"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
April 20, 2019 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some authors / historians who draw on the parallels of historical events to give context to today.

I was speaking to a delightful 85-year journalist (retired) recently. He was reminding me of how current events making the headlines have already happen in some shape or another in the past. He lamented how some journalists think they are covering new ground and sometimes don't have enough historical perspective to realise there're actually not.

Co-incidentally, I read an article the following day in The Atlantic where the outgoing French ambassador to the USA makes some subtle digs about Jared Kushner's lack of historical perspective on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Can anybody recommend some books where the author deals with the parallels of history and importance of understanding them?
posted by jacobean to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. A classic.
posted by Morpeth at 7:11 AM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer and The Age of Catherine de Medici by J.E. Neale both mention historical parallels with the Nazi era.
posted by clawsoon at 9:04 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Manias, Panics, and Crashes by Charles P. Kindleberger discusses the follies which keep repeating themselves in financial history.
posted by clawsoon at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2019

There was a book a couple of years ago called "Are We Rome?" by Cullen Murphy, who was the editor of the Atlantic at the time. And by a couple, I mean probably 15.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2019

Best answer: You might enjoy the BBC Radio 4 show The Long View. Episodes are available here:


In each episode they interview historians, trying to contextualise current events.

It has a UK focus, of course.
posted by HoraceH at 9:41 AM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

The podcast Backstory is by a team of history professors highlighting recurring themes in US history, which I think suits your brief pretty well.
posted by janell at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's a little focused on education and curriculum in schools, but What is Curricular Theory? by William Pinar does a pretty good job of using history as an allegory for the state of education in the US.
posted by Snowishberlin at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2019

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder is pretty much this.
posted by Gotanda at 7:14 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century was specifically written because Tuchman believed the problems of the 14th century illuminated the problems of the 20th. It also happens to be a great read.
posted by ubiquity at 5:38 AM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Great topic!

Came here to recommend the Tuchman book and the Eighteenth Brumaire, so glad to see they've been mentioned.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is sorta in this vein.

Richard Hofstadter's essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" was later collected in a book of essays under the same title, and draws a number of interesting parallels between the nineteen-sixties and earlier periods of American history. His Anti-Intellectualism in American Life won a Pulitzer, and although the lines aren't always as spelled out as they are in Paranoid Style, reading between the lines there are an astonishing number of obvious connections between his observations in that book and various period of history, including the current one.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:10 AM on April 21, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you everybody. Those resources are amazing.
posted by jacobean at 5:34 AM on April 22, 2019

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