Book Review: Lost To Time

Lost To Time: Unforgettable Stories That History Forgot, by Martin W. Sandler

The title of this book is at least mildly ironic because it details people worthy of being remembered for their deeds that have nonetheless been forgotten for one reason or another. Coming in at a little over 250 pages of text for eleven stories, this book makes some attempts at providing a larger cultural perspective but is largely of interest to students of American history. This is not necessarily a negative matter, but the fact that the book itself deals with American history (or prehistory) in nine of its eleven essays suggests a focus on history of interest to Americans.

That said, it is mysterious how these matters ever managed to be forgot in the first place. To give one example, the first essay is about a ninth century black slave originally from the Abassid Caliphate named Ziyab who is responsible for a dazzling array of improvements in the life of Spain, ranging from key developments in the guitar and flamenco songwriting to starting seasonal fashions in Europe as well as multi-course meals. How someone with such a massive effect on our life and practice even to this day can be forgot is difficult to imagine (except that he was a freed black slave for a Muslim principality, perhaps, whose successors might not be inclined to show proper appreciation for the cultural advancements from the Middle East that he brought with him). Likewise, Cahoika is not entirely forgotten by history works [1] [2], and Joseph Warren was praised as a major hero of the Revolutionary War in a novel by Jeff Shaara, so attentive readers of history and historical fiction will be aware of some of these figures.

Other figures and events are obscure largely because of their short lives or fact that they had vastly more famous contemporaries. For example, the importance of Gil Eanes’ work in exploring beyond Cape Bojador to show that there were no dragons or boiling seas there was largely overshadowed by figures like Columbus and Magellan and de Gama, among others. Revere had a world-class poet to immortalize his deeds, while longer and more dangerous rides by Sybil Ludington and Jack Jouett Jr. did not get such favorable press to ensure the memory of their deeds by high school students of American Revolutionary War history. Likewise, the destruction of the Sultana in April 1865 and the horrors of the Peshtigo fires in Wisconsin were forgotten and obscured by contemporary events (the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination in the first case and the Chicago fires in the second case). Elisha Kane, like Gil Eanes, was forgotten because he lived a short life and others after him completed the expeditions that he started (namely finding the North Pole). In at least two cases, Operation Tiger (a greatly unsuccessful training for D-Day), and America’s First Subway the secrecy of the event was due to matters of politics.

The takeaway one gets from reading this book is that merely to do meritorious deeds is not sufficient to be well-remembered and well-regarded by history. Deeds must not only be done and recognized and recorded at the time, but they must also find a way to be remembered later on as histories are being written. A short life, struggles against poverty or political difficulties, and an absence of later boosters and supporters after we are gone can make one’s deeds vanish into thin air and be forgotten. What should have been unforgettable is consigned to oblivion, a reminder of the fragility of our own grasp of the past or our own efforts to be remembered. As a student of history, it is sober to reflect on such matters.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Lost To Time

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Utah Beach | Edge Induced Cohesion

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