Eastgate Systems      Serious Hypertext
Historical Writing    

Mark Bernstein is chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, Inc.


Eastgate explores interactive narrative technologies. We are probably best known for literary hypertext, and the success of literary hypertext has been a gratifying surprise to all of us. It's important to remember, though, that not all narrative is fiction. Narrative is one of our most important tools for understanding our world, the foundation of journalism and history.

These important books offer a variety of perspectives on historical narrative. They suggest many new directions for hypertext, some familiar and others almost completely unexplored.

Many of the titles described here are out of print, out of stock at the publisher, or hard to find. Many of the rest are short-discount, making them hard to find in stores. The situation, which reflects much of what is wrong with print technology, is deeply disturbing.

I can't resist recommending these books, which have all influenced my thinking on writing and narrative. Their immediate connection to hypertext sometimes seems distant, but I hope that hypertext writers (and readers) may find these titles rewarding and useful. Eastgate doesn't stock the books described here; for some, we do provide convenient links for ordering them through amazon.com. Because many of these books are special order or hard to find, we make little or no money selling them.

topics: History and narrative | current picks

The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction
by Ed Ayers
Order your copy: $13.56

Ayers reconnects modern historical writing with the tradition of narrative grace in this astounding, innovative book. He threads together a multitude of contemporary quotations, sticking close to the evidence and yet somehow weaving that evidence into a memorable and convincing story.

Even those who have little interest in Southern history will marvel at the dexterity of this remarkable volume. Nominated for the National Book Award.

Leyte: June 1944-January 1945
(History of the United States Naval Operations in World War Two, vol. 12)
by Samuel Eliot Morison
Order your copy: $35.00

A prominent Harvard professor, presidential confidant, and historian of the age of sail, Morison was summoned during WW2 to compile a massive official history of US Naval Operations. This volume is part of a monumental series, all detailed, technical, and judicious despite the overwhelming mass of material to be assessed and weighed.

The political pressures Morison faced in compiling these volumes must have been overwhelming. The technical communications problems, too, are daunting, for these books would have been immediately pored over by admirals and seamen and the daughters of lost sailors of all nations, each sensitive to unjust slights and each knowing their own private truth. Incredibly, the pressure almost never shows.

Making History
by Stephen Fry
Order your copy: $23.00

A realist novel about a grad student in Oxford whose topic is Hitler's childhood. He detests Hitler and doesn't much care for grad school, and things could be going better with his girl. One day, he changes history. And everything....is different.

Literate, profound, and fun. (I stumbled across this book accidentally one day at Heathrow, and for months afterward never met anyone else who has heard of it.)

The Origins of the Peloponnesian War
by G.E.M. de Ste. Croix
out of print

Marxist history, done right. Brilliantly right.

Between the Fall of Communism and the shoddy pseudo-Marxist polemics that fill some academic 'zines, it's easy to forget the importance of class to history. G.E.M. de Ste. Croix handles the evidence judiciously but always with concern for and understanding of the forces of history.

The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660
by Conrad Russell
Order your copy: $23.00

A concise narrative history of England, from Elizabeth I through the Civil War. Accessible, detailed, and a delight to read; one of the few histories that I continue to reread regularly, almost twenty years after I first made its acquaintance.

Roman Ostia
by Russell Meiggs
Order your copy (if you can: it has been out of stock)

A fascinating, intricate, lively study of one Roman town, the Roman port city of Ostia, by one of the greatest English classicists of the century. Meiggs masterfully combines archaeology, history, epigraphy, literary evidence, and common sense to bring this ancient town to life.

This isn't a matter of storytelling or trickery of the 'Everyday Life' mold. Meiggs gets the job done through attention to detail, close observation, and sticking to what we see. He works, in short, exactly the way John Gardner's Art Of Fiction urges writers to craft novels. (You can order Art Of Fiction too, if you need a copy, for $8.80)

Less accessible to the casual reader but equally wonderful is Meigg's masterwork, The Athenian Empire. You can order a copy here while you wait for Oxford to reprint Ostia.

Also superb is Lionel Casson's Travel In The Ancient World. Order it for $15.95.

Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command
Gettysburg to Appomattox (volume 3)
by Douglas Southall Freeman
Order your copy: $18.40
The Civil War, volume 3
From Red River to Appotomax
Shelby Foote
Order your copy: $19.20

If Russell's Crisis Of Parliaments is an epitome of concise historical narrative, Foote and Freeman represent the opposite pole. Engaging, intricate, detailed and sprawling, these wonderful multi-volume works interweave dozens of narrative threads and hundreds of primary characters.

Yet even the casual student of the period cannot fail to see how much material Foote and Freeman omit, how they situate their point of view and craft their argument to let them brush aside those threads that run outside the frame. In time, we may hope that hypertext will give historians an even broader and more manageable canvas. In the interim, the techniques of these vast histories stand as examples not only for historians, but even more for serious journalists and fiction writers.

I meant to recommend the third volume Douglas Southall Freeman's wonderful biography of Robert E. Lee. But it, too, is out of stock at the publisher or out of print.


Prices are subject to change. Not responsible for typographic errors.

The books on this page are offered in association with amazon.com.

HypertextNow Tinderbox About Hypertext Poetry Nonfiction Fiction Storyspace Eastgate

Eastgate    Fiction    Nonfiction    Poetry    Hypertext    Storyspace    Tinderbox    HypertextNow    Order