David Cannadine is a busy chap. In addition to producing a steady stream of scholarly books, he is actively involved with the National Portrait Gallery, English Heritage, the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, the Kennedy Memorial Trust, the Royal Mint, and the History of Parliament project. With such qualifications, it might be allowed that he has something to say about the writing and purpose of history. Having just retired as director of the Institute of Historical Research, he now feels moved to say it. According to him, academic historians must still ‘work harder’ at ‘explaining – to our paymasters and to the public – what it is we actually do, and why it is that we actually do it’.
Ten chapters follow. Most take a major strand of contemporary history writing, in order to point up its successes and limitations. In discussions on monarchy and Parliament, for example, the study of high politics and high culture is pronounced respectable, and rescued from the stigma of being a private vice.