Historical Texts that Captivate Readers

Writers of history usually receive the bad reputation of being boring and uninspired storytellers, for the events of history aren’t designed to be page-turners. On the other hand, there are histories that embellish for the sake of storytelling but compromise accuracy. This is also criticised.

Thus, an article exploring histories that are both accurate and educational whilst still captivating audiences would be a great read.

Offer examples of good histories, and give reasons as to why they are effective as both works of popular literature AND educational history resources. Jung Chang’s Wild Swans or Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed are two good examples.
Some factors that make history writing ‘good’ include: the inclusion of personal stories (not mere objective facts), prose that is accessible to all, not just academics, and the formation of a chronological narrative that, while remaining accurate, sparks interest and excitement.

There are some wonderful examples of written history that tend to get lost amongst the ‘boring’ stuff. So an article highlighting examples of good history, and analysing why that is, would be interesting and perhaps even helpful for those looking to write public history.

  • Seeing this topic has reminded me of Lucy Worsley's recent PBS documentary series Royal Myths & Secrets. In it, she explores how the public images of famous figures such as Elizabeth I, Queen Anne, and Marie Antoinette have been heavily distorted from their flesh-and-blood counterparts. Details such as when these historical accounts were written, the relationship between writer and subject, differences between national propaganda/mythical storytelling and textual evidence/alternative accounts, etc. all play a role. Like you said, it raises ethical questions over what "the truth" is in the pursuit of a good story. Do the ends ever justify the means? – aprosaicpintofpisces 4 years ago
  • This something that I struggle with as a student of history; what is a historian's vocation? Is it just writing just what happened as Leopold von Ranke put it so long ago? Or is it telling a tale about what happened as Herodotus did in his masterful work? Or should a historian try to craft laws of history in the vein of the early and post-War Annales School? Is he/she a scientist, a writer or a philosopher? I'd think it was a mix of all three. – RedFlame2000 4 years ago
  • I read an interesting essay once that noted that whilst it is a common truism that history is written by the victor, it is a less-acknowledged truth that any account of history is victorious. This is fascinating. I think the value of historical fiction lies in its ability to deviate from the established norms of historical acccounts that are at best insufficient and at worse, misleading. Historical novels allow a depth of exploration that traditional historical accounts rarely achieve. Furthermore, they allow a experiential response in consequence to what is inevitably a personal perspective of events of the past. – hlewsley 3 years ago

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