The Undivided Past: Book summary and reviews of The Undivided Past by David Cannadine

The Undivided Past

Humanity Beyond Our Differences

By David Cannadine

The Undivided Past
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2013,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

From one of our most acclaimed historians, a wise and provocative call to re-examine the way we look at the past: not merely as the story of incessant conflict between groups but also of human solidarity throughout the ages.

Investigating the six most salient categories of human identity, difference, and confrontation - religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization - David Cannadine questions just how determinative each of them has really been. For while each has motivated people dramatically at particular moments, they have rarely been as pervasive, as divisive, or as important as is suggested by such simplified polarities as "us versus them," "black versus white," or "the clash of civilizations." For most of recorded time, these identities have been more fluid and these differences less unbridgeable than political leaders, media commentators - and some historians - would have us believe. Throughout history, in fact, fruitful conversations have continually taken place across these allegedly impermeable boundaries of identity: the world, as Cannadine shows, has never been simply and starkly divided between any two adversarial solidarities but always an interplay of overlapping constituencies.

Yet our public discourse is polarized more than ever around the same simplistic divisions, and Manichean narrative has become the default mode to explain everything that is happening in the world today. With wide-ranging erudition, David Cannadine compellingly argues against the pervasive and pernicious idea that conflict is the inevitable state of human affairs. The Undivided Past is an urgently needed work of history, one that is also about the present—and the future.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. While his conclusions (and language) sometimes grow repetitive, they nonetheless serve to underscore at every turn an incisive argument buttressed by millennia of evidence." - Kirkus

"It might make for a great lecture, but easy reading it isn't. Determined scholars, however, will be rewarded for their persistence." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Cannadine systematically examines the six most pervasive areas of identities across historical periods…Drawing on history, philosophy, economics, sociology, and religion, Cannadine offers a broad and sweeping look at the myriad ways we've been at each other's throats throughout history. Still, he ends with the hopeful prospect that more historians will reexamine the chronicles of group conflicts and offer balanced perspectives." - Booklist

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Sir David Cannadine was born in Birmingham, England, in 1950 and educated at Cambridge, Oxford, and Princeton. He is the author of many acclaimed books, including The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, G. M. Trevelyan, History in Our Time, Class in Britain, Ornamentalism, and Mellon. He has taught at Cambridge and Columbia Universities and has also served as director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. He is currently Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University.

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