How Historians Work: Retelling the Past — from the Civil War to the Wider World

By Judith Lee Hallock, John C. Waugh, and Drake Bush

State House Press, 2010
282 pages

Before he passed away on April 18, 2006, Grady McWhiney, one of the most eminent and respected Civil War historians, had launched this book about how historians practice their craft. Some twenty-four prominent American historians, of various disciplines, participated. Some had been McWhiney’s graduate students and are now carving distinguished niches for themselves in history. Among the twenty-four, also, were historians who are well-known, long-time shining lights in their profession. McWhiney, calling on Jack’s background as a journalist, and their long friendship, asked him to do the interviewing. Jack did so, in extensive interviews with each of the two dozen historians.

Unfortunately, McWhiney did not live to see this project to its end. Judy Hallock, a frontline historian in her own right, biographer of Braxton Bragg, and McWhiney’s caretaker in his final years; and Drake Bush, a longtime editor of history textbooks for Harcourt, joined Jack to see the project through. Instead of a book by McWhiney it has become a book dedicated to him and finished by us, three of his dearest friends.

From the full texts of the interviews, Hallock wrote feature stories of each of the historians, which were edited in turn by Jack and Bush. They constitute this unique book.

Now here it is — a published work of 282 pages, a celebration of how good, readable history is written by two dozen of its finest practitioners. It is a lively collection that shows the great diversity of systems fine historians use to get to the same place — to an authentic, readable retelling the fantastic past.