Hummel Reviews Woods
By Bryan Caplan
Jeff Hummel, one of the most knowledgeable historians I personally know, has an interesting review online of Thomas Woods‘ Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. I haven’t read the book, but the review is a fun read. I particularly liked this part:
PIG’s marketing and packaging is, to be blunt, misleading. Libertarian (or conservative) objections to mainstream history, as it is currently written by academics and taught in colleges, rarely hinge on outright errors, dishonest research, or disputes about hard facts… Because professional historians tend to be concrete-bound, with almost undue reverence for facts over theory, factual details are not usually what gives rise to discordant interpretations. What differs is either the causal analysis or the ethical evaluation attached to those facts…
Such respect for simple accuracy applies as much to Thomas Woods himself as to other professional historians. He is a competent disciple of Clio who makes very few outright factual mistakes–certainly no more than inevitably yet inadvertently sneak into any history dealing with so broad a span of time… Thus, while THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY insinuates that it will expose myths and reveal hidden truths, the actual text delivers far less than the popular packaging promises. The efforts of Woods’s harsher critics to impugn his motives and accuse him of deliberate falsehoods turn out to have as little substance as Woods’s impugning of and accusations against left-wing historians.
I do however think that Hummel goes too far in his dismissal of Paul Johnson: “The hackneyed works of Paul M. Johnson, such as A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, have enjoyed an appalling popularity among libertarians, except those who actually know some history.” Johnson’s lost his way, but his History of Christianity and the first edition of Modern Times were great.