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Reading Reviews in the News

newspapersNeil has written before about how useful it can be to read one of the newspapers belonging to the ‘quality press’. To emphasise the point, there were a number of book reviews in the weekend papers which should be of interest to any student of history.

For instance, here’s Tom Holland – a writer of histories which have themselves been the recipients of occasionally sceptical reviews – writing about a new book from Matthew Kneale, An Atheist’s History of Belief:

Today, it is taken for granted by those writing in the post-Enlightenment tradition of historiography that religion, like any other expression of culture, should be analysed in exclusively human terms. The beginnings of Christianity are not to be explained with reference to a literal resurrection; the origins of the Qur’an are not to be traced back to the authorship of a god. Ignore such prescriptions, and a historian risks straying into the field of theology or apologetics.

[...] In what way, then, can a survey titled An Atheist’s History of Belief be held distinctive? The answer, based on the evidence of Matthew Kneale’s new book, seems to be if its author has a wholly reductive understanding of the function and appeal of beliefs in the supernatural.

Here, in your daily newspaper, is an entertaining piece of writing which is nevertheless engaging with current historiographical trends, linking with the sorts of debates I saw MacCulloch and Schama discuss last week, and offering suggestions for further reading (in this case, Ernest Bloch). Well worth spending some of your weekend keeping up with the Review section, then!

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