What Makes an Authors Point of View More Important Than Your Own?

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Drew5233, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    If indeed it does?

    It appears to me that sometimes what is written in a book is regarded as gospel. Especially if it is written in several books-when it seems quite clear one book has just used the first as a source and written the same extract almost word for word?

    Is this like the saying 'Tell a lie enough and it becomes the truth'? Now I'm not saying that some authors are lying but I do wonder if some people choose to accept rather than reseach?

    I only ask because I now have well over a 100 books on the Dunkirk/ France Flanders campaign and many of the older ones (whilst interesting in their own right) are quite inaccurate in places when facts are crossed checked with other documents and accounts. I do find some of the more recent books, especially the ones with list after list of sources (the current one I'm reading has around 160 pages of sources!).

    Surely new evidence comes to light all the time that changes history? I know there are many things in the 1940 part of the forum that are being discovered all the time-Just look at the photograph threads as an example with units being identified for the first time in over 70 years and details being placed against the picture. Another thread of note is the death of Two Guardsman in Dirk's home town and IMO identifying the battalions CQMS shortly before he died of wounds - all recorded on film and the details never known.

    So why do people take the written word in one or two books as gospel and thats the end of it? Surely keeping an open mind with history is far better?

    Your thoughts?
  2. KevinC

    KevinC Slightly wierd

    Maybe reading one or two books that have the same "facts" is enough for some of us. Having 100 books on the same subject would drive me insane.
  3. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Your query reminds me of the main character in the musical Fiddler on the roof who constantly says "on the other hand" :)

    I sympathise with your predicament but know that at the end of the day you are savvy enough to decide which book is the nearest to what actually happened and that's probably as good as you are going to get !

    Best regards

  4. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    History depends to some extent on what part of the hill you got your view from. Some errors repeated become fact until higher formation signals and logs confirm a different story. No one source should be accepted as fact, regimental diaries are fine to an extent, they are not immune from human nature, a cock up might well be ignored or written up in a more favourable light. I'll hold my hands up to that, one of my duties (last NI tour) was to produce a NIREP a sort of intelligence newspaper of the last 24 hours sent to many units across the world (electronic means) early hours 0200hrs or there abouts - on occasion I tidied up a report! Future regimental historians will note that although I was not stating falsehoods the 'facts' might not tie up with the signal logs from Tac HQ!

    In one publication of the NIREP I did not have enough room (!) to log an event which was logged at higher formation. The day in question at 2100hrs the divisional computer system closed down right across the div area. One minute after it closed my office phone rang - what happened asked the Royal Signals guy running the show, I explained, he laughed and said you have lost your tour gold star! Every evening at 2055hrs approx I would go to a large cabinet open the combination lock and using a coded light and switch system run a crypto tape through a reader at as near to 2100hrs as possible, go through the lights and switch system close up shred the daily crypto tape and on we would go - I got up stood in front of the cabinet the combination I had been using for five months went from my mind, not the complex stuff the damned combination! The system closed down -RHIP - being editor and publisher of the NIREP I had editorial control and to my mind this was a non story. The Signals WO rang me next day and said it's in the log Wullie!
  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Hello Andy

    Perhaps with more detailed reading an individual can and does enquire further re stated facts and can build their own opinion based on books/forum/research/study whilst taking on board new findings.That way you do not become dependant on one view point.

    I think unless your area is specific it is usually difficult to gain your true grounding in the detail and if you read one book on the subject the individual either takes that as "true" or decides to further investigate.

    Being on this forum is extremely helpful because we can crib the areas outside of our expertise and build an open opinion based on a wide area of facts/thoughts/opinions.

  6. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    An open mind with some specific personal prejudices, which are sometimes hard to shift, is probably my mantra when I read and "research" any particular matter(thanks, Dad).

    In recent years, I have had the privilege of reviewing my father's wartime service from his arrival in Algiers on 22 Nov 1942 to the time when he en-trained from Villach on 2 March 1946.

    The original source for my understanding of my Dad's war time was his written memoirs - he wrote them in the 1990s but only showed them to us in 2005 or so. At the time, I was stunned by his detailed recollections of the 3 1/2 years he spent away from home. After we'd read his story. we had a chance to discuss the period with him - and it soon became clear that the story had the "benefit" of many years of personal incubation and included recollections stimulated by discussions at annual regimental reunions.

    Since discovering his story, I have now read more widely about the period of my father's - including all the citations for awarded medals within his battalion (written at the time), the battalion/brigade official histories and war diaries (again contemporary), a range of personal narratives (both published and unpublished), brigade / divisional / army level and wider campaign histories. I have met many veterans including some of my father's pals who were also present in Africa/Italy, talked to others who have written about the campaigns, have walked quite a number of the various battlefields, and met families who were living on the front line during the battle periods.

