cover image Eyewitness to History

Eyewitness to History

. Harvard University Press, $35 (706pp) ISBN 978-0-674-28750-1

This unusual 700-page anthology of eyewitness accounts invites readers to dine with Attila the Hun, gaze on daffodils with Dorothy Wordsworth, attend Gauguin's impromptu wedding to a Tonga girl and roam Africa with Stanley as he searches for Livingston. Carey, an Oxford professor, author of books on Dickens and Donne, had one criterion for inclusion of the selections: good reportage. Jack London describes a 1906 earthquake (``San Francisco is gone!''); Darwin interacts with friendly birds on the Galapagos; Walt Whitman records Lincoln's murder. The best writing, on balance, is by random observers rather than paid journalists. Some caveats: the selections lean heavily to war, misery, disasters; there's an overemphasis on British and colonial history; haphazard headnotes range from skimpy to nonexistent. These complaints aside, this collection (published in England as The Faber Book of Reportage ) is endlessly fascinating; its firsthand reports of acts of courage, cruelty, intolerance, discovery and simple pleasures burn indelible images into the mind. History Book Club and QPBC selection. (September)