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In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies
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In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  218 ratings  ·  33 reviews
The conventional wisdom about historical memory is summed up in George Santayana’s celebrated phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Today, the consensus that it is moral to remember, immoral to forget, is nearly absolute. And yet is this right?

David Rieff, an independent writer who has reported on bloody conflicts in Africa, the Balkans,
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Yale University Press
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N. N. Santiago
Oct 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Essentially a literature review of standard writings on social and collective memory. The palimpsest of quotations, names and locations moves quickly from one thing to another, and as a consequence remains mostly at surface-level. When Rieff finally makes a concentrated feint at an argument, in his own words to boot, it is only in the concluding chapter. The preceeding tour d'horizon though has little structure and has not built strongly towards anything; as a result his wispy conclusions feel u ...more
Sean Cunningham
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
This would have made a great essay in the Times magazine. The author assumes a lot of prior knowledge. Also, it was, in my opinion - and since this is my review, it's my opinion - that the author could have done with a good editor (because good editors help) to make some of the run-on sentences readable. ...more
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The title of David Rieff's latest book, "In Praise of Forgetting" perhaps obscures his measured and judicious consideration of history, historical remembrance, historical memory, and forgetting. Rieff does not so much advocate forgetting history's atrocities, but makes, as the New York Times reviewer put it, a "pugnacious" argument for why not everything should be remembered. Reading "In Praise of Forgetting" was very much like listening to David Rieff at the dinner table (full disclosure: he an ...more
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
David Rieff has read a lot of books. This volume is just bursting with erudition, and although I disagree with a lot of his points (which, to be honest, I found hard to discern, as he seems to draw ellipses in avoidance of actually endorsing forgetting) it is a good collection of references towards scholars who work with history, memory and trauma. Yosef Yerushalmi, I have been waiting for you for a *very* long time.
Felipe Gonzalez
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Puede que uno no esté de acuerdo con todos los argumentos de Rieff, pero es un libro que plantea la importancia del olvido. Muy bueno para entender la historia presente de Colombia.
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
As a historian, the premise from which I work is that history--the past--matters. And it matters not in some antiquarian sense of preserving that which is behind us, but in a critical sense of grappling with the past--of tracing historical continuities and ruptures--to tease out perspectives that can help us better navigate the dilemmas of our times.

Reiff sets out to challenge that very premise, and I figured it was worth testing my case. I left with my assumptions intact. Why? Because Reiff, w
Jonathan Tennis
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at the price we pay to remember the past. Book is a great read and Rieff wonderfully organizes a ton of material.

The dust jacket includes this little intro - "The conventional wisdom about historical memory is summed up in George Santayana’s celebrated phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Today, the consensus that it is moral to remember, immoral to forget, is nearly absolute. And yet is this right?"

At the end of it, I am not sure which s

Essentially a review of what seems to be all the literature David Rieff has ever read. The narrative is meandering, circling his elementary argument without adequately arguing it.

The concept was interesting, the execution was lackluster. Basically, he states that remembering is not a moral imperative, nothing can be remembered forever, and maybe remembering is not always in society's best interest.

I do not recommend this book.
Hans-Martin Ishida
An insightful exploration on interpretations of historical memory and its implications. My only complaint is that it's very Western-focused. Didnt explore collective memories in places like India or post-colonial Africa in great detail. Though that does party stem from the other authors' theories explored in the book. ...more
Joe Mcmanis
Jan 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Couldn't stand reading this book... it is so terribly written. It's the book version of that annoying guy you avoid at parties because all he does is name drop to make himself look cool. Same concept, except quoting famous philosophers and such, so you really know how well read the author is. Blech. ...more
Lee Barry
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Only a cursory reading, and I cherry-picked the more interesting bits for reference purposes.

I wouldn't call it "terrible" writing, but it definitely needs a tightening up. Too many run-on sentences.
Professor Shredder

Densely written. Straightforward ideas. Communal remembering overrated, leads to violence. Author advocates for active forgetting. Not an easy read, author writes like Kant’s little brother.
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was ok
A pretty intriguing subject but probably the worst writing style possible for it. He just comes across as really snobbish and pedantic, seeming totally incapable of giving any personal opinions without quoting Freud or Nietzsche. A couple better books making similar arguments are The New Dark Age and The Virtues of Ignorance. Antifragile kind of does too but I'm not a huge fan of that one either. There's also Miles Olson's Unlearn, Rewild, which comes at this subject from an angle closer to my o ...more
El libro es una colección de pequeños ensayos muy provocadores sobre la naturaleza, proposito y utilidad de la memoria colectiva. ¿conocer el pasado, seguirlo recordando asegura que los errores del pasado no se repitan? es la pregunta que guía parte del argumento de los ensayos. Por otro lado el argumento también gira en torno a como la memoria colectiva en muchos casos puede terminar siendo una fuente de nuevas tragedias como el caso de Kosovo Polje en el siglo XIV y el rol que su recuerdo jugo ...more
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
As a history and philosophy major back in the day, historical/collective memory is honestly a favorite topic of mine. Unfortunately, this book never really leaves the realm of a literature review. If I hadn't already had a foundation in the literature I probably would have set this aside before finishing it. It put me to sleep more than once, and I found myself re-reading whole pages to try to follow the train of thought. It's a short, small, book, but most pages include extensive quotations, ma ...more
Chris Steele
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I came to this work through Neimann's book "Learning from the Germans." Rieff's makes a strong argument. Well-reasoned, well-argued.

