A history of historians that demonstrates how the telling of history is inevitably influenced by the life and beliefs of the storyteller - 'Grave and witty, suave yet pointed - erudite yet engaging and full of energy' Hilary Mantel
THE HISTORY MAKERS is an epic exploration of who writes about the past and how the biases of certain storytellers - whether Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare or Simon Schama -continue to influence our ideas about history (and about who we are) today.
There are many stories we can spin about years gone by, but which accounts come to be told, and by whom? A single author can deeply shape our understanding through the prism of his or her own beliefs. Richard Cohen reveals how professional historians and other equally significant witnesses (such as the writers of the Bible, major novelists, dramatists, journalists and political propagandists) influence what become the accepted records of human experience. Is there, he asks, even such a thing as "objective" history? And what is it to call someone a historian in the first place?The depth of Cohen's inquiry and the delight he takes in his subjects - even the practitioners of what he calls "Bad History," those thieves of history who twist reality to glorify themselves and conceal their or their country's behaviour - make this an unusually authoritative and supremely entertaining volume.
Cohen investigates the published works and private utterances of our greatest historical thinkers to discover the agendas that informed their views of the world, and which in so many ways have informed ours. From the origins of history-writing, when such an idea seemed itself revolutionary, through to television and the digital age, THE HISTORY MAKERS abounds in captivating figures brought to vivid life, from Thucydides and Tacitus to Voltaire and Gibbon, from Winston Churchill to Mary Beard. Rich in character, complex truths and surprising anecdotes, the result is a unique exploration of both the aims and craft of history-making that will lead us to think anew about our past and ourselves.
What a brilliant achievement! Like all Richard Cohen's writing, The History Makers opens a dialogue with the reader - grave and witty, suave yet pointed - erudite yet engaging and full of energy. It has huge scope, but never forfeits the telling detail. It is scholarly, lively, quotable, up-to-date and fun. - Hilary Mantel
Richard Cohen is the author of Chasing the Sun, How to Write Like Tolstoy and By the Sword. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and for two years was programme director of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Five times UK national sabre champion, he was selected for the British Olympic fencing team. He lives in New York.