“How to Discuss a Book for History”

After finishing reading the first of two big sections of books that I need to have read for my Monday history courses, I certainly gleaned some helpful hints from this article. . .

If you are just beginning your study of history, you may find yourself wanting to make comments like the ones listed below. These hypothetical comments are quite commonly heard in undergraduate classes, and they are fine as far as they go. But this post is designed to help you make your comments go farther. These show, at a minimum, that you engaged with the book beyond a memorization of what it said; you had the beginnings of a “conversation” with the author. But each of these good comments, with a little more thinking and preparation, can become great comments.

“I didn’t like this book. The topic just didn’t interest me.”

If the subject of the book was boring to you, see if you can figure out why the authorfound the topic interesting. What are the differences between you and the author that might explain why he or she spent years researching this subject?

Is there a section of the book in which the author makes the case for the topic’s significance? If so, focus on that section and try to tease out why it didn’t convince you.

If the topic of the book didn’t interest you, you may not be alone. Often writers take up a subject because they have found that previous historians or writers never thought to consider it. See if there is a section in the book that discusses what previous writers have said about this topic. You may find an earlier camp that shared your lack of interest in the topic; see if you agree with their reasons, and if so, think about how you would explain why the topic lacks significance.

On the other hand, be aware that your dislike of the topic might not be universally shared. Consider more specifically why other writers whom the book mentions have considered this topic. Look back at the previous or later reading assignments made by your professor, and see if you can make a guess about why this topic was included in this class. Does it connect with other themes or questions that have come up? If so, name those connecting themes, and if not, point this out by saying specifically why the topic seems out of place or “not like the others” in the course.

Finally, think carefully about whether your negative reaction to the book was due to the content or the author’s style of presentation. If the latter, you may have had reactions like the next two.

Read the entire article, here.

-Phil

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About

Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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Posted in The Ways Historians Think, Thoughts from Other Historians

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