There is one big downside to this work. That is, there is no index and no bibliography. Rieff uses great references but there is no ability to follow his references. Given that this is a Yale University Press publication, I'm really surprised by this. The outcome is a book-length magazine article. There is nothing at all wrong with that, but anyone using this work i
William Thomas
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's hard to make out what exactly Reiff's point is here, as there are just a large chain of facts and other facts that have been distorted, and the facts that have been distorted and on and on, without much analysis. Or I should say, the analysis that is here is pithy and trite, conclusions that anyone would have come to with this widely known stories and historical happenings. I'd say read the essay that got him the contract for this largely dispensable and disposable bit of "moral philosophy" ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
In Praise of Forgetting was a somewhat difficult read due to his writing style that guaranteed name drops so often it often felt like a Tolstoy novel. I'm talking about quotes inside of quotes level of name dropping. However, after getting accustomed to that, it made for an interesting read with challenging questions and few answers. The book is packed with such powerful food for thought that I will definitely be returning to in the future. ...more
Para aquellos a los que les guste la filosofía política y comerse la cabeza, puede llegar a ser un libro fantástico. En ciertos aspectos cuenta hechos que pueden llegar a ser de interés, pero eso son solo dos páginas de las cinto setenta que tiene. Ha sido una lectura obligatoria que se ha llevado por delante mie estabilidad mental. Ha sido realmente tedioso y no he podido llegar a finalizarlo.
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting but wrong. The author bases its thinking upon a fallacy: historic manipulation equals abuse of memory. In order to prevent manipulation he prescribes forgetfulness. Time to distinguish concepts.
Risteárd Caomhánach
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, philosophy
The only irony here is that Reiff clearly forgot to hire an editor. I'll leave it to posterity to decide if that's praiseworthy. ...more
Edward Sullivan
Lucid, cogent, thoughtful, and provocative.
Rebecca Matlock
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read on an essential topic. Rieff’s perspective is challenging and well articulated.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I disagree with many of David Rieff's arguments because of a fundamental difference in the way we view history, but I'm learning a lot by reading stuff that challenges my view.

My biggest pet peeve with this book is that I feel like I'm reading a sinister SAT reading passage. It's like this guy is trying to smash five different ideas into one paragraph-length sentence. I have to reread many of these types of blurbs because it slips out of my head.
words words words

"And regardless of wheth
Kathleen O'Neal
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I felt that this book could have been so much more that what it was. I was ultimately expecting an examination of different contexts in which historical memory is highly charged and an analysis of what is both worthwhile and problematic about that reality. Instead the author seems mostly interested in having the reader know that he has read many books on the topic of historical memory. He assumes a lot of historical background that it is not necessarily reasonable to assume someone has. (I have ...more
Oliver Hodson
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well, what a pleasant departure from my usual fare! This was an cogent academic essay that questioned the basis for collective memory very clearly and then in its 'even if' sections, questioned the justification of anything via collective memory, therefore we must be much more open to forgetting as an appropriate response.

In reflecting on this book, which rightly puts memory at the forefront of building social cohesion, especially at a national level, I was eventually more concerned with the qu
Adam DeVille, Ph.D.
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is one of numerous books since about 2004 that have considered the salutary uses (and abuses) of forgetting in situations of historical conflict. Joining Bradford Vivian, Paul Ricoeur, and others, Rieff, who is not a scholar, has written a very compelling and important essay challenging received wisdom of "never forget!" when it comes to events such as wars and genocides. But this is not a simplistic polemic; instead the author offers judicious and careful assessment of when remembering may ...more
Jan 11, 2017 added it
The author proposes that forgetting history rather than always remembering it might be the saner option. This goes against the grain of all modern day nation building. Rieff discusses how little true history there is in memorials, commemoration and collective memory. Many good examples of how peoples and nations have used myth posing as history as a way to keep a grievance alive are given. It's a good discussion. Rieff is less successful pinpointing exactly which history should be forgotten. And ...more
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The most thoughtful and thought-provoking book I have read in a long time. In an ideal world it would be required reading for anyone intending to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election - any election or Brexit type referendum for that matter. At times the writing style is dense, with long, parenthetically loaded sentences, but by the final page the need for this approach is clear and fully paid off. Rieff's commitment to the whole of humanity is rare and admirable. I don't see how it's ...more
Paul Womack
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
For me this was an exciting and exacting read. The margins are filled with notes and questions and clarifications and I added a bibliography of the writers and thinkers he mentioned so I can read more. The challenge is to distinguish between the critical nature of history and the mystical nature of memory, so the wounds of the past need not, by necessity, become the wounds of the future. I have long argued that forgiveness does not mean you forget. My very position has been great challenge by th ...more
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David Rieff is an American polemicist and pundit. His books have focused on issues of immigration, international conflict, and humanitarianism.

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