Skip to main content

Waiting For a Winning Streak with Books

Reading history books is not for sissies; nor for people who demand instant gratification. In fact one must expect to endure a great deal of drudgery before finally getting onto a winning streak.

I have done just that, recently. How refreshing it is to escape the cloistered writing of scholarly bookworms who have spent their entire lives with their noses buried in other people's books.

Contrast that with the chapter on Jacob Burckhardt in Michael Dirda's "Classics for Pleasure:"

In those days, many scholars refused to confine their efforts to some narrow field of specialization; in fact, they ranged across subjects with the swagger of adventurers, soldiers of fortune, condottieri.

For Burckhardt, the Renaissance in Italy is essentially an age of energy and charisma, when a man was "forced to be either hammer or anvil."

Contrast that with overly verbose historians, who drown you in microscopic details that never add up to anything. So many of this type have no personal history with anything more exciting than a desk, living room, or library. 


Anonymous said…
There's a lot to be said for detail. It's never been my strong point and as a student it was repeatedly pointed out to me as a lack in my essays, etc. I think I blew all that off as their problem until I observed my uncle, a tool and die man, build an adaptation to an existing cupboard. I was absolutely amazed at his patience and ability to attend to the smallest of detail which, of course, all paid off in the end as the whole piece looked like it had been built at the same time. That observation motivated me unlike my earlier experience to apply this same patience to detail. My eyeballs start spinning around trying to read Hegel, for example, but I do benefit from being made to follow his course in reasoning. It does serve to sharpen my own reasoning as not attending to details is the same as cutting corners. George
I don't disagree with what you said, but wouldn't you prefer an author's emphasis on DISTINGUISHING important from unimportant details, rather than indiscriminately piling up more and more details?
Anonymous said…
That would be difficult especially in history since even the accounts of what happened will differ depending on who's reporting. An event very important to one author might be considered a detail to another. Detail overload can be difficult. I am not too proud to use cheat sheets. George