Book Review: A Student’s Guide To The Study of History

A Student’s Guide To The Study Of History, by John Lukacs

Given the fact that some of these guides have gone over 100 pages, I figured that the guide to history would do so as well, given how large of a subject history is and how essential knowing it well is to being able to get along in our contemporary world.  Yet this book is very sort and very much to the point, and that makes for some very intriguing thoughts.  To be sure, this book ought not to be a burden to anyone who wants to better understand history as a student [1], and even those whose formal studies of history are or appear to be over at present will find much to enjoy in a refresher course in history like this one is.  To be sure, this book certainly encourages the reader to take a further look of history, but more so than in most subjects this book is merely the tip of the iceberg and does not pretend to say everything that is worth saying about history.  The fact that the author is an accomplished author of history and avoids the temptation to urge the student to read his books makes this an even better achievement.

The less than 50 pages of this book are divided into six parts.  First, the author seeks to introduce the reader to oneself, because knowing our own history and where we come from gives us a connection to the larger history we study as students, and points out the relevance of what history tells us.  After that the author talks about the history of history, examining the way that history sprang from a concern for chronicling the deeds of great people and important events like wars and religion.  The author’s discussion of the professionalization of history points to concerns within the academy for how history is conducted and how people will behave if they become professionals themselves.  After this comes a brief discussion of the methods of history, both in examining sources as well as providing continually fresh interpretations of past events.  The author talks then about the interest in history and how it is to be properly fed and cultivated through the reading of good qualities and quantities of historical works.  Finally, the author closes with a discussion of the greatness of historical literature that all readers should have at least a passing familiarity with.

What the author considers to be great history is worth at least some comment.  He talks about the standard Greek and Roman choices like Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Livy, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Pliny the younger and elder, Plutarch, and Seutonius (along with Edward Gibbon, famous for writing about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire).  His choices for great history of the Middle Ages are a bit more obscure, and his choices for more contemporary history include Alexis de Tocqueville, Jakob Burckhardt, Henry Adams, Francis Parkman, William H. Prescott, Winston Churchill, and Arnold Toynbee, among others.  By and large, this is a book about history that will give the reader at least some insight into what books to read more of, but one wishes the author had written more recommendations.  At the very least, he can be praised for pointing out that to be a good historian one must be able to read well and write well, and to be a good history student one needs to read well, something that is often neglected in our times.  Although I wish that this book was longer and had a lot more content, it can at least be praised highly and celebrated for saying well what it says, at least.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/10/01/book-review-the-study-of-history-and-sociology/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/01/19/studying-history-with-a-sense-of-balance/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/03/book-review-atlantic-history-concept-and-contours/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/05/book-review-on-the-teaching-and-writing-of-history/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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