Students of history will know John Lukacs, after all he has written more than thirty books on the topic, including the critically acclaimed Five Days in London and A New Republic. In his new book The Future of History the master historian explores the literary art of history and the future of teaching, researching, and writing about the past.
John Lukacs is praised by critics as a historian who has the literary talents of a novelist. However, he has also been criticized for some of his strongly held neo-isolationalist beliefs, which have been characterised as somewhat unique for an anti-Communist emigre. A self-proclaimed reactionary, he believes that the Cold War was an unnecessary waste of American expense and life, but is also strongly critical of the administration of George W. Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 1946 Lukacs fled his home in Hungary and came to the United States to escape increasing Communist influence in the Hungarian government, and for more than sixty years, he has been writing, teaching, and reading about the past. In this new book, he turns his attention to the future. Throughout The Future of History, Lukacs reflects on his discipline, eloquently arguing that the writing and teaching of history are literary rather than scientific, comprising knowledge that is neither wholly objective nor subjective. History at its best, he contends, is personal and participatory.
Despite a recently unprecedented appetite for history among the general public, as evidenced by history television programme ratings, sales of popular history books, and increased participation in local historical societies, Lukacs believes that the historical profession is in a state of disarray. He traces a decline in history teaching throughout higher education, matched by a corresponding reduction in the number of history students. He reviews a series of short-lived fads within the profession that have weakened the fundamentals of the field.
In looking for a way forward, Lukacs explores the critical relationships between history and literature, including ways in which novelists have contributed to historical understanding. Through this startling and enlightening work, readers will understand Lukacs’ assertion that ‘everything has its history, including history’ and that history itself has a future, since everything we know comes from the past.
More books from John Lukacs
Many years after the conclusion of World War II, its consequences are still with us. In this probing book, the acclaimed historian John Lukacs raises perplexing questions about World War II that have yet to be explored. In a work that brilliantly argues for World War II’s central place in the history of the twentieth century, Lukacs applies his singular expertise toward addressing the war’s most persistent enigmas. The Second World War was Hitler’s war. Yet questions about Hitler’s thoughts and his decisions still remain. How did the divisions of Europe – and, consequently, the Cold War – come about? What were the true reasons for Werner Heisenberg’s mission to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in September 1941? What led to ‘Rainbow Five’, the American decision to make the war against Germany an American priority even in the event of a two-ocean world war? Was the Cold War unavoidable? In this work, which offers both an accessible primer for students and challenging new theses for scholars, Lukacs addresses these and other riddles, revealing the ways in which the war and its legacy still touch our lives today. More
This brilliant new work by the author of the best-selling “Five Days in London May 1940” is an unparalleled drama of two great leaders confronting each other in June, 1941. It describes Hitler and Stalin’s strange, calculating, and miscalculating relationship before the German invasion of Soviet Russia, with its gigantic (and unintended) consequences. John Lukacs questions many long-held beliefs; he suggests, for example, that among other things Hitler’s first purpose involved England: if Stalin’s Communist Russia were to be defeated, Hitler’s Third Reich would be well-nigh invincible, and the British and American peoples would be forced to rethink the war against Hitler. The book offers penetrating insights and a new portrait of Hitler and Stalin, moved by their long-lasting inclinations. Yet, among other things, Lukacs presents evidence that Hitler (rather than his generals) had moments of dark foreboding before the invasion. Stalin could not, because he wished not, believe that Hitler would choose the risk of a two-front war by attacking him; he was stunned and shocked and came close to a breakdown. But he recovered, grew into a statesman, and eventually became a prime victor of the Second World War. Such are the ironies of history; John Lukacs paints them with a shining narrative skill. More
In A New Republic, one of America’s most respected historians offers a major statement on the nature of our political system and a critical look at the underpinnings of our society. American democracy, says John Lukacs, has been transformed from an exercise in individual freedom and opportunity to a bureaucratic system created by and for the dominance of special groups. His book, first published in 1984 as Outgrowing Democracy, is now reissued with a new introduction, in which Lukacs explains his methodology, and a new final chapter, which sums up Lukacs’s thoughts on American democracy today.
Twenty years ago, John Lukacs paused to set down the history of his own thoughts and beliefs in Confessions of an Original Sinner, an adroit blend of autobiography and personal philosophy. Now, in Last Rites, he continues and expands his reflections, this time integrating his conception of history and human knowledge with private memories of his wives and loves, and enhancing the book with footnotes from his idiosyncratic diaries. The resulting volume is fascinating and delightful, a book of history by a passionate, authentic, brilliant, and witty man. Lukacs begins with a concise rendering of a historical understanding of our world (essential reading for any historian), then follows with trenchant observations on his life in the United States, commentary on his native Hungary and the new meanings it took for him after 1989, and deeply personal portraits of his three wives, about whom he has not written before. Last Rites is a richly layered summation combined with a set of extraordinary observations – an original book only John Lukacs could have written. More
Watch Lukacs discuss Last Rights (below)
The Future of History of available from Yale University Press