Yesterday I mentioned that I didn’t learn the history I was taught in school and promised an explanation. This seems as good a time as any to explain what I meant. I’ve already told the story of how I learned to read. Once I had learned to read I jumped from illiteracy to reading mostly books intended for adults over the period of just two or three years.
One of the peculiar features of my self-directed reading was that I “binge read”. A bit the way some people binge view a television series on NetFlix or Hulu these days, I’d read everything I could get my hands on that had been written by an author. When I fell in love with H. G. Wells’s science fiction very early on, I read everything I could find that he wrote. I’d read The Outline of History by the time I was ten. Just about the same time I read the volumes of Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization that had been written up to that point and some other popular and even scholarly history. I found Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire hard sledding.
I was also an archaeology nut and read an enormous amount of both popular and scholarly material on archaeology, especially early archaeology and the archaeology of the Neolithic in the Near East, something that has remained an interest ever since. I read some of Schliemann’s books on Troy in translation. On some very narrow subjects in the field of the Neolithic of the Near East I think I own a copy of every word ever printed.
I read a lot of American historical biography and American history. And, my family being what it was, we discussed history as normal dinner table conversation. Consequently, I had the benefit of my mom’s and dad’s education, reading, and travels.
All of this was before I had taken a single history course in school. By the time I actually took history I knew enough to question the standard narrative.
And that’s why I was a poor history student. I had already been inoculated against it.