    I'm not a historian, but from a lay person point of view, I am increasingly moved by the jig saw of individual story and perspective from that period nearly 70 years ago. I do give extra "weight" to my father's story and other first hand personal accounts (warts and all), but also highly value the contemporary official ones for their immediacy (and recognising that they may be economical ..) and the more recent contextualised versions for their detailed analyses. I think that you can easily favour those that support an original supposition, but the contrary / revisionist view points will always stimulate a greater understanding of the range of historic happening - even when you don't quite disagree with an author's viewpoint.

    Also I love reading books (thanks again, Dad).

  7. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    von Poop likes this.
  8. Vitesse

    Vitesse Senior Member

    History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other. (Philip Guedalla)

    I'm sure that in too many cases, subsequent authors just aren't prepared to do the groundwork and are content to rely on the "fact" that their predecessors did a good job on the original sources and came to the "correct" conclusions, having left no stone unturned.

    In my own specialist field of 1930s and 1940s motor sport history, everyone tends to rely on three major works, one published in 1966 and the others in 1986 and 1995. None of them is without its faults. And in some cases they're just plain wrong. But that doesn't stop the mistakes being perpetuated. I wouldn't pretend there is academic rigour in motor sport history - because in general there isn't - but just by returning to original press sources I've been able to reinterpret quite a few of these myths.

    As just one example: thanks to a mistake in an English magazine report in September 1939, the history of one particular model of Maserati has been misrepresented ever since. Two of this type were allegedly supposed to race in a cancelled event in Zurich in early October of that year. Because of the status of the author who "discovered" this in 1968, that's accepted as gospel and can be found in subsequent books and all over t'interweb. However, I've found Italian press reports which make it perfectly clear that the cars didn't even exist at that point and that the engine was only undergoing bench tests in early November!

    Even when I know an author's sources, I try to go back to the original if possible. It's often surprising when I find what they left out, simply because it didn't fit their narrative ...;)
    dbf likes this.
  9. Jakob Kjaersgaard

    Jakob Kjaersgaard Senior Member

    You should write a book about this, Andy :D
    dbf likes this.
  10. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Its a very valid point Andy and one that deserves to be explored. Wasnt that the reason Stephen Ambrose got into such trouble, a failure to crosscheck dates and facts in some of his books?

    For the amateur historian its always good to get as much info as time and money will allow on a subject. You can't place your faith in just one source. A mixture of books, veteran accounts and perhaps (if available) regimental diaries can certainly help to tease out the bigger picture.
  11. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Ever thought of doing an OU course, Andy?
    This sort of thing is one of the first things you hit on in most History courses, and I've a funny feeling you'd find it fascinating after several years of the stuff you've been doing with documents & the BEF.

    Few books mentioned in this thread of Ger's that you might enjoy:
    WW2Talk - The Trouble with History.
    ('Enjoy' is probably not the right word for a couple of 'em... but they're at least interesting on this sort of stuff.)
  12. Rob Dickers

    Rob Dickers 10th MEDIUM REGT RA

    For what it's worth,
    In my experience never ever belive anything written as gospel. Read as much as you can on the given subject and get down an overview, then research as much as possible from original documents, higher formation reports etc and cross check, this could take years to get somewhere near the truth of the matter and you will always find not known additional information not reported elsewhere, but after 70 odd years you will still never be 100% accurate in your assumptions.
  13. wowtank

    wowtank Very Senior Member

    To quote the Simpsons when Bart and Mill-house are talking about a conspiracy theory book. "it's in a book so it must be true." People have a go about Wiki but there are so many mistakes in books? and I guess it is like newspapers spin something one way to prove your point or to sell more.

    Also many books are written (for want of a better word ) by Fan-boys not a very analytically way to do things.
  14. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    From my experience I have found that is that it is better to read books by the people who were there. I have been researching 56 Recce and when I found he was in 78 Division (Battleaxe) I have read a couple of books about this divisions war.
    I have just finished reading Algiers to Austria by Cyril Ray who was a war correspondent attached to 78 Division and I must say it was a fascinating insight into their war. He was there with them throughout their campaigns and together with the war diaries I have found just about everything I need to know about my fathers war.

  15. m kenny

    m kenny Senior Member

    I find the biggest problem is expecting to find out everything about a given event.
    Rarely are you able to have a complete timeline and an explaination for everything. Gaps have to be filled and 'we' use our common sense and fill the blank with the most reasonable reading of the situation. Someone comes along later and re-tells your guess and now it is fact.
    That and the idiotic way everything without a complete record is refered to as a 'mystery'.
    Take the late Ian Daglish as an example. His recent Normandy titles contain some very detailed descriptions (complete with maps and photos) of small actions that can not fail to impress you. However I know someone working on one of these actions and despite the wealth of documentation supplied by Daglish I now know Ian got the story wrong because the location he used is not where it happened! (I can not add anything so please do not ask for further details.)
    This is not to disparage Daglish but just to show no matter how thorough you are you will always have make assumptions and some will turn out to be wrong.
    Mind you the tighter you restrict your view then the better you are able to expound on the subject. Having looked into Villers Bocage in some detail it astounds me that respected authors like George Forty (but by no means just him) can write about the battle and get so much wrong.
    Dan Taylor's book on Villers is considered 'the' reference on the subject but the amount of new information that has come to light since it was published means it is out of date. Note that this is no reflection on Daniel as he knows about all the new discoveries. It just is a reminder that a book (any book) is out of date the moment it is printed.
  16. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    From my experience I have found that is that it is better to read books by the people who were there.

