Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations) by Simon Schama - review by Christopher Silvester

Christopher Silvester

Exploring the Nature of Historical Truth

Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations)

By

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Simon Schama is a professional historian who teaches at Harvard University. He is also a popular historian, whose 1983 book about the French Revolution, Citizens, became a well-deserved bestseller. But he is not a popular historian in the A J P Taylor mould, fascinated by problems of historical causation and able to express them in a compellingly precise style. Instead his approach is literary and digressive, seeking to establish mood and colour, given to flights of fancy (some of which appear overworked and absurd) and to 'fine' (even purple) writing. He reminds me a little of G M Young. It is the whimsicality of his inquiry and the quality of phrasing that counts.

In this book - two historical novellas bracketed together with a commentary about the nature of history - he attempts to satisfy both professional and popular audiences, and although the confection is not unpleasant I believe it falls between two stools. What is more, I think Professor Schama realises this.

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