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A “supremely entertaining” (The New Yorker) exploration of who gets to record the world’s history—from Julius Caesar to William Shakespeare to Ken Burns—and how their biases influence our understanding about the past.
There are many stories we can spin about previous ages, but which accounts get told? And by whom? Is there even such a thing as “objective” history? In this “witty, wise, and elegant” (The Spectator), book, Richard Cohen reveals how professional historians and other equally significant witnesses, such as the writers of the Bible, novelists, and political propagandists, influence what becomes the accepted record. Cohen argues, for example, that some historians are practitioners of “Bad History” and twist reality to glorify themselves or their country.
“Scholarly, lively, quotable, up-to-date, and fun” (Hilary Mantel, author of the bestselling Thomas Cromwell trilogy), Making History investigates the published works and private utterances of our greatest chroniclers to discover the agendas that informed their—and our—views of the world. From the origins of history writing, when such an activity itself seemed revolutionary, through to television and the digital age, Cohen brings captivating figures to vivid light, from Thucydides and Tacitus to Voltaire and Gibbon, Winston Churchill and Henry Louis Gates. Rich in complex truths and surprising anecdotes, the result is a revealing exploration of both the aims and art of history-making, one that will lead us to rethink how we learn about our past and about ourselves.
About the Author
Richard Cohen is the author of By the Sword, Chasing the Sun, and How to Write Like Tolstoy. The former publishing director of two leading London publishing houses, he has edited books that have won the Pulitzer, Booker, and Whitbread/Costa prizes, while twenty-one have been #1 bestsellers. He has written for most UK quality newspapers as well as for The New York Times Book Review and The Wall Street Journal, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Connect with him on Facebook @RichardCohenAuthor and Twitter @AboutRichard.
"Supremely entertaining. . . . Whatever Cohen writes about he writes about with brio.”
— Louis Menand
“What a brilliant achievement! Like all Richard Cohen’s writing, Making History 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, author of the bestselling Thomas Cromwell trilogy
"Sprawling and wildly ambitious, idiosyncratic and also consistently readable and engaging, Making History dives deep into the way history-driven scholars and artists — from Burns to Shakespeare to Herodotus — have shaped the collective memory of humankind."
— Douglas Brinkley
“What a grand, illuminating, and fun book! Richard Cohen takes us on a learned tour through the cacophony of history and of the characters who’ve told the stories that shape us. To understand who we are, we have to understand who we’ve been—and, as Cohen amply demonstrates, who has formed those understandings.”
— Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
"Cohen makes a persuasive argument that history is created by historians as much as by politics, war, economics, and other forces. . . . A fascinating and finely wrought history of history."
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Insightful, thought-provoking, and thoroughly researched. History lovers will find this exceptionally well-written book as insightful as it is a pleasure to read."
— Library Journal (starred review)
“With meticulous research and riveting anecdotes, Richard Cohen has peeled back the hidden history behind those who record our past. He brilliantly shows how an extraordinary gallery of characters—from prodigies to charlatans, from ideologues to heroes—has exposed, shaped, and, at times, bent and even covered up the facts. In the process, Cohen has achieved what only the finest historians can: He has scrupulously and engagingly made history.”
— David Grann, bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
"[A] superb survey from Herodotus to Mary Beard. . . . Witty, wise and elegant, this tremendous book deserves to become a classic of history itself.”
— Nigel Jones
"An enthralling investigation into the ways in which the background of historians affected and affects the way they present the past."
— Christina Hardyment
“Richard Cohen has written an utterly engaging love letter to history’s hidden story tellers. Provocative, funny but scrupulously fair, Making History is a timely reminder that history doesn’t write itself.”
— Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, A World on Fire, and The World Made by Women