The acknowledgements are usually found at the front of a factual book. In history this is, in my humble opinion, important. As historians, we stand on the shoulders of others, for good or bad. The historiography, what has been written, shapes what we say. Sometimes it is a foundation, and sometimes we have to fight against it. Thus, those who have given their time to help, advise, encourage and support us are important.
I am sure that it was not Dominic’s decision to consign the acknowledgments to the back of this book, but the publisher’s. I can imagine the argument, that this is a popular history and a general readership does not want to plough through the thanks and so on. I don’t know if I am alone here, but I don’t like that the notes are at the back of the book too. I favour notes at the bottom of the page so I can see what the sources are. History is all about getting the sources to talk in a structure that makes sense of them and uncovers the links between them, the dynamics, causes and consequences. I dislike having to read a book with one finger stuck in the back of the book (particular since that is currently an 800 page span, oh my thumb webbing hurts) and be constantly flipping back and forth whenever I wonder, and I wonder a lot, where a particular piece of information is sourced. But more on that anon.
Will Self on Radio 4 this morning complained about the descent into unchallenging middlebrow mush, and I quite agree with his assertion that there is a tendency for people to be offended when they are stretched. The relegation of notes, and the complete absence of a bibliography is a rendering of history into what Will castigated as “a good read”. (listen again at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b01g65tj)
With the acknowledgements I am interested as to whether Dominic is working alone, or whether he is using a team to produce the book. I would prefer if it were a team effort, three people working for a year to produce this book would be better than one person working alone. That other prolix contemporary historian, Anthony Seldon, does have a team (and he has a day job, he is the head of a public school in Brighton). So Blair Unbound had with Peter Snowden and Daniels Collings on the spine (one advantage of a 600 page book). I was shocked when I read in the introduction of one of Seldon’s books (big, but not Sandbrook scale) that he had a taken a three month sabbatical to write it. A mere three months. But Anthony Seldon is, well, an old hand (b.1953, founder of the Institute of Contemporary British History Research, etc). He has a address book of the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. He interviews them, he writes it up. It is instant history, reportage of elite opinion. We know his conclusions are going to be on the centre right, as they have always been, but he does not let it get in the way. Well, not too much. And in that it is valuable for what it is, and no-one expects all of the instant judgements to stand up in twenty or thirty years.
I will skip the irritating style where Sandbrook casts himself as that “shabby little Englander” Harold Wilson. And apologies for any mistakes, most of the roles are not identified and some people only have first names. But using my investigative skills (or Google, as it is correctly called) I have come up with the following.
First comes eight names of directors, editors, press secretaries et al from his publishers, Penguin. Then this literary agents. And then his TV agents. And his producer at the BBC. And another 16 BBC staff (is this simply a TV spin off, does that explain the fast turn round, and lack of research help). Then a list of editors at the New Statesman, Daily Mail etc. who have commissioned Dominic to write articles.
Just in case you were worried that everyone who is credited is a media lovey, there are a few historians mixed in too. Simon Hooper (Cambs University Centre for International Studies), Andrew Preston (US foreign policy) and Ted Vallance (English Civil War, Maritn O’Neill (political philosophy particularly John Rawls), Kester Aspden (now a freelance writer), Martin Halliwell (US intellectual history), Tom Holland (classical and medieval) the well known historians David Kynaston and Richard Vinen, and the less well known historian Jack McGowan. The identities of Rhys Evans and Gary Kemp (not the Spandau Ballet one, but I’m guessing) are a mystery to me.
What does all this show? Well, it appears that this is all Dominic’s work. No research assistant is credited. It is notable that the whole thing fits in a media context, not one of academic history. Will this be reflected in the content of the book? We’ll see.
Tomorrow: A slight digression. I read a review of Dominic’s book by Gerald DeGroot in The Telegraph. It annoyed me so much that I will post my thoughts on it tomorrow. It will include an assessment of the degree to which Harold Wilson was falling-down drunk during his premiership 1974-1976. You can read the review at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/9200952/Seasons-in-the-Sun-by-Dominic-Sandbrook-review.html