POLITICIANS, SOCIALISM AND HISTORIANS by A. J. P. Taylor

POLITICIANS, SOCIALISM AND HISTORIANS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The eminent, once controversial author of The Origins of the Second World War, among others, has in recent years become a BBC star, a purveyor of pop surveys (like the 1979 How Wars Begin), and the very model of a crusty old English historian. That image has been fostered through the writing of book reviews, many for the New Statesman and The Observer, which give Taylor the opportunity to pass judgment and toss around bits of erudition. The 50 ""essays"" here--written between 1952 and 1980--are mostly short book reviews (the exceptions range from an autobiographical essay from the Journal of Modern History to a travel piece on Lancashire for Vogue) which, taken together, cover a broad spectrum of prominent historical and biographical writing over a long period, but little else. What ties them together is Taylor's offhand style and his oft-repeated socialist leanings of indeterminate degree. Prefacing a longish essay on H. G. Wells, Taylor notes that, ""though I owe more to Bernard Shaw than to any other single writer, I owe more to H. G. Wells' Outline of History than to any other single book."" Aside from reflecting Taylor's sense of self-importance, this confession also pinpoints Taylor's archaic literary socialism. As a popularizer, Taylor the reviewer is good, but the brevity of the reviews, suitable to weeklies, gives them an insurmountable lack of depth. Chiefly for dipping--and into books now familiar mostly to specialists.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Stein & Day