The War-and-Peace-O-Meter: Week Twelve

Previous weeks: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11

Up to page 909 (of 1358) this week, roughly two-thirds through the book, and at the end of Part II of Volume III. I think this volume has already taught me more history than three years-worth of secondary school History education. (I wasn’t fool enough to commit myself to the GCSE, and two more years of it – I did Economics instead, which I was disappointed to find had little to do with maths, and rather more to do with a) spinning dull stories about past events, b) divination about future events, and c) endless fictional supply-and-demand plots. I don’t remember much economics, other than that the teacher constantly referred to “CD discs”, and that the price of salt is inelastic.) Tolstoy’s evocation of the battle of Borodino, and his accompanying critique of historical analyses, is eminently memorable, and I could discourse confidently (although not necessarily competently) on the significance of the loss of the Shevardino redoubt. And I didn’t even need to check the spellings of those placenames.

I don’t think that History was taught particularly badly at my school, but it certainly didn’t capture my imagination, focusing as it did on the history of events, rather than ideas. One of the few snippets that I do remember is dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori, and the oppressive nature of Wilfred Owen’s poems. So perhaps for historical events to be palatable to me, I have to have them presented in the form of literature. More theoretical fodder, such as the history of maths, I can swallow without a fictional coating; although it’s a shame that such subjects aren’t on the curricula of scientific education, even at undergraduate level…

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