I recently began to read the first volume in an eventual four volume history of the world by The College of William and Mary historian Susan Wise Bauer. This first volume bears the weighty title The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome.
With a title like that, readers would be forgiven if they expected heavy going. To my delight, I find that Dr. Bauer is not afraid to add a bit of relish to the expected weight of knowledge and authority.
At one point, she references the frequent incestuous marriages of the Egyptian rulers of the 4th dynasty. It’s a fact that she could let pass, but she doesn’t. She comments:
“The alert reader is probably wondering, at this point, why all these people didn’t have three heads.”
Such comments make me smile. More importantly, they keep me reading.
I’ve been as well happy to learn that Dr. Bauer lives in the same world I live in. I like to see this from my teachers. So, at one point she is speaking of a mysterious civilization which had a propensity for order. In concluding her description of this civilization, she says
The spread of Harappan civilization was not exactly the ancient equivalent of an invasion by the Borg.
Realizing that not all her readers will catch the cultural allusion of such a reference, she footnotes it, beginning thus:
For readers who may be too young, or too literate, to recognize the reference….
Too literate?! A poke at those of us too erudite to enjoy a bit of Star Trek now and then.
Is such writing faddish? Is it looked down upon by proper scholars? I don’t know.
What I know is that if I’m going to enjoy history, I will read it when written by someone who is enjoying it herself. I will delight in what she delights in.
There is a lesson here for all who teach.
So, will I keep reading? With writing like this, what can I say? Resistance is futile.