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Ariadne’s Ball

There are innumerable topics of historical study, but an historian has, I believe, to choose among three styles of history.

The first, seemingly the most popular among academics these days, concentrates on facts (i.e., physical evidence).  The difficulty with this history is its avowed loathing of any interpretation of the facts by the historian; the facts are supposed to speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, any given item becomes historical fact only when related in an intelligible way to others; every history is a story.  The past has left an infinite number of traces, however, so that a purely factual history amounts to an endless recording of an infinite number of tidbits without beginning or end.  This is so obvious that the average academic generally ends up selecting from that ocean of tidbits some that he deems more important than others and which are apt to lend some kind of order to their mass.  But then, here stops the historian who postures as scientific, halfway between merely tape recording the sound and fury of the world and regarding that world as a book that needs to be deciphered (whether men be the unwitting tools of some hidden hand or of some inner logic that carries them onward, even as they perceive it as a product of their will).

This is, in part, exactly what Alistair Horne does.  For the sake of brevity, I will take only one example of his approach:...

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