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The line between creative literature and history attenuates when one gives it a critical look. To begin with, the very definition of history encompasses literature. History is the study of past human events and activities. Creative literature on the other hand entails in part the incisive analysis of the human as one goes about these activities, bringing out and highlighting his/her folly or achievement for ridicule or praise. Both disciplines fall under the broad category of what is known as humanities. History supplies the subject matter for literature. While reading The Eight, I’m stumped by the history that formulates the background of the creative story about the mystery of a lost chess service. Historical names flood the pages: Marat, Robespierre, Talleyrand, Jaques-Louis David, Ben Franklin, Jefferson, Wordsworth, Blake, James Boswell, Rousseau, Napoleon, Catherine the Great, Bach, the mathematician Euler, Benedict Arnold, and on and on. Historical event of which I have a vague understanding from history classes prompt the need for a refresher course. What were the causes of the French Revolution? What was the role of the Catholic Church?

Although the meeting of some of these characters are imaginary, their historical backgrounds are usually nothing short of accurate. I feel compelled to read history, to re-familiarize myself with the key historical events that have over a slow-churned process have molded the world today. The New Penguin History of The World, conveniently sized, is a comprehensive yet succinct overview of the world. This can be a challenging read from cover to cover, but for now I primarily use it as a reference. I would look up the relevant time period of the novel and peruse the details. This book has provided me with handholds with which I have begun—and only begun–to gain a grasp on some context within which all of these events occurred. For example, I cannot tell you how helpful it is to consider the history of the Near and Middle East in the Twentieth Century within the framework of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire along with the background of that empire itself as it existed over centuries previously.


4 Responses

  1. On the topic of historical fiction I can’t recommend enough I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. Real impressive stuff. Though Gore Vidal has his own Empire series, of which Burr and Lincoln are easily the best, that embodies the sort of thinking you have going on here.

    • I read I, Claudius years ago when I was in college and it begs a re-read. Robert Graves is pretty serious stuff. By Gore Vidal I have only read The City of the Pillar.

  2. I have been reading this book for the past month. As I am retired I have the luxury of reading in the morning while the house is still quiet. I have been reading about a chapter a day or a chapter over two days. Then I move on to the other reading material I have. I’m slowly getting through this book and thoroughly enjoying it. Don’t understand all of it but the time periods are falling into place and that chronology is valuable. Enjoy your posts.

    • I think reading small installments is the best way to approach a book of such size and subject matter like history. History can be so dry especially if you are forced to read it for a class over time constraint. I think it’s best to take it slowly and let the information go through your mind. For now I’m sing the book for historical reference when i come up something I don’t understand in novels.

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