Spending a lazy day entertaining a friend, we got talking about the difference between reading fiction set in an historical period that interests you and reading history books on the same thing.
Despite my being a little more likely than her to sit down with an academic book, we both agreed that narrative brings history to life and makes it more digestible. Also more memorable.
I think that’s why history books are more often written these days by journalists and media personalities, because they more naturally talk about history as the lives of people. Vignettes and sketches of what life was like then, make mini narratives of the ‘facts’.
From a historian’s point of view I’m sure these books are highly suspicious because, no matter how well researched the book is, creating narrative from disparate and not well understood ‘facts’ easily leads to the public belief in things that aren’t true/proven.
And, a bit like suicidal lemmings, these not-facts can then become really hard to shake.
Still, I’d rather have my bookshelves stuffed with accessible history than the textbooks that I can only get through a few pages at a time.