History Books of the Year: The View from waterstone's.(Critical Essay)

By Higgs, Martin | History Today, November 2002 | Go to article overview

History Books of the Year: The View from waterstone's.(Critical Essay)


Higgs, Martin, History Today


SOME BOOKS OR AUTHORS COME TO DOMINATE SALES in a genre so completely that a lasting change results. Anthony Beevor is close to achieving this now. His book Berlin: The Downfall 1945 has sold more than twice the number of any other history book this year so far at Waterstone's. And six months after publication of Berlin, Waterstone's is regularly responsible for two-thirds of the total sales of the book--perhaps a reflection of the fact that we are serious about selling history books and some of our competitors are less so.

Berlin is the only hardback in Waterstone's history best-seller list--proof that, for those authors who have, over time, built up a reputation for achieving the combination of readability, human drama and scholarship, there are considerable rewards to be reaped from writing history. Two of Beevor's past books--Stalingrad and The Spanish Civil War--also feature in the year's top 20 sellers so far.

Beevor's competitors in our history book charts are themselves reliable heavy-weights of the popular history genre--Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and Peter Ackroyd, for instance--but his current level of sales is extraordinary.

Beevor has, in sales terms, several things going for him beyond his own skills as a writer and scholar. He writes on a period--the Second World War--around which there is still vast public appetite. The awfulness of the characters of Hitler and Stalin still requires explanation; the atrocities committed by their armies and regimes are echoed in the current era--in Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo. In its bleak cruelty, the Second World War will remain forever as an exemplar, and maintain its terrible fascination and popularity as a subject for books. Certainly that public fascination shows no signs of dissipating, particularly as the generations of those who lived through the war are still very much alive and kicking.

Other books in our year's top ten so far reflect that theme: the books by Roy Jenkins, Stephen Ambrose and Hugh Montefiore have all been enormously successful, as has Michael Burleigh's superb Third Reich.

Beevor's other point of contact with the reading public is in his success in mixing the military with the social, the political with the human. The individual stories of citizens of Berlin or Stalingrad, as their lives crashed around them, are given as much weight as a battlefield tactic, a political decision or international conference. Instead of choosing a wide theme and interpreting it with minimal depth, he has chosen a specific historical event and delved deeply.

Perhaps the last book to achieve both Beevor's level of sales success and critical approval was Simon Schama's French Revolution epic Citizens--which had the added benefit of publication in 1989, the bicentenary of the events described. No writer will seriously attempt to compete against either Schama or Beevor in interpreting these issues in the next generation. It is easier said than done to write such a success.

Schama brings us to another clear theme among successful history titles--a TV link. David Starkey and Schama himself have almost cornered the market in terms of bringing history alive through our television, though Niall Ferguson will enter the fray shortly after Christmas with his book and series on the British Empire. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

History Books of the Year: The View from waterstone's.(Critical Essay)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.