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View Full Version : Who is your favorite Popular Historian? And who do you dislike?


dropzone
07-31-2014, 07:03 PM
I'm reading Bruce Catton's This Hallowed Ground and am enjoying it immensely. He writes with a verve and passion that belies his painstaking accuracy. I also like John Keegan, who I understand can be a controversial choice, though I don't know why. They both are great admirers of US Grant, like I am, though Catton is the more-entertaining writer.

As well as a topic of conversation, this thread is a way to suss out who else I should or shouldn't read. I prefer military history, but I'm open to anything from anywhen so don't feel limited. I am especially interested in British historians who are not crashing bores, as most of them seem to be. (I remember reading one who gave the appearance of being overly deferential to the nobility, droning on and on about Sir This and Lord That. :rolleyes: ) Who's good with the big picture? The small picture? Who should never have been allowed near a pen and paper, typewriter, or word processor? Who has a big reputation but is often wrong?

Little Nemo
07-31-2014, 07:35 PM
H.W. Brands is a personal favorite.

As for somebody who probably doesn't deserve his reputation, there's Stephen Ambrose. He's a really popular historian and his writing is excellent. But there have been a number of accusations that he plagiarized some of his work and made up other parts. He hasn't been discredited but his work is now viewed with some suspicion.

Amateur Barbarian
07-31-2014, 07:40 PM
Richard Rhodes wrote the definitive histories of the atomic weapons programs and stands as a personal benchmark for lucidity and detail and sheer readability. Michael Beschloss rates high on my list. I just finished Daniel Okrent's book on Prohibition and had to write and compliment him on an obscure point.

dropzone
07-31-2014, 08:30 PM
H.W. Brands is a personal favorite. And I see he also likes Grant, though I expect to be sick of the fellow soon.

Rick Kitchen
07-31-2014, 09:44 PM
Jared Diamond. I love "Guns, Germs and Steel".

blondebear
07-31-2014, 09:49 PM
Ken Burns

MrDibble
08-01-2014, 05:47 AM
Not a writer, but I'm partial to Tony Robinson's TV shows.

AK84
08-01-2014, 06:51 AM
Dislike: Tom Holland. Victor Davis Hanson
Like: On economic affairs, Niall Ferguson.

Eutychus
08-01-2014, 07:16 AM
Page Smith. His 8 volume "People's History of the United States" is one of the most readable histories of the US that I've ever found.

Alessan
08-01-2014, 08:24 AM
Simon Schama. His 3-part History of Britain is terrific, as is his book on the French Revolution, Citizens. He's just such a damn good writer.

carnivorousplant
08-01-2014, 09:57 AM
Barbara Tuchman, if one is allowed to mention dead historians.

Amateur Barbarian
08-01-2014, 09:59 AM
Barbara Tuchman, if one is allowed to mention dead historians.
Shh! No!

bup
08-01-2014, 10:32 AM
H.W. Brands is a personal favorite. Yeah, me too. And David McCullough, of course. Doris Kearnes Goodwin. Joseph J. Ellis.

My wife loved loved loved Alison Weir, and while the Tudors and Stuarts aren't my favorite history subject, I have to admit I like the two books of hers I've read.

JohnT
08-01-2014, 10:38 AM
Will and Ariel Durant - their 11 volume History of Civilization sits proudly on my shelf.

Paul Johnson, especially The Birth of the Modern.

Sir Peter Hall, Cities in Civilization.

And for a guy who historians (both real and actual) can't stand because his research isn't all that great, but wrote one of the more enjoyable historical potboilers, is William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire, about the Renaissance/Reformation period.

panache45
08-01-2014, 11:48 AM
Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough.

Chefguy
08-01-2014, 12:02 PM
Rick Atkinson (WWII trilogy) and Nathaniel Philbrick (Bunker Hill and others). Stephen Ambrose, if for nothing else other than Undaunted Courage. Michael Tougias, for his books on disasters and survival.

Older stuff: Alan Moorehead (a WWII war correspondent), for his books on WWII, Gallipoli, and for two of the most enjoyable books I've ever read: Blue Nile and White Nile, about British exploration and the search for the river's source.

Sir T-Cups
08-01-2014, 12:06 PM
Dan Carlin for his Hardcore History podcasts.

I know very little about history and it's always interested me, and his shows have kept my attention and helped get me through long days

What the .... ?!?!
08-01-2014, 05:59 PM
Ed Bearss

Edited to add.......maybe he doesn't qualify as popular within the meaning of the OP.

dropzone
08-01-2014, 06:31 PM
Barbara Tuchman, if one is allowed to mention dead historians.Why wouldn't you be allowed? A trait of humans is a group memory that crosses the generations.
Ed Bearss

Edited to add.......maybe he doesn't qualify as popular within the meaning of the OP.I read Catton to myself in Bearss' voice. They seem made for each other.
Not a writer, but I'm partial to Tony Robinson's TV shows.Y'know, for a guy who never took his A-Levels, which I take to mean he graduated high school but did not intend to go to college, he done good. Real good: two honorary MAs, four honorary doctorates, and a knighthood.

