The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources


History Books

We have all heard the expression “That’s one for the books!” Perhaps we have said it ourselves. What do we mean by that? We mean, of course, the history books. The point of the saying is that there are certain events that are so significant that the world before the event and the world after the event are different.

At one time schools tended to teach history by having students memorize facts and dates so they could recite them. Today there is more emphasis on understanding the “story behind the story.” Here are a just a few of the subjects one may find under the general subject of “history”: Military History, American History, European History, Ancient History, British History, Civil War History (actually, any large war will have multitudes of books written about the causes of the war, the course of the war - often whole books about specific battles - and the aftermath or long-term impact of the war.) Some of these books become best sellers, such as recent books on figures of American History such as John Adams by David McCullough and Burr (Aaron Burr) by Gore Vidal.

History textbooks, of course, must cover a much broader canvas, especially those for younger grades when the idea is to give students an overall view of what has shaped the world as they know it today. It is a challenge to write a book that covers many historical subjects without making it a recitation of facts and without leaving out background. It is also very difficult to write a history book that does not come from the political or philosophical viewpoint of the writer. Some would say that this is impossible.

There are many scholars whose specialty is reviewing history books for accuracy, objectivity and what we might call “readability.” It is not much good, for instance, for a history book to be correct if it is written so poorly that the most exciting of subjects makes a boring read.

Remember, behind any historical event there is a fascinating story just waiting to be told and, usually, someone has done it!