Friend's Email: Subject:I have found a book that I think you would enjoy
After The Fact, Volume II: The Art of Historical Detection
After The Fact Volume II The Art of Historical Detection Author:Mark Hamilton Lytle, James West Davidson In the year 1789, aboard a ship bound from London to Boston, a former American diplomat named Silas Deane (by then fallen on hard times) died suddenly under decidedly peculiar circumstances. To Deane's contemporaries, it looked like suicide. But was it? We now know that Deane was quite possibly murdered; we even know the name of his probably mud... more »erer; and, strangest of all, the case was cracked by a historian working nearly two hundred years after the fact!
Was this a scholarly fluke, a stroke of pure luck? In After the Fact James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle set out to show that, on the contrary, the case of Silas Deane is a perfect illustration of the way the best history is done. The conventional view - that a historian's main job is to be a "courier between the past and the present," bringing us nothing but undistorted facts - is, they argue, profoundly misleading. Just as the Deane case began to make sense only after the historian got actively involved with his source material, poking and prodding it, searching for new clues and unexpected connections (such as the fact that Edward Bancroft, once Deane's personal secretary, had been a double agent and knew a lot about poisons), critically questioning everything in a struggle to understand, so all true historians are detectives. Their work is the solution of mysteries. And the mysteries come in many forms, a fascinating sampling of which are explored in this book. For example:
* What was really behind the witchcraft mania in Salem?
* How do you explain an 80 percent death rate in the first years of the Virginia Colony?
* Was John Brown mad?
* What did slaves themselves think about slavery?
* Were Sacco and Vanzetti guilty - and if now, why were they executed?
* Was Huey Long an overrated demagogue - or a true "great man"?
* Was the Hiroshima A-bomb a mistake?
* Who gave Woodward and Bernstein the inside story of The Final Days?
Under the historian's eye these puzzles - and others equally difficult - turn and reveal themselves. Here we feel the excitement of scholarship at work: a geographical survey of Salem Village uncovers a whole new set of relationships between the accused witches and their accusers...a Freudian study of John Brown's childhood suggests unexpected sources for his fanaticism...a close look at the writing style used in the Watergate book unmasks the anonymous sources...an extraordinary trade pattern stretching from Venice to the Pacific Northwest is disclosed by the analysis of a single watercolor sketch of a Plains Indian named Makuie-Poka...an examination of Thomas Jefferson's scratch paper gives us new insight into the way the Declaration of Independence was actually written....
After the Fact is a book about how history works. Even more, it is a book - like Richard Altick's classic The Scholar Adventurers - full of good stories well told, a book that in itself captures the essential fascination of scholarship in action and shows, to our delight and amazement, what it can accomplish.
James West Davidson is a full-time writer, trained as a historian, who also teaches in the Department of History at Smith College. He was educated at Haverford College and at Yale University, where he was granted a Ph.D. in 1973. Davidson's earlier books include The Complete Wilderness Paddler (with John Rugge, 1977) and The Logic of Millennial Thought (1977). Mark Hamilton Lytle is Associate Professor of History at Bard College. He received his B.A. from Cornell University, and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1973. He is coauthor (with Davidson) of The United States: A History of the Republic (1981).« less