What Are Some Examples of Bad History Books?

Apr 2019
100
Ireland
#31
Robin Lane Fox's ,, Alexander the Great ' '. Just his description of Gaugamela is plain stupid and ridiculous. I also would like to post Ernst Badian's review of his book :
Robin Lane Fox's, '"Travelling Heroes". Long rambling sentences, excessive repetition and obviously poorly edited. I also feel he gives too much credit to the Greeks over other civilisations. I bought this book and read it out of interest, even though I give it a poor rating there were at least a few insightful nuggets.
 
Likes: Gvelion
Mar 2018
256
United States Of America
#32
I must be fortunate because I really can’t recall one. At least not one that I fully read.

Mastersonmcvoidson excluded in the first post “pseudo-history and topics which border on conspiracy theories”, even if they want to pass by history books, so I couldn’t put here something like “1421” by Menzies (who is not a historian), or some garbage about the Templars that I wrongly picked in a library.

But usually history books written by non historians or pop historians usually give us bad results.



As far as I know, she doesn’t write history books. As you well noted she writes fiction, historical fiction, not history.
I understand she writes historical fiction. But it's bad historical fiction. Her research is done horribly. She picks and chooses what facts to put in and then fills in the blanks.
 
#33
I more or less agree on the first part. However we shouldn't take any primary source at face value. If we rely on direct writings of people like Wilhelm Keitel or Napoleon we would technically get an eyewitness account but a heavily twisted, biased one. Napoleon made records of battles with inflated casualties and events, Battle of the Pyramids comes to mind where he wrote down a claim of 20.000 Mameluke casualties while the real number was much lower, likely between 5-9.000. In a case like this secondary sources are a necessity to contextualize and ''clear up'' the primary sources, so to speak and help us understand what really happened better.

On the second part I do not agree. The text above more or less explains why. Why do you consider them ''propaganda''? There are some that genuinely are, but this can also apply to a primary source.



How so? Interpretations of history are subjective and some statistics may conflict due to speculation or different sources, but things like ''The British won the Battle of Trafalgar'' are facts that cannot be disputed and are not subjective, ''Trafalgar was decisive'' however is something that can be disputed and argued.
I completely agree. Modern scholarship is incredibly important for anyone who wants to take history seriously. Primary sources are paramount as well, but it is naive and cocky to the extreme for one to think that simply reading the primary sources will tell them all they need to know. Historians are trained to read primary sources critically and apply historiographical methods to come up with plausible conclusions about the past and to interpret sources and history. This is why modern scholarship is so valuable. The sort of people who dismiss all scholarship as 'propaganda' tend to be intellectually dishonest and in the pursuit of agendas that for probably good reason do not receive the support of modern scholarship.
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#34
This just struck me because I finished it now: Vincent Azoulay's Pericles.

This is also not a bad book really, it is quite informative in many ways, and it has some advantages over Donald Kagan's more hero-worshipping (but in my mind still more sympathetic) biography - which he more or less dismisses outright as "neo-con propagnda" early in the book (did I mention the author is French?). That being said, I don't like the book very much, and find that it is a great example of what is wrong with too much modern historical scholarship. He is too shallow and critical when he writes, and spends 1/3rd of the book talking about later perceptions of Pericles in Europe, especially in modern times, rather than talking about Pericles, son of Xantippus, strategos of Athens anno 450 B.C. I ended it with a desire to ask the author "Okay. So what?"

If I should talk about the really bad parts, the author makes some completely unreasonable assumptions, my "favourite" was when he discussed Pericles' possible atheism. He basically writes, on pages 119-122 that "Oh, Pericles could easily have been just as oriented towards reason as he was towards superstititon [I think Azoulay has the terms in quotes, but I use cursive as I'm already creating a ficitive somewhat stylized - but still basically true, if emotionally tinged - narrative of what he's saying, bare with me...]. Hippocratic medicine and divination existed side by side during the classical era, so why can't Pericles have been both? :nerd:"

What a load of bullshit. Just because there are two streams of thought, or ideas, behaviour etc. existing in society at the same time does not necessarily mean that they exist simultaneously in the same individual. Intellectual diversity and cognitive dissonance are not the same thing: especially not in a statesman who seems to have had a consistent idea of how his city should be run. Is it reasonable to assume that this is a man who might be "just as superstititious as he was oriented towards reason", given what other things we know of Pericles?

And this is Azoulay's main problem, he loves to comment, loves to criticize, but I was left with absolutely no coherent understanding of Pericles as a historical person, except for the fact that "Oh, Kagan is making things too simple."

