Historians seem to be undergoing some kind of crisis of confidence at the moment, particularly when it comes to presenting their work to the public. There are two opposing trends that dominate the publishing industry – towards a handful of highly promoted bestsellers at one extreme, and towards the book printed on demand at the other. As to bestsellers, only big subjects and popular writers are seen as viable. Of the ten or so books I have reviewed in the last two years, two have been by Ian Mortimer, two have been on the Black Death, and two have been on Agincourt. The middle ground, where so much excellent work used to appear, has vanished. Many well-written and well-presented titles will not now find a place on the bookshop shelves. These were often books of high academic standards, by professional historians, who were also elegant and approachable writers.
In the last month, Antony Beevor attacked the result of these trends in The Guardian, saying that ‘entertainment history is now the main source of supposedly historical knowledge for more and more people’, while Nigel Saul, professor of history at Royal Holloway College, reviewing a fairly dire work