The sensation of the summer season—at least among historians—has undoubtedly been the appearance of Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations).1 Readers had come to expect from this Mellon Professor in the Social Sciences at Harvard the writing of rather conventional, even massively detailed and documented histories like his Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1977) and The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987). But in this current study Schama has given us a radically different kind of book—and has set the discipline of history abuzzing.

Coherence and persuasion are out. 

Dead Certainties brings together several historical episodes, having an...


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