Little Nemo
08-01-2014, 07:28 PM
If you're looking for great history, check out Robert Caro's multi-volume of Lyndon Johnson. It's a classic in the making. And don't be daunted by its length; it's very readable.

Another great recent classic is Robert Massie's Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the coming of the Great War. Massie's written several other very good books but this one is his best.

Little Nemo
08-01-2014, 07:32 PM
Simon Schama. His 3-part History of Britain is terrific, as is his book on the French Revolution, Citizens. He's just such a damn good writer.That's presumably a typo. Schama's series has 15 parts not 3. But it is an excellent series (and is posted on You Tube).

Schama's Power of Art documentary series is also very good, although less history based.

eta: And then I belatedly realized you're talking about the book series not the television series. The books were written as a companion work to a BBC series.

Saintly Loser
08-01-2014, 08:15 PM
Robert Caro (mentioned above). Although I suppose he's more of a biographer than a historian.

Steven Runciman (now deceased). His three-volume history of the Crusades is amazing. He was a really, really good writer, in addition to being a serious historian. He mostly wrote about Byzantium and events that affected Byzantium, but that included, obviously, the Crusades, and Sicily.

Little Nemo
08-01-2014, 08:40 PM
Steven Runciman (now deceased). His three-volume history of the Crusades is amazing. He was a really, really good writer, in addition to being a serious historian. He mostly wrote about Byzantium and events that affected Byzantium, but that included, obviously, the Crusades, and Sicily.Another interesting general history of the Crusades is The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. I think most histories that Americans and Europeans read treat the Crusades from a western viewpoint. They start in Europe, talk about the background of Urban's pronouncement, and then follow the Crusaders to the Holy Lands.

Maalouf's book tells the story from a different viewpoint. He presents it from the point of view of the people in the Holy Lands who suddenly found themselves being invaded by foreign barbarians.

Cognoscant
08-01-2014, 08:51 PM
Niall Ferguson. I knew him before his superstardom...

I'm not a fan of my ex-wife's work, but not for any academic reasons, you understand.

chacoguy
08-01-2014, 09:01 PM
Shelby Foote and the Civil War

johnpost
08-01-2014, 09:17 PM
David McCullough, Shelby Foote and Jared Diamond are all good writers and have a good televised presence too.

if i would have to select a singular favorite it would be David McCullough.

Saintly Loser
08-01-2014, 09:19 PM
Another interesting general history of the Crusades is The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. I think most histories that Americans and Europeans read treat the Crusades from a western viewpoint. They start in Europe, talk about the background of Urban's pronouncement, and then follow the Crusaders to the Holy Lands.

Maalouf's book tells the story from a different viewpoint. He presents it from the point of view of the people in the Holy Lands who suddenly found themselves being invaded by foreign barbarians.

Right! I forgot that. I have a copy at home -- I think it's published by Penguin. One of these days I'm going to have to get around to reading it.

dropzone
08-01-2014, 10:59 PM
eta: And then I belatedly realized you're talking about the book series not the television series. The books were written as a companion work to a BBC series.Books, TV--they're all good.

Caught my wife watching a Schama documentary and thought for a moment, "Good. She's an English credit away from an Art History degree and loves to disagree with experts," but it was something about the Jews. By the way, nobody knows a documentary about 15th Century Italian altarpieces, do you? She'd love to disagree with that. However, she don't disagree with nuns about nuthin', so Sister Wendy is right out. :)

dropzone
08-01-2014, 11:32 PM
Jared Diamond. I love "Guns, Germs and Steel".Tried reading it, but it was all stuff I already knew and assumed was common knowledge and his theory seemed so obvious as to be boring. In retrospect it might have just been a topic I've long followed and thought about, not stuff everybody else knows.

Okay, how about Michael Wood? His books are more complete than his shows. And John Romer for his Egypt and Bible stuff. And I have to plug Adrienne Mayor (http://amazon.com/Adrienne-Mayor/e/B001HCZZ0A) because she contacted me after my booby trap (https://academicpursuits.us/columns/read/2217/were-ancient-tombs-really-booby-trapped) staff report. I think she thought I was Cecil.

Gatopescado
08-01-2014, 11:47 PM
David McCullough. I'll bet he is an awesome Grandpa.

Hector_St_Clare
08-02-2014, 12:56 AM
Runciman is great, I've read his "The Medieval Manichee." Eric Hobsbawm is awesome as well, though as a lifelong communist his political allegiances are going to be different than most Americans.

Knorf
08-02-2014, 01:13 AM
Isaac Asimov.

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