Good Reads 58: Best One Hour History: The Renaissance

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An ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review

While browsing NetGalley, this caught my eye. Why? This tease of a text below:

What if, for the price of a latte and an hour of your time, you could really learn about and enjoy history? We’re not just talking about memorizing dates and names, but truly grasping the ideas, feelings and passion behind major events and how humans have clashed over them for centuries?

The Best One-Hour History series by history teacher Robert Freeman is for those who want a quick but coherent overview of major historical events. It will also serve those who need a competent high-level introduction before going further. Each volume is less than 60 pages long and provides a clear and concise account of the episode under discussion. Details include the context in which it arose, the major actors, the event itself, and the major consequences. In about an hour, the reader will obtain a thorough understanding of why each subject holds iconic status in Western Civilization. And it will NOT be boring!

Challenge accepted.

For the record, I am not the intended audience of this book: I was a history major in college. That said, I have all too often heard the complaints about the subject being boring and I fully agree with the author that it’s because you just haven’t been fortunate enough to read “good” history. So when I saw this, I had to wonder if this book could live up to its claims. And did it?

For the most part, I’d say yes. First and foremost, it nails the high-level overview part. I’d say that the best comparable to this book would be the lecture a professor gives on the first day of classes once the attendance and discussion of the syllabus had occurred. You get the outline for the course, but no real detail. You’ll learn enough to recognize a concept, say humanism, and have an idea of what it is. For something that aims to be a high-level review, I think it has met its goal.

The version I got review was not yet finished, and there was a note from the author stating he hoped that the items in italics (usually the name of a text or a painting) would be clickable and launch you into Google. I do hope that this made it into the final e-book version because I can see this as enabling human desire to delve deeper into a topic that catches their interest – think a trip to TV Tropes or Wikipedia.

If I have any gripes about this title, it’s that I feel like it could have used a bit more editing. The author discussions how the development of the merchant class helped to dismantle feudalism no less than three separate times. Given that the book is very short – around 55 pages or so – that repetition stood out and not in a good way.

Finally, I’m not entirely sure that he managed to avoid the claim that it won’t be boring. The short nature of the book means the author doesn’t have time for the kind of anecdotes that (for me at least) truly brought history to life. These are pretty cut and dry and I’m not sure that someone who is disinterested will be converted.

Overall, this is a solid introduction to the subject and I imagine the other titles will be as well. It’d be a good read for someone brand new to a specific aspect of history. If the e-books do round themselves out with a series of solid links (and not just a pre-filled Google-search) it could even be a good reference tool for someone taking an intro-level course.

Verdict: At only $5.98 per, it’s a solid Buy It for a high-school/college freshman student in your life or just dipping their toes in the water. Someone looking for a refresher course, something more in depth or something “fun” may want to keep looking.

P.S. And yes, this is indeed something you can finish in under an hour. I wager it’ll take you 45 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you read.

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