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Curious not about what you read, but why you like to read history?
It doesn't seem to be a hugely popular genre, and I am surprised (yet not shocked) by how often I hear other folks say some variation of "History? Ugh!" For me, history sparks my imagination. Learning about something new is a huge draw, but what makes a history book come alive is if I'm able to put myself in 'their shoes.' Even if I'm not drawn to a particular character, I still want to be part of the time period. Much like reading a travel book, I read history because I want to go there.
P.S. Here's an interesting link 5 Reasons Why You Should Read History More Than News (Though not all the reasons ring true with me. Ahem, #3)
Last Edited on: 12/31/11 10:36 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
I got into History because my entire life I have been facinated by it. My mom and Dad are both big history nuts and we often visited historical sites. My dad use to like to stop at old abandoned houses and talk about how they use to look in the past. My mom has a large family whose ancesters founded several towns along the shore and we use to go visit them and everyone would talk about our ancestors. She was involved in a big geneology project which helped me prove that my children are decendents of both the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. I am hoping they can get scholarships for college.
Anyway, History moves me, if that doesnt sound to corny. I get pasionate about almost any kind of history, but political and military history stir me the most. My first true love is the Trojan War and the Hittitites in Turkey. My second love is Geology, which is why I love Simon Winchesters books so much, his books often combine History and Geology. I also am obsessed by Naval history, probably a result of my childhood, lol. A few years ago, someone pointed out to me that they found it odd that someone wiht my degree, knew so little about American History. So I have been focusing more on that. I just finished reading a bunch of books on the Civil War. I started the First World War by Hew Strachan which is really good. I am facinated by WWI, because of the advancements in the airplane over those few short years. But of course in both wars, my main focus was on the Naval activity.
I started the challenge for 2012, in hopes of drawing more people to this forum or atleast to initiate a few more conversations.
I am generally just a curious person, and my interests cover all human knowledge, but I wouldn't say I read a lot of history. Looking through the nonfiction I've read this year, many have historical aspects, but most aren't really histories. My reading is heavily weighted toward science and philosophy and theology (the winner is Bart D. Ehrman...an agnostic New Testament scholar. I read 4 of his books this year).
I'm not really a big reader of history either, although there are a few time periods that have always fascinated me. I just posted on the challenge discussion thread about the "sad books" issue--if you look at the books I've chosen, they are all heavily into the social aspect, not so much on the technical/logistical side. My main nonfiction reading categories are psychology & medicine, although as I said in the other thread, there's a lot of overlap in different subjects.
The time periods that I have read the most about are ancient Egypt and WW II Britain. Although, in recent years my interest in British history has extended a little bit before and after those years too
I consider this challenge to be one that stretches my boundaries somewhat.
That's another reason why history appeals to me. History as a topic is much more all-encompassing than history as a genre. I love it when history sneaks up on me in unexpected books.
Last Edited on: 12/31/11 1:52 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
I used to hate history!
All of my history teachers in middle and high school were the most boring bunch of teachers I have ever encountered. Mostly we memorized dates and timelines. In college my Latin American history professor spent most of the semester making us memorize a map and capitals. While I received mostly A's in history it was only because I had a good memory for dates and locations. And, my parents still believe that history is extremely boring and not useful. My children seem to have much better teachers and my oldest, a sophomore in high school, has had some great teachers. She is fascinated by World War I and I have ordered numerous books from this site for her on that subject. Of course, it helps that my husband and I are avid history readers and have helped to instill a love of the subject in her. My son who is 12 yrs old is also an avid historical fiction reader. He loves the dark ages and anything with some adventure or battles. So far, our youngest is not interested in history but likes books about different cultures.
The book that turned me from indifferent to interested in history was In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.
I think the reason I love reading history books - of almost all time eras - is that it is all about us. And the more you read history, the more you discover that what you thought was true isn't. This is why I love revisionist history, as it challenges me to revisit what I believe.
Just as an example, most Americans believe that when the British marched on Lexington and Concord, the Minutemen came from near and far in very small groups to fire at the Redcoats from behind trees and stonewalls. It is a popular to believe that there were few if any leaders and that almost all the Minutemen were farmers or tradesmen with no experience in war.
Yet, the militia that showed up to confront the British column had many who were veterans of the French and Indian War, and almost all had drilled in large formations during their training. They had established leaders. On the 18th of April, there were several times when militia fought the British while lined up in regimental formations. And there were frequent instances of house-to-house fighting in the small villages along the British retreat. Read Paul Revere's Ride by David Fischer for more examples of what happened that day that we were mis-taught.
Another good one by Fischer is Washington's Crossing. Guess what, we didn't surprise the Hessians, they were expecting us as a Tory had told them we we were coming. And they weren't drunk. One Hessian regiment was up and down all night as alarms came in that the "colonials were attacking." They were fully dressed and by dawn were tired from falling out onto the streets time and again. The delay in crossing the Delaware River favored us. When Washington didn't attack at dawn, the Hessian commander let his men stand down. Then we hit them.
