Philobiblon: A revision of the revision

Friday, June 24, 2005

A revision of the revision

Now I'm as much a sucker for a nice revisionist history as the next person ... everyone else has got it wrong, but here's the TRUTH ... but I was puzzled by the reception in the London press of Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.

The reviews seem to have swallowed it hook, line and sinker: everyone thought he was a great leader, but now it has been shown he was a pathological psychopath with no special skills or outstanding qualities. See for example The Times and The Telegraph. Now you might argue those are right-wing sources, but theGuardian is only slightly more critical.

Blood & Treasure provides an essential critical corrective.


Blogger jrm said...

Hmmm. Perhaps it's because I'm from California, but the Times review really stunned me. If you want to appall a Californian, tell him/her you admire Mao Zedong. Usually he's regarded as the "forgotten Stalin," the really nastily odious tyrant (by virtue of his perceived Luddite tendencies).

To be honest, I own a stack of history books printed in the UK over the period 1920-1970. In all of them, the British Empire is portrayed in the most glowing colors imaginable. Then, a few years ago, I noticed a new book about the history of the British Empire, of UK provenance. The dust jacket began something like this:

"For decades, the memory of the British Empire has been sullied with abuse. But new research by _ and _ proves that, in fact, this was the closest thing to utter global bliss and perfection that ever was..."

Or something like that. Meanwhile, John Snow's book is usually cited to "prove" that non-John Birchers were all seduced by Mao's charms. Ditto, Mr. Duranty.

6/26/2005 09:40:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

As you suggest, while thre revisionist trope has its origins in academia, it does seem particularly virulent in popular history

6/26/2005 07:53:00 pm  

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