This Day in History 720
After a week off, This Day in History 720 returns with Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s acclaimed work The Many-Headed Hydra. This ambitious work aims to give voice to undocumented, ignored, and maligned ”motley crew”, that is the common masses in the age of revolutions in the Atlantic. They achieve this top down approach through an extensive review of diaries, speeches, memoirs, political puplications, newspapers, and really any other source of primary evidence they can get their hands on to depict the lives of common men and women who made an impact on society.
Rather than give a summary review, let me just say that this is a dense yet easily readable book, a pretty pure piece of social history which opens the curtains and sheds some light on unknown corners of history. It is a great, emotional read, and because of its basis in the stories of common people, is quite engaging and often reads more like a novel than a historical text.
Herein lies my issue with The Many Headed Hydra, its a history book trying to be a novel… or a novel trying to be a history book… I cant decide. Although interesting, it is hard to take this book seriously without a firm understanding of the context of each of the “stories” which is not provided by the author. Unless one has a firm grasp on the actually, factual history, and a deep understanding on the course of events, then this work its not only hard to understand, but boderline dangerous for an uneducated reader. It also bugs me that this tries to both be an Atlantic work and a Marxist examination of Atlantic capitalism, I think by trying to do both, that it muddles their arguments.
With all that said, I think its a great source of data and primary documents, I think its a book that can serve as a learning tool when one is writing history, and I think it is compelling and thought provoking. But I cannot recommend this book to anyone without a good idea of the history and the historical profession, even myself as a graduate student had to go back to many other text to re-establish my moorings in many of the eras (Cromwell England for example).