I’ve been putting off really digging into Tycho and Kepler because I’m a little intimidated by it – not a feeling I usually have about books! I don’t know much history and I’d really like to learn more. However, as I learned at a “how to be a good TA” lecture, people learn best when they can connect new knowledge to information they already know. This has been making my first attempt to dig into some historical non-fiction difficult, especially since I’m not happy to just read past things I don’t get. At risk of sounding completely hopeless, I’m going to give you some of my impressions reading the first paragraph of Tycho and Kepler (my thoughts in Italics):
“On January 11, 1600 (ok, so after the Magna Carta, after Christopher Columbus, before the American Revolution…wow, my knowledge of history is really sparse) the carriage of Baron Johann Friedrich Hoffmann, baron of Grunbuchel and Sterchau (Germany? maybe Denmark, the map at the beginning was of Denmark, but nope these places aren’t on that map) , rumbled out of Graz… Having fulfilled, for the time being, his occasional duties as a member of the Styrian Diet (some sort of ruling council?) in the Austrian (ah, apparently we’re in Austria) provincial capitol, he was returning to court in Prague (hmm, I know that city, but what country is it in…).
I could go on, but you get the idea! Currently, I think my best bet is just to read with wikipedia open, but if anyone has any other suggestions for a (historically and geographically inept) first-time reader of historical non-fiction, I’d appreciate the advice 🙂
4 responses to “On Reading Historical Non-Fiction”
Hm, that’s an interesting question. I’m the opposite – I love history and geography, but I’d be lost if I was reading a scientific text.
I think I’d recommend starting with more basic, easily approachable historical texts – like works by Laurence Bergreen, David McCullough, Joseph Ellis, et al, because they’re very readable, and geared more toward general readers. Then move on to the more specialized stuff like the one you quote from above.
Thanks, I think that’s really good advice. I may fight through this one because I’m stubborn like that, but then I’ll look for some of the authors you mentioned 🙂
If you like British or Tudor history, Alison Weir is a big favorite of mine. As of recently, I would also add Adam Hochschild as a favorite non-fiction author.
Thanks! I’ll go look them up now 🙂