Wednesday 20 June 2012

Daniel Snowman (editor), Past Masters - The Best of History Today

daniel snowman past masters - the best of history today

Picking books at random has its good and bad sides, but with Past Masters - The Best of History Today I hit the bullseye.  A thoroughly delicious book.

I was drawn by the title - I do like to explore (and, in the privacy of my own head, condemn) power structures now and in the past.  Only back at home I discovered that Past Masters in not a monography, but an anthology.  As the subtitle explains, it is composed of pieces published in History Today magazine over last fifty years (counting back from the year 2001 when the book was published).

This is my first encounter with History Today, but after devouring Past Masters and a quick look at their website (I instantly fell in love with the crossword puzzle competition), I can honestly say - I want the subscription.  Right now it is outside my financial reach, but one day I'll get it and that's a promise.  I am not a huge fan of magazines in general (to put it mildly), so this is a huge compliment for HT editors.

I digress, back to the book.

Give me an essay collection and I'll be grateful.  Give me a good history book - likewise.  Give me a volume of well-written, history-related essays and I'll be instantly catapulted to the seventh heaven.  It took me some twenty pages of Past Masters to realise I'm in for a literary feast and no disappointment followed.  The book is diversified, with each essay touching on a different history issue and between antiquity and now there are plenty subjects to choose from.  Historians tend to be a colourful lot and one can see how much passion went into researching and writing all the articles.  Most topics are approached from rather unusual angles, so don't expect standard textbook fare.  Instead, feel free to expect food for thought and fuel for imagination.

I found Past Masters unbelievably inspiring. Every second chapter made me itch for some more knowledge on the discussed matter.  Even if I don't really do much historical research in my writing adventures, I felt like writing more, learning more.  I love books that fire my brain in this way.  It might be my own personal fancy or it might be a sign of the book's greatness.  You decide.

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