Jeremy Black’s century

Nigel Saul salutes his colleague’s achievement of 100 authored books on a wide range of historical subject matter.

In an age of Research Assessment Exercises and a culture of ‘publish or perish’ in academia, it might be reasonable to expect a scholar to write half a dozen or so books in a working lifetime. If someone were to turn out a dozen, he or she might be in danger of being dismissed as ‘prolific’. Yet in Jeremy Black’s case, all normal yardsticks of literary output become a matter of irrelevance. At a launch party in London on October 7th, Jeremy celebrated the publication of his 100th book.

His latest publication, Britain, 1851-2010: A Nation Transformed (Robinson), offers a thematic treatment of Britain’s transformation in the century and a half from the Great Exhibition to the present day. In the preface he disclaims any attempt to offer easy solutions to the problems posed by that transformation, arguing for frankness about the difficulties of examining the past. Significantly, he calls his last chapter ‘Contesting the Past’ and offers a powerful critique of what he sees as the current tendency ‘to emote about the past’ in ways that represent an unwillingness to think historically.

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