Saturday, August 8, 2009
86. Dangerous games : the uses and abuses of history
Rated 4 Stars
This turned out to be a much longer read than it first appeared. It's a slim, 170 page book and I can usually read a book like that in an afternoon. I was at it, although not steadily, for over a week. I had to stop and think about it, which is a wonderful thing for any book to do whether you agreed with the author or not.
I distrusted my own reactions because I more often that not agreed completely with the author. That, IMO not always a good thing because I am already old and set enough in my ways without a lot encouragement. So I checked out the reviews on amazon to see what others made of the book and it's drawn some of the most mixed reviews I have ever read. Some folks wanted to see it all as purely political with a Left v. Right bias, others complained that it was not academic enough, and others like me thought she made some excellent points and drew fair conclusions. So I guess it all depends on the readers particular POV. Me, I liked it.
MacMillan, a professor of history at Oxford University and the University of Toronto, views the study and utilization of history as a double-edged sword. History, of course, can show us where we have been; it can also provide a sense of shared culture that binds otherwise diverse populations and forms the basis of the nation-state. For many, the study of history is plain fun, filled with colorful characters and real-life drama. But the abuse of history often provokes tragic consequences. Tyrants, including Stalin and Hitler, wrapped themselves in the mantle of national icons to enhance their personal power. Karl Marx saw history as a process leading inexorably to a classless society, which allowed his adherents to justify mass murder. The refusal to let go of some aspects of the past has prolonged a sense of grievance, hatred, and entitlement among numerous groups across the globe. For both historians and lay readers, this thoughtful and provocative work will be enlightening and useful. --Jay Freeman