Then there is the American Civil War. For example, Phil Sheridan was a fraud, while George Meade was one of our greatest generals. Even Grant believe Meade was one of the best. And do you know who the greatest "butcher of his own men" was? We've been told time and again that it was Grant. But statistics don't lie. The "butcher" was none other then Robert E. Lee. Just for example, Chancellorsville was a nine-day campaign and is listed as Lee's greatest victory. Yet, on just two of those days, the Army of Northern Virginia took 30% casualties.
To understand history, you have to read numerous books on a subject. And sometimes, the book that tells you the truth isn't a history book. Supposedly. "General Winter" defeated Napoleon. The truth was that he was beaten by typhus. Why did the Union spend all those months investing Petersburg to cut off the railroads bringing supplies to the Confederates when a small force could have cut those rail lines in the Carolinas. The answer is very simple: malaria. Union troops from up north were not resistant to the malaria strains in the coastal swamps of the Carolinas.
God, I love this stuff...
But if you really want to see how history can be distorted, then read political history. I'm not speaking of what is taking place today, but go back 30, 40 years and more and our 'great politicians' were really whitewashed despite the dirty things they did. And I say this as someone who loves my country.
Did you know Mayor Daly stole the 1960 presidential election for Kennedy? Did you know that Johnson lied when he told the American people that the North Vietnamese navy attacked the U.S. fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin? It never happened. But we went to war any way and I ended up in Viet Nam.
Do you know why Mary Lincoln became unstable? She suffered a brain injury when she fell from a carriage during one of her numerous visits to Union army hospitals. She almost died, but her perception of reality suffered from then on. You won't read that in most history books.
So much of what we as a people believe of our history come from movies and TV. Even President Wilson believed that The Birth of a Nation was pure history. This great 'liberal' president was one of the worst bigots ever to occupy that office. What to know how he controlled every aspect of life during his last term of office? Read The Great Influenza (about the 'Spanish flu' epidemic of 1918-20) and find out how Wilson took our freedoms away from us. BTW - the 'Spanish flu' killed more people than all who died in World War I.
Then there are the terrible tolls of civilian death in London during the Blitz, in Germany's Dresden, in the two Japanese cities we a-bombed. None of these compares with the horrendous death tolls in the 63-day battle of Warsaw near the end of World War II. More Poles died in that city in those 63 days then all the Americans who died around the world during the war. Know who shot down the most German planes during the Battle of Britain? The Polish squadrons did. And the top RAF ace was a Czech pilot. Why don't we hear about this, The American and British governments were more interested in appeasing Stalin then thanking the Poles who fought and died for us. The Poles saved Britain but were not allowed to march in the post-war vistory parade. Interested? Read A Question of Honor by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud.
You may not agree with the above, and you have that right. That is what makes out country so great. But I encourage you all to read more history, not just the popular books that tell us what we want to hear.
Last Edited on: 1/1/12 10:56 PM ET - Total times edited: 4
I dig this
Reading and understanding history takes a great deal of imagination despite it's facts-and-figures image.
Last Edited on: 1/2/12 9:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
But if you really want to see how history can be distorted, then read political history. I'm not speaking of what is taking place today, but go back 30, 40 years and more and our 'great politicians' were really whitewashed despite the dirty things they did.
This is why i find political history interesting. I love to read through the old Congressional transcripts at the Library of Congress website. It is amazing to see how much was going on and how much hasnt changed. I have read a lot of biographies of presidents. Between them and the other books I have read, I am always amazed at what I didnt know, or thought I knew and turned out to be wrong. Another thing that is interesting to look at is, old newspaper articles. there is a website calle Footnotes (usually have to access through a library) and the New York TImes have old newspaper articles you can look through and see how news was reported.
Last Edited on: 1/21/12 5:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
"...have old newspaper articles you can look through and see how news was reported."
I remember when Vice President Spiro Agnew was on trial in early 1973 for 'failing to report income' (actually bribes from a Baltimore contractor). Like most Marylanders, I didn't have a problem with this. Maryland has a long history of corrupt political figures, especially governors, and we liked Agnew as he was a good governor. So what was the big deal about a few measly bribes!
Anyway, I was watching TV the night they showed President Nixon coming out of the Maryland courthouse that day. He was asked to comment on Agnew's trial. All he said was "I do not think it appropriate for a President to comment on an ongoing trial," or words to that effect. I watched Nixon on TV as he approached his car, made the comment and then got in the car and closed the door.
The very next morning the Baltimore Sun (a very liberal newspaper) reported that Nixon, in his comment, said something to the effect that he didn't see it as a problem that Agnew was taking bribes and that he (Nixon) didn't understand what all the fuss was about.
As Mark Train once wrote, "The old saw says let a sleeping dog lie. Still, when there is much at stake, it is better to get a newspaper to do it."
Last Edited on: 1/27/12 11:03 PM ET - Total times edited: 1