Piers Brendon

Looking Back

The Future of History


Yale University Press 177pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

When Macaulay tried to read Kant he complained that the only sentences he could understand were the Latin quotations. Readers of John Lukacs’s The Future of History may experience similar difficulties. The author rightly believes that history should aspire to the condition of literature and he cites a wide range of excellent sources to sustain that view. The poet Adam Zagajewski declares, for example, that many modern historians ‘write in an inhuman, ugly, wooden, bureaucratic language from which all poetry’s been driven, a language flat as a wood louse and petty as the daily paper’. Unfortunately Lukacs’s own prose clouds his meaning at almost every turn. He pens sentences without verbs, slaps in dashes everywhere, puts parentheses within parentheses, and constantly interrupts the flow of ideas with qualifications and syntactical obstructions. His style might be described as dam of consciousness.

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