    Yes, but...


    Jonathan Ball likes this.
  17. 26delta

    26delta Senior Member

    History depends to some extent on what part of the hill you got your view from. Some errors repeated become fact until higher formation signals and logs confirm a different story.

    Sometimes it's the higher formation signals that are the source of revised history. I remember an incident in November 1967 where we were directed to change the daily reports to strike an incident that occurred a day or two prior. In those days, we used to type three ORIGINAL copies of the the report. You can imagine what a pain that must be when the original documents had to be letter perfect -- all stating the same exact detail. Also imagine that our unit was only one of several who were directed to delete the same incident.
  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Many thanks for your comments and all are pretty much as I was thinking myself in one way or another.

    Just some observations I have found myself on the following:

    Veterans Books: Whilst I love the personal aspect of their war, especially the mundane non-fighting/combat parts. I do tend to question aspects of their account of the wider picture. Whilst I understand and appeciate they were there I fought in a war to and still don't know what happened outside of my own troop apart from the fact we won. So it does make me wonder sometimes where that infomation came from. Someone once said to me that the problem with veterans books that are written at a later age, many years after the event is their recollections may have become impaired by further reading of the subject many years after the war. There are obviously exceptions to every rule and certainly there is in this case when I think of Ron Goldstein's most excellent diary.

    War Diaries and other Archives: These, I think, can be quite similiar in some cases to the above. After all they are written by veterans at the time or as near as dam it to the events recorded actually happening. I do find these the most exciting to read and at the same time the most frustrating if a piece of infomation, that is so imortant today, but at the time insignificant is missing, either way I always feel quite priveledged to handle the documents let alone read them. Only this Saturday I was handling and reading numerous BEF post cards that were found on a murdered British Soldier. I know Rob Dickers will know what I mean about a missing piece of information as he is currently on a crusade himself. War Diaries do have their faults though, which when considering the circumstances around 70 years ago I think can be forgiven. Dates and Locations seem to be the most popular errors in these files, if errors do exsist.

    WW2 Published Books: Not having read many of these they do come across with the mindset of the time in my opinion which can be quite interesting. One that particulary springs to mind was the first book officially published a year after Op Dynamo and is full of errors. This again is understandable when you consider that it took many years to start to understand what happened in France during 1940.

    Mid Modern Books: By this I mean the books published in the 60's, 70's and 80's. These tend to be a bit more factual and accurate but still contain errors, again in my opinion. As has already been mention as soon as a book is published its out of date, it certainly is as more facts come to light and secrets are unlocked with the passage of time. I think these are the books most of us tend to read who are enthusiastic about a particular aspect of WW2, probably because there are so few new books on our chosen subjects. Whilst they may contain errors I still think these books are very important as they tend to give us the foundations which we and newer authors build on and rightly so as long as all the research boxes are ticked and its not just a quick bit of re-writing or a cut and paste.

    Modern Books: These I class as the 1990's to date and I find they fall into two (probably more) interesting catergories. The first that contain lots of veteran accounts printed verbatum from sound archives held at places like the IWM. Whilst they can be interesting I almost feel sometimes the author is taking a short cut to his/her research and just telling us what others have said. Which is fine but going back to veterans books it isn't always 100% accurate. They are quite easy to read, certainly I finish these books the quickest. Whether thats because I find them easy to read or don't have much to ponder or reflect on as I read them I'm not sure. The second catergory is the thoroughly well researched book like what I'm currently reading. This book has over 160 pages containing just the resources alone. I find these the longest books to read. I usually have a paper sheet in the book as a book mark and find myself taking notes and thinking in depth about what the author has written. Perhaps these authors have an advantage over authors from yester-year as they have a wealth of archives and other information available to them-Either way I find these are by far the most well researched books and the most interesting to read in my opinion.

    I suspect I've missed heaps out and its just a quick take on things in my opinion.
  19. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Heard something on the radio yesterday where an author said something about memory of an event & the retelling of those events.
    She said after a time , the memory being recalled isnt of the actual event but of the memory of the retelling of that event with all the extra bits that get added on to it.
    I hope that makes sense?
  20. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Heard something on the radio yesterday where an author said something about memory of an event & the retelling of those events.
    She said after a time , the memory being recalled isnt of the actual event but of the memory of the retelling of that event with all the extra bits that get added on to it.
    I hope that makes sense?

    Yep, and it has been written about. I wish I could find a WW2 book as an example but I can't so forgive me for linking to this one...

    The Great War: Myth and Memory: Amazon.co.uk: Dan Todman: 9781852854591: Books

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