ALLAN NEVINS ON HISTORY by Ray Allen--Ed. Billington


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Perhaps more useful than a standard biography, these 30 essays, written from the late '20s to shortly before Nevins' death in 1971, express his approach to history and writing. Nevins, who taught a heavy schedule at Columbia for over a generation, is now best known for his Civil War studies. These pieces exhibit an essential conservatism despite Nevins' nods in the direction of newer historical methods such as interdisciplinary use of economics, demography, psychology and sociology. His affinity for 19th century rationalism comes through in essays on George Bancroft, John Lothrop Motley, and Francis Parkman, all historians of the ""Golden Age."" Nevins' ideal is industrialist-turned-historian John Ford Rhodes, while he condemns the foreign-born Hermann yon Holst for his Radical Republican interpretation of American history. Nevins' enthusiasm for ""efficiency"" can be seen in his encomia to men like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, whom he defends against the muckrakers, and in his belief that the ""individualist"" must accede to collective economic structures and corporative political forms. Nevins' concern with literary style leads him to take pains with ""presenting facts in an attractive garb""; several essays effectively ridicule both pedants and falsifying popularizers. Deeper issues of method remain on the edge, as when the role of the ""great man"" in history is side-stepped by making the issue appear unworthy of consideration. A gentlemanly book by an old-fashioned scholar.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Scribners