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Bad History

October 17th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I recently read a book called Bad History: How We Got The Past Wrong by Emma Marriott. It was another of those books I got through Amazon’s ‘Vine’ programme. Here is what I wrote about it:

This is a very accessible book aimed more at the casual reader rather than an academic book. What it reminds me of most is the television programme QI as it is stuffed full of the sort of things ‘everybody knows’ that turn out not to be the case like Mussolini making the trains run on time, James Watt inventing the steam engine or the defeat of the Spanish Armada being a heroic victory.

Each chapter is very short, perhaps a little too short, and the selection of ‘facts’ to debunk is a bit idiosyncratic, with some being quite vague, and some being a little obscure – I have a feeling that few people have a fixed opinion of Philippe Petain one way or the other. For all that it is still very readable, and with enough surprises to justify its title.

For me, the biggest surprises were in some of the chapters about American history, like the hostility towards democracy amongst the Founding Fathers of the US. It seems that although democracy was a result of the revolution it wasn’t the objective but more of an accidental outcome. The chapter on Abraham Lincoln was the real eye-opener though.

I had known that Lincoln was against slavery, and that the civil war effectively ended it, so it was a bit of a shock to see quotes from Lincoln like:

I am not, nor ever have been in favour of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favour of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifiying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.

Amazing that they voted Obama in only 150 years after that!

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