cover image History as Mystery

History as Mystery

Michael Parenti. City Lights Books, $14.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-87286-357-6

Parenti (Democracy for the Few, etc.) argues that history is written by the victors, and he doesn't like it one bit. That's mostly because, as a progressive, his sympathies lie largely with history's losers. Historians, Parenti insists, have promoted gross miseducation across the board, abandoning ""what really happened"" in favor of a ""pro-business, anti-labor"" view of history. In his effort to ""set things right,"" he turns, first, to the writings of historical textbooks, blaming ""the powers that be""--historians, publicists, publishers, Publishers Weekly, the culture at large--for sustaining a ""mainstream orthodoxy."" Parenti then turns to Christianity's suppression of paganism, seen microscopically in Constantine's silencing of Porphyry, to conclude that, as with all hegemonies, Christian teaching and preaching is really just an ""ideological justification for the worldly interests of a ruthless slaveholding class."" The problem is that Parenti is a much better complainer than he is an explainer. He's at his best when he localizes his argument in a chapter that takes on the ""strange death"" of President Zachary Taylor. Only there is the mysterious process by which speculation transforms into official record given ample analysis. Parenti wants a people's history, not just another account of the ""gentrification of history."" Yet the actual story here is slanted, jumbled--tailored to fit Parenti's all-too-familiar contentions, illustrated at times with bullet points. (Sept.)