cover image Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History

Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History

Bernard Bailyn. Knopf, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-87447-9

Bailyn (The Barbarous Years), a Pulitzer Prize winner and emeritus Harvard historian, has long pursued the history of the era of the American Revolution, of the ideas that animate humans, and, in his latest works, of the peopling of the Western Hemisphere. Here, his muscular style undiminished, Bailyn reflects on all three subjects, plus the challenges of thinking historically. The nine essays in this volume, three of them previously unpublished, go back as far as 1954, the latest being from 2007. Nonspecialists shouldn’t be daunted by the subjects of the essays—current trends (not so current now) in historical scholarship, why history’s losers must be made part of the story of the past, the history of Britain’s provinces, and comparisons between the settling of North America and Australia. Though these essays have no argumentative thread, no single shared link, everything Bailyn tackles is written about authoritatively and winningly. One wishes only that this master historian had rounded out the implication of his book’s title: yes, history is sometimes an art, but what of the times when it isn’t? Otherwise, it’s an omnium-gatherum of this master historian’s scholarship over six decades. (Jan.)