Review by Choice Review
Banner's central contention is undeniable: although works on historiography abound, very few have delved deeply into either the subject or history of revisionism. This book masterfully addresses these lacunae and will become a modern starting point for future discussions of this topic. An early chapter on the shifting interpretations regarding the causes of the American Civil War demonstrates that understanding both the historian and her/his/their time is crucial for uncovering the origins, reception, and significance of a new outlook. Using the metaphor of geological strata, revisionism is seen as a layer, both dependent on what came before as well as something new and different (and, ultimately, superseded). This is followed by two chapters that survey major revisions of Western historical understanding (classical, Christian, Marxist, and modern) and a chapter that undertakes a basic typology of revision (e.g., philosophical, conceptual, evidence-based, method-driven). An exploration of the changing perspectives on the French Revolution, as well as on how museologists, historians, and the public disagreed over what to include in the display of the Enola Gay in the National Air and Space Museum, wonderfully illustrates how revisionism reflects and revises the present. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty. --Robert T. Ingoglia, St.Thomas Aquinas College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A rallying cry in favor of historians who, revisiting past subjects, change their minds. All history responsibly practiced, writes Banner--a former professor at Princeton and founder of the National History Center of the American Historical Association--is properly revisionist, acknowledging that "historians' understanding of major subjects have almost never stood still." That understanding runs athwart of some readers and interpreters of history--e.g., Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for one, who remarked that he was going to spend a summer reading about the history of slavery, but "not the 'revisionists.' " It is the revisionists, however, who have given us the modern and prevailing view that the Civil War was fought less over states' rights than over slavery. That view morphed through the "Lost Cause" theories of the Southern agrarians, which "were by no means out of keeping with the general conservative intellectual mood of much of the country," and the anti-capitalist leanings of Charles and Mary Beard, whose book, The Rise of American Civilization, was required reading a century ago. Historians today give primacy to slavery while allowing "many other, less fundamental immediate triggers of the conflict" to the roster. Other topics of revisionist dissection include the French Revolution, which has been attributed to "monarchical despotism" and "an aroused working class" alike; and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, viewed as both necessary in saving the lives of American soldiers and ending World War II and as a horrific and racist act that is essentially indefensible. With a nod to the distant past, Banner contrasts the historiographic leanings of Herodotus and Thucydides, the former a storyteller who crafted grand moral tales about the struggle between Eastern tyranny and Western democracy, the latter "someone caught up in the events he sought to understand." In clear, occasionally dry prose, Banner, who has been teaching and writing history for more than five decades, capably defends a method that turns on "fidelity to fact and independence of judgment." Rewarding reading for serious students of history. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.