James Banner, Jr. and John Gillis
University of Chicago Press 2009
When I was young, I remember going to my high school library (not to study, mind you) and thinking “Who the hell reads all these books? And who writes them?” Just a few years later I found myself enrolling in a graduate program in history to do both. I’d always been interested in history, by which I mean things that go off, blow up, or otherwise maim and kill. Yes, I admit it, my entry point into history was, well, war. But really my historical career (if you can call it that) was more or less an accident caused by my arbitrary assignment to this man in college. I wanted to play basketball; he wanted me to study history. As it happened, I was better at the latter than the former (though I did school Barack Obama once upon a time). My stumble into academic history was far from unique, as you can read in James M. Banner, Jr. and John R. Gillis’s interesting book Becoming Historians (University of Chicago, 2009). Not surprisingly, almost no one grows up wanting to be a historian. Astronaut, baseball player, doctor, yes–historian, no. History–and especially hardcore academic history–is clearly an acquired taste. Banner and Gillis asked nine historians born around World War II to explain how they acquired it. The results are fascinating. Let me tell you, academic history ain’t what it used to be. If you want to know how and why, read this book.
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