THE USES AND ABUSES OF HISTORY by Margaret Macmillan (Viking Canada), 194 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NN
There's no doubt that Margaret Macmillan is one of Canada's best historians. Her ability to construct engrossing narratives about past events has also made her one of the world's bestselling historians.
That's why her new book, The Uses And Abuses Of History, is such a letdown.
It examines the impact of earlier events on global society and argues that no incident of importance is really relegated to the past. Presumed wrongs become festering hatreds that are passed down through generations, sometimes leading to new atrocities.
Macmillan packs her book with examples to back up her points, and that's one of the main problems. Topics that deserve deep probing receive shallow analysis and are smothered in factoid after factoid.
Much of this is neither new nor original. For example, in her chapter Presenting History's Bill, she makes the point that Palestinians and Israelis disagree on every facet of the history of the region.
Really? No kidding.
The most interesting chapter is about the use of history as a guide to avoiding future disasters. A long passage by T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, lambastes the 1920s British government for its bloody occupation of Iraq. Bush and his advisers would have done well to read about the bloody messes made of past military incursions into Iraq.
The Uses And Abuses Of History is an unfortunate miss. It could have been a valuable tool in understanding how events can be manipulated and how officially sanctioned history is often an instrument of totalitarianism.
It would have been better had Macmillan taken her time writing the book. It's history - why rush?