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Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
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Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  253 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
"If one laughs when David Hackett Fischer sits down to play, one will stay to cheer. His book must be read three times: the first in anger, the srcond in laughter, the third in respect....The wisdom is expressed with a certin ruthlessness. Scarcly a major historian escapes unscathed. Ten thousand members of the AmericanHistorical Association will rush to the index and brea ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 30th 1970 by Harper Perennial (first published January 30th 1970)
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Jan 07, 2010 Matt rated it liked it
Great critical thinking when it comes to historiography. The logic chopping is a little pedantic at times but the overall affect is greater clarity on how to reach responsible historical conclusions.

The problem however is that Fischer thinks historians should spend all their time answering "what" and "how" questions and avoid trying to answer "why" questions. Now "why" would he say that? Well he tells us. He says that the "why" questions deal with metaphysical issues that yield no fruitful or de
Dec 27, 2015 Marc rated it liked it
Shelves: historiography
In the 50s and 60s of the twentieth century David Hackett Fischer was a renowned American historian who earned his spurs in the historiography of the United States. In 1970 he published this booklet in which he gives an almost exhaustive enumeration of the different types of errors his colleagues of then and of the centuries before him have committed. As you can imagine the work caused a huge wave of indignation in the historical Guild. Of course, in itself his deed has something quite arrogant ...more
Nov 01, 2011 Franz rated it it was amazing
Originally written to help historians avoid dozens of fallacies, this book is wittier than it ought to be. Engaging to read for non-historians interested in history. Helps those of us who read history for enjoyment and enlightenment to recognize errors made by even the most prominent and respected historians. Fischer spares no one, high or low, though he criticizes respectfully. Fischer takes an empiricist and utilitarian approach that is refreshingly forthright. He is actively hostile to histor ...more
Jul 16, 2010 Jackie rated it liked it
Excerpt from my report:

Every so often, a work surfaces which attempts to redefine the boundaries of an idea or discipline. Einstein’s theory of relativity opened doors to new ways that physics could be perceived; Emile Durkheim infused a new validity into the study of sociology. Likewise, David Hackett Fischer’s Historians’ Fallacies seeks to do nothing less than change the way that history is understood by academics. Though noble in its cause, the book misses its mark: rather than expanding the
Lynn Spencer
May 16, 2013 Lynn Spencer rated it really liked it
I had to read this in college, and I'll admit that it seemed terribly dry the first time around. After all, in those days I wanted to learn history - not pick apart someone's writing style. However, I found my copy recently while doing some cleaning and sorting, and sat down to read it again.

It really is a helpful book not just for reading and writing history, but for considering a whole host of subjects. The author does a good job of picking apart logical fallacies so that we can recognize them
Sense of  History
Fischer is not a man of diplomatic language: "historians are inexact scientists, who go blundering about their business without a sufficient sense of purpose or procedure. They are failed scientists, who have projected their failures to science itself. Nothing could be more absurd, or more nearly antithetical to the progress of a potent discipline ". Naturally he refers to indeed widespread dislike among historians against any theory of history and against the tendency to find in laws and struct ...more
Oct 09, 2013 Qhlueme rated it it was amazing
"How intriguing are the fallacies that lead men's minds astray." - Tarquin.

I find myself drawn to lists and examples and studies of logical, rhetorical, historiographical, and other types of fallacies, again and again. The main reason may be that so many of such fallacies are encountered so often on the internet, on blogs and forums, even those claiming to be the most reasonable, fair, and "logical," and in newspapers and television news programs, where they seem to have undergo random evolution
Oct 03, 2014 Kristin-Leigh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-reads
This book is an essential read for anyone considering a career as a historian, or even interested in the historical process and wanting to be able to look at historical writing more critically.

