure and encouraging guide to budding historians befuddled by the so-called ‘history wars,’ and to anyone who is interested in the challenges attending those who represent the history of Christian thought.”
Douglas A. Sweeney, Professor of Church History, Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Carl Trueman’s cogent and engaging approach to historiography provides significant examples of problems faced by historians and the kinds of fallacies frequently encountered in historical argumentation. Trueman steers a clear path between problematic and overdrawn conclusions on the one hand and claims of utter objectivity on the other. His illustrations, covering several centuries of Western history, are telling. He offers a combination of careful historical analysis coupled with an understanding of the logical and argumentative pitfalls to which historians are liable that is a service to the field and should provide a useful guide to beginning researchers. A must for courses on research methodology.”
Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

“Because the past shapes the present, a just understanding of the past is important for any individual, society, or church. Here is wise and practical advice for those wanting to write history for others about how to do it well. Follow this guidance and avoid the pitfalls!”
David Bebbington, Professor of History, University of Stirling

About the Author

Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He was editor of Themelios for nine years, has authored or edited more than a dozen books, and has contributed to multiple publications including the Dictionary of Historical Theology and The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (November 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1581349238
  • ISBN-13: 978-1581349238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. D. Griffiths on December 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
Carl Trueman holds a PhD, is professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, and also happens to be a fellow expat Brit living in the United States. As such he carries a certain dry wit which is wielded against prime targets and, as allows, himself. He also happens to have written two books this year, both of which have served to expand my knowledge in fields I know pitifully little about from my own remembrance and study. Back in September, he unleashed Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (P & R Publishing) which gave more than adequate voice to my own feelings of disassociation within the American political landscape. The second book is from Crossway Books, and deals not with the content of a field of study so much, but more with the processes by which that arena is worked within.

Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History comes across as a condensed course on the art of history. Drawing from his deep knowledge of the field, Trueman explores four major problems faced in the writing and studying of history and for each of these finds captivating case studies to prove his point. At once technical and compelling, I found myself actually interested in history for once (distant memories of dusty schoolrooms, monotone schoolmasters and drooping eyelids were long gone) and understanding the complexities of the retelling of past events from a contemporary perspective.

The opening case study deals with the peculiar and repugnant issue of Holocaust Denial. It is in this opening chapter that Trueman comes out strong against the modern fad of relativizing everything. As he points out here, "unbiased" and "objective" are not the same thing. No worthwhile history can be truly unbiased.
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Format: Paperback
I have become increasingly aware of and interested in the need to exercise discernment in the arena of history studies. (This is largely due to following Simonetta Carr's blog which chronicles "The making of Christian biographies for young readers." It has been a lot of fun to "watch" her piece together the truth of history. I am grateful for her willingness to share her journey and for the example that she sets.) As a result, I was excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to review Histories and Fallacies: The Problems Faced in the Writing of History by Carl R. Trueman. I must confess at the outset of this review that I am incredibly "out of my league" with this particular title. I realized very quickly that my vocabulary is extremely narrow and that I am woefully lacking in my knowledge of basic history (and current events pertaining to said history). However, in spite of my limitations, I was able to glean a good deal from this book.

The Introduction serves as a road map of sorts ad is a very good one at that. In Chapter 1, Trueman discusses the difference between neutrality and objectivity. While no historian will be neutral in his/her retelling of the past, there will be verifiable facts, evidence, etc. by which one may ascertain what actually occurred. Trueman walks through some of the claims of those who deny the Holocaust in order to bring to light some of the basic strategies of good (and bad) historical method.

Trueman then moves to a discussion of interpretive frameworks in Chapter 2. Call it what you will: worldview, presuppositions, ideological commitments, beliefs; we all have them, and they drastically influence how we interpret the truth, including the truth about the past.
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Format: Paperback
How do you do history? Carl Trueman sets out to answer the question briefly and cogently, examining the issues of neutrality (unobtainable) and objectivity (attainable and desirable) in the study of history, taking Holocaust Denial as a case study. He moves on to the idea of interpretative frameworks, and their strengths and weaknesses as tools (Marxism the example, with Christopher Hill its chosen exponent). Then he addresses anachronism, the pressures and temptations that arise from the collision between the historian's present and the past object of his study. Finally, he looks at common historical fallacies, a brief survey of typical errors made in the study of the past. After an historical postscript, the whole closes with a paper on the reception of John Calvin's thought in which the author is presumably seeking to exemplify his principles. Anyone who has sat through a historical paper of some sort in which the historian has surveyed history in order to confirm himself in the precise position which he has always held will appreciate this book. Those who read and study for the same purpose will be rebuked and instructed. The wit of the writing, the emphasis on the practical , and the recommendations for further study make this an excellent historiographical primer which will hopefully help those who pursue church history to go to work with competence and confidence.
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This little volume is an examination of problems faced in the writing of history (actually, that's the subtitle). Trueman refutes the idea, currently popular, that history is illusory, analyzes the failure of those who, like the Marxists, interpret history according to an overarching ideological scheme, and discusses the dangerous pull of anachronism, especially anachronism of ideas, such as calling Luther an anti-Semite racist. He finishes by discussing several historical fallacies: reification (the mistake of treating an idea such as `Aristotelian thought' like a concrete, transferable object rather than a fluid set of concepts that means very different things to different people at different points of history), oversimplification (the mistake of making historical artifacts, events, etc. more straightforward than they really are, such as saying that the American Civil War was started over slavery), the post hoc fallacy (including an interesting discussion of necessary and sufficient conditions), the word-concept fallacy (similar to reification, in which a word such as `liberty' is stripped of its historical context and used as a modern thinker would use it), the genetic fallacy (the mistake of drawing too strong a connection between historical circumstances and their modern or later manifestations), and a handful of other such ideas.

The book is straightforward, interesting, sometimes funny, and neatly bridges two disciplines in which I'm interested. Trueman's position as a church historian also makes his work more immediately applicable to some of the historical issues I find myself struggling through.
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