So this I can tell you: If you've read Kagan's Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy then you should buy Azoulay's book as a companion to it, to criticize Kagan where criticism is due (on a few important points actually, like the way Pericles treated Euboia). Read in that manner, it is a very useful book. I want to emphasize, if you are interested in the man and plan to read more than one biography or even dip into the primary sources this is a useful book. However, as a standalone work it is really quite poor. You can trust most of Azoulay's individual nuggets of facts, at least when he's citing primary sources, but you can't trust his narrative, largely because in many parts there isn't one and partially because in some places he seems to be taking too much time entertaining unreasonable assumptions, just to annoy people like me. :mad::mad::mad:
 
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Likes: Gisco
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#35
I completely agree. Modern scholarship is incredibly important for anyone who wants to take history seriously. Primary sources are paramount as well, but it is naive and cocky to the extreme for one to think that simply reading the primary sources will tell them all they need to know. Historians are trained to read primary sources critically and apply historiographical methods to come up with plausible conclusions about the past and to interpret sources and history. This is why modern scholarship is so valuable. The sort of people who dismiss all scholarship as 'propaganda' tend to be intellectually dishonest and in the pursuit of agendas that for probably good reason do not receive the support of modern scholarship.
This is especially true in ancient history, as an increasing amount of data seems to be grounded in archaeology rather than the primary sources alone.

Even if I agree with you partially, I still think too many modern historians like to write history in the manner of for example Azoulay. Not to say there aren't good ones as well of course...
 
Mar 2013
972
Breakdancing on the Moon.
#36
Robin Lane Fox's, '"Travelling Heroes". Long rambling sentences, excessive repetition and obviously poorly edited. I also feel he gives too much credit to the Greeks over other civilisations. I bought this book and read it out of interest, even though I give it a poor rating there were at least a few insightful nuggets.
Caveat: Lane Fox was one of my tutors for a term, so I'm open with my biases here.

I agree with Badian about the Alexander book (and anyone interested in Alex needs to basically read around Badian, Borza, and Bosworth). That said, Travelling Heroes is something else. Is it poorly written? Probably (I can't recall), but most of the scholarship there is fairly sound and does follow specialist thinking in Greek/Near Eastern contact. It's also a popular history book, so there is that.

As for the thread title, well I can only really talk authoritatively on Greeks and Romans, but like 90% of books written by non-classicists are pretty bad tbh.
 
#37
This is especially true in ancient history, as an increasing amount of data seems to be grounded in archaeology rather than the primary sources alone.
True, and not just archaeology, but epigraphy, papyrology, numismatics and art history, forms of evidence that are reconstructed, synthesized and interpreted by experts.
 
#38
Even if I agree with you partially, I still think too many modern historians like to write history in the manner of for example Azoulay. Not to say there aren't good ones as well of course...
Certainly there are bad history books. I haven't read Azoulay's work, but I do like books about personalities to give me an idea of what a person was about. Then again, I'm also a bit of a contrarian, so I may sympathize with Azoulay in some respects :p
 
Aug 2010
16,168
Welsh Marches
#39
Caveat: Lane Fox was one of my tutors for a term, so I'm open with my biases here.

I agree with Badian about the Alexander book (and anyone interested in Alex needs to basically read around Badian, Borza, and Bosworth). That said, Travelling Heroes is something else. Is it poorly written? Probably (I can't recall), but most of the scholarship there is fairly sound and does follow specialist thinking in Greek/Near Eastern contact. It's also a popular history book, so there is that.

As for the thread title, well I can only really talk authoritatively on Greeks and Romans, but like 90% of books written by non-classicists are pretty bad tbh.
That said, Badian's slashing review was a disgrace, it wasn't necessary for him to set out to humiliate Lane Fox in that way, and he plainly gained too much enjoyment from doing so which doesn't speak well for him.

I'm afraid that I find Lane Fox's books dull, I've never managed to get through one!
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#40
Certainly there are bad history books. I haven't read Azoulay's work, but I do like books about personalities to give me an idea of what a person was about. Then again, I'm also a bit of a contrarian, so I may sympathize with Azoulay in some respects :p
Yeah, I agree.

Haha! I also have a bit of a contrarian streak. Not to drone on about it (I mean it wasn't an awful book), but the amount of good reviews Azoulay's Pericles received from so many of the big names like Cartledge, Raaflaub etc. couldn't help but make me think... Perhaps a traditional, more clear cut account is often looked upon as somehow more contrarian than an account which aims to be "critical".

I'd like to think so, perhaps partially because it allows me to settle my desire to be right with my desire to provoke with minimal cognitive dissonance... :p
 

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