I'll agree with the commenter that said the book dragged in places--by the end you can definitely tell he had a length requirement to meet! Still, the first 75% of the book is incredibly useful, even if you just want to be able to shout "Fallacy!" during debates with friends. ;)
A rather enjoyable and provocative look at the "fallacies" of historians--- including some major names. What Fischer seems to mean by "fallacy" varies chapter to chapter, from suspect metaphors to ideological blinders to embarrassing anachronisms. Moreover, his examples of bad historical writing often seem idiosyncratic. Fischer criticises a bio of Calvin Coolidge called "A Puritan in Babylon" for the mix of images, but...the title seems to me to be immediately evocative and immediately comprehe ...more
Charles M.
Dec 28, 2014 Charles M. rated it liked it
Interesting look at how historians perceive historical occurrences and the mistakes/errors in doing so from a pre-eminent historian.
I read this as a reference for a paper I am writing for English class. Since I am a history major, we had to write something pertaining to it. This is not a book on history but on how to look at, and work with history. The book was a fascinating look at how one historian feels all historians should focus their work. Some of it was a bit dry, and hard to get through while other parts were extremely funny. Though an older work, I think it still has valid information for today's historians. I am lo ...more
Apr 23, 2014 Carol rated it it was amazing
Dense, but disciplined.
Daryl Muranaka
Aug 10, 2015 Daryl Muranaka rated it it was amazing
A relevant book on this mistakes historians make in thinking. The book is relevant because is catalogs many of the common mistakes people make in thinking in general. Sure, it's fun to giggle at the mistakes of some pretty big historians, but many of these mistakes are common.
Jun 11, 2008 Walt rated it liked it
Shelves: history-other
This is more of an arm-chair classic in the philosophy of history - especially teaching history.

Using major historical works pre-1970, Fischer points out fallacies in research, interpretation, and presentation. Ultimately, the book comes down to proposing a simple question: "why do we teach history?" It is more rhetorical than anything else. However, he does raise some valid observations in discussing the fallacies.
Ryan Reeves
Jan 17, 2013 Ryan Reeves rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Rarely does a book about historians and their writings deserve such praise. But David Hackett Fisher deserves the rank of "public intellectual" based, I think, solely on this book. It is witty (I laughed outloud regularly), almost G. K Chestertonian. Most importantly of all, the book encourages people to think well, not in a way that attempts to know everything about everything, but in a way that knows something about something.
Mark Singer
Feb 09, 2011 Mark Singer rated it really liked it
Long before David Hackett Fischer gained fame for books like Albion's Seed, Paul Revere's Ride and Washington's Crossing, he wrote this guide on how NOT to write history. Using examples from histories both famous and obscure, Fischer illustrates a series of logical fallacies that could have been avoided. The only reason that I don't give it five stars is the turgid writing style.
Mike Frizzell
May 10, 2012 Mike Frizzell rated it liked it
Fischer's thesis is that as history becomes more logical it will become more useful to society. Following from that, he examines fallacies in historical writing so that the reader will write better history. Fischer is not a philosopher and so as a result plays a bit fast and loose with definitions. Not perfect, but worth a read for anyone interested in writing history.
Mar 14, 2010 Deb rated it it was amazing
This book, which I loved, actually unfitted me for life in America. I cannot help but apply these logical tests to politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, and I find them lacking.
Fredrick Danysh
History is usually written by the winner or the survivor and colored with their perceptions. The author examines several theories that could be flawed.
A good correction to many mistakes by historians. But pretty academic.
Sep 28, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Feels like common sense wrapped up in polysyllabic posturing.
Oct 20, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it
Dense, very academic. Read it for coursework but worth the effort.
Heidi marked it as to-read
Jan 21, 2016
Trish Vincent
Trish Vincent marked it as to-read
Jan 18, 2016
Jonathan Hiseler
Jonathan Hiseler rated it really liked it
Jan 18, 2016
Cody marked it as to-read
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Felix marked it as to-read
Jan 15, 2016
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Georgina Koutrouditsou marked it as to-read
Jan 09, 2016
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David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. His major works have tackled everything from large macroeconomic and cultural trends (Albion's Seed, The Great Wave) to narrative histories of significant events (Paul Revere's Ride, Washington's Crossing) to explorations of historiography (Historians' Fallacies, in which he coined the term H ...more
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