Novel History: Historians and Novelists Confront America's Past (and Each Other)
Much as Carnes’ 1995 volume, Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, scrutinized Hollywood’s stewardship of the historical record, this collection of essays takes on the historical novel. Of course, Carnes’ mission couldn’t be more relevant in a pop culture that’s increasingly ”reality-based.” But he comes neither to bury the sometimes controversial literary form (as embodied by Gore Vidal’s Burr and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, to name a few) nor to praise it; instead, he has a roster of critics smack it around for a while. Carnes concludes — no shocker — that the best history writing combines the emotional truth that fiction supplies with history’s (ideally) more tangible corralling of facts and dates. But if Novel History makes anything clear, it’s that the worth of a read is in the eye of the beholder.