On reading history

It's clear that not all history is equally interesting, or equally popular.  Sometimes it seems that at least three quarters of all history books are about either the American Civil War or World War II, with most of the remainder devoted to the Founding Fathers,  the British Empire, and maybe a bit about the Winning of the West. In this case, English-speaking people triumphing over other races and nationalities (sometimes nobly over each other) is what makes it "interesting".

So, when history buffs get exasperated because students, particularly those of other ethnic backgrounds, ask how any of this is relevant, they should think twice.  Reading about young men on battlefields or middle-aged men in council chambers is a more specialized taste than it might first appear.  And believe me, I fit right into the demographic.

But despite the wails I used to read about overly technical monographs by professional historians and the death of narrative history, I think we are living through a kind of golden age of pop historical writing--as we are of pop science writing.  As a result, I can read three excellent books on the fall of the Roman Empire in close succession, and then start a fourth, Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000, to find out what happened after it.

I know, I know:  Romans didn't speak English, but movies make it seem like they did, and so this hasn't moved that far from the Anglotriumphalism of mainstream history reading. At least it's about a defeat. That should count for something.

Next time: periods of history with narrative, periods without. Is the difference real, or just a matter of whether a great historian was around?