Sunday, February 15, 2009

Debunking History: 152 Myths Exploded

First, I must quibble with the subtitle. While "myths exploded" certainly grabs one's attention, "152 Issues Examined" would be more accurate. The questions posed aren't always myths, and the authors don't always come up with definitive rebuttals. One chapter of the book is even titled "Unresolved Problems", so clearly the authors know these aren't all exploding myths. My guess is that the misleading title was stupidly concocted by an editor or publisher (like when my publisher turned "60 Great Road and Trail Rides" into "60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides").

That said, most of the issues and the authors' examinations of them are worth pondering. Many historical events are not as simple as a high school textbook presents them, and the authors are usually careful to consider each question from multiple points of view. All in all, this book is better suited to people who appreciate nuance (like me) as opposed to those who want answers in black & white. Sometimes, however, the authors clearly fail, such as in their weak assessment of the JFK assassination (basically, the Warren Commission says blah blah blah, and a thousand books have been written questioning their findings, but, um, they can't really prove anything). Why bother to include this topic if that's the best they can do?

Most issues originate in the past 350 years of European/British history with a few American "myths" from Paul Revere to Ronald Reagan thrown in for good measure. Although I learned a lot, especially about British and French history, some issues were too foreign (literally and figuratively) or too esoteric. For example, "Did Harold Wilson Lie Over the Devaluation of the Pound, 1967?" As an American born several years after that event, my primary knowledge of Harold Wilson is that he's the "Mr. Wilson" mentioned in the Beatles song "Taxman". Plus currency devaluation is pretty trivial compared to other lies politicians have told. My wife's scattershot approach to reading (which normally drives me nuts) might be better for Debunking History than my insistence on reading every entry.

Aside from a few lame "answers" and some not so interesting "myths", Debunking History is a thought-provoking book that certainly gives the reader a new perspective on many historical events.

Current tally: 13 books finished, 9 books acquired

No comments: