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Peter Novick is professor emeritus of history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of "The Resistance Versus Vichy" & "That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' & the American Historical Profession." (Bowker Author Biography)
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Crèdit de la imatge: Chicago Jewish News

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Data de naixement
Data de defunció
Lloc de naixement
Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Lloc de defunció
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Columbia University (BA|1957, PhD|1965)
university professor
University of Chicago
American Association of University Professors
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Enjoyed by this layman

In this book, Novick says that he finds the idea of historical objectivity "essentially confused", that many of the philosophical assumptions behind it are "logically and sociologically naive", and that the whole concept "promotes an unreal and misleading invidious distinction between, on the one hand, historical accounts `distorted' by ideological assumptions and purposes; on the other, history free of these taints." (p. 6) But _That Noble Dream_ does not contain detailed philosophical or logical arguments aimed at supporting these claims; as Novick says in his introduction, "this isn't that sort of book" (p. 6). The sort of book it is is a detailed account of how various persons in the American historical profession over the last century or so have viewed "historical objectivity".

I think that just about everyone who reads this book will come away with a feeling that "objectivity" is, at the very least, problematic--much more problematic than many critics of "subjective" historians seem to believe. Someone seeking a philosophical critique of "objectivity" can probably find what he's looking for in the many sources mentioned in Novick's footnotes.

I started reading this book with a little trepidation, because someone had mentioned to me that Novick has radical political views, but his political biases really aren't apparent for most of the book. About 4/5 of the way through, however, (when he's worked his way up to the time of McCarthyism, Reaganomics, etc.) you can tell that he's beginning to talk about things he has deep feelings about. In the preface, Novick had said that he felt that sticking "[sic]"s all over in quotations when it was clear what the author meant was "mean-spirited" (p. xii), and the book is remarkably free of "[sic]"s. But Novick does use "[sic]" in some rather curious places (i.e., where there is no mistake in spelling, grammar, or usage) when the person he's quoting is expressing conservative views. (See pp. 450, 463.) Novick also laments how, in the 80s, Reaganomics "deliberately redistribute[d] income from the poorest to the richest segments of society." (p. 466) Well, that's one way to look at it. Another would be that the government decided not to confiscate as much of the rich segment's money as it had been doing. Or maybe Novick wasn't talking about Reaganomics at all; maybe he was referring to state lotteries!
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cpg | Hi ha 2 ressenyes més | Oct 17, 2017 |
This is an outstanding book about the uses (and abuses) of the Holocaust in American life. The author, an american Jew and professor of history at the University of Chicago, traces the way the murder of the European Jewery by the Nazis has been perceived, described, interpreted, and instrumentalized in the US since the final stages of the Second World War until the present. He identifies three basic stages: a first two decades period, until the late sixties, when both the cold war conditions and the general optimism of the age was reflected in the slim attention then paid to the Holocaust; a second period, after the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, which coincided with the setting of a generally pessimistic frame of mind after the debacle of the Vietnam, as well as the rise of a culture of victimhood and particularism in American society. These circunstances, together with others more closely related with the thoughts, perceptions, and actions of the leaders of several American Jewish organizations, led to the gradual increase in the importance and centrality of the Holocaust in American public life and discourse. In the last stage, from the eighties onwards, the Holocaust have achieved centre stage and became an event of paramount importance and visibility, translated in pratice in scores of monuments, museums, movies, schools and Universities curricula, books, TV's and newspapers' news, and the ever present political uses by both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and lobies in furthering their particular agendas or in support of Israel. This book, at times angry, at times funny, always brilliantly argued and carefully researched and written, deserves to became a classic.… (més)
FPdC | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | May 25, 2010 |
Before anything else, I'd like to comment on some previous (negative) reviews on this book, which said that it was, among other things, 'trite' and 'boring'. The word 'trite' in particular has been mentioned several times by previous reviewers. These 2 characterizations puzzle me, since they seem far from what anyone could say about 'The holocaust in American life'. Could this book be called controversial? Sure. Provocative? Perhaps. But trite and boring? No way. The book is interesting and fascinating. This just goes to show how, when lacking arguments, one can just accuse someone or something of being 'trite' and 'boring' and think they've expressed an opinion. What they have done in actuality is express a great big 'nothing'.

Other reviews mention inaccuracies in Novick's book, or accuse him of discussing the representations and discourses of the holocaust, and not the holocaust itself in its historical details. But surely they're missing the point: Novick is looking at the American collective memory of the holocaust, he's looking at the way the discourse around the holocaust is shaped today, including how it was shaped in the past and how and why it has changed. So one could say Novick is a historian of the present moment, interested in how certain ways of talking about the holocaust contribute to the shaping not only of Jewish identity, but also of the identity of the victim, of what suffering means, of what an atrocity is etc. I fail to understand why this is criticized by some reviewers. It seems to me a perfectly legitimate goal, to document the way a discourse is shaped, separately from the actual historical facts of the holocaust as it happened in the '40s.

Furthermore, what Novick does, he does very well. On a subject that is full of minefields and strong emotions, Novick manages to express his arguments clearly and persuasively. His main point (discussed by previous reviewers) is that the way the discourse around the holocaust is shaped in America today is far from self-evident: it was different in the past and could be different in the future. He stresses that a historical understanding of the events of world war 2 & of the holocaust do not lead to only one way of representing it and understanding it in today's culture.

The Holocaust as historical event is one thing. The Holocaust as discourse today, as representation in cultural life, is another. Novick discusses the second, and is very critical of the uniqueness, unrepresentability, incomprehensibility discourse that seems prevalent today. He is also critical of the emphasis on the identity of victim which seems central not only to Jewish Americans, but also to various other groups. His critique is not at all a conservative one, i.e. 'get over it and get on with things'. Far from it, he stresses the importance of memory and history. What he does is question the way this memory and history of the holocaust is shaped and implemented, especially when people end up comparing different historical instances of suffering, always putting the holocaust on top, as the instance of suffering par excellence. Novick insists that such an approach is not only meaningless but also morally problematic: because, as he says, even if there had been 2 or 3 genocides of equal horror before Hitler's one, we would still have to say that what happened in Europe in the '40s was terrible and unique in some ways, similar to other catastrophes in others; we would still have to remember it and fight against anything like it happening in the future. Because really- do we need something to be unique in order to fight against it? The idea of uniqueness, Novick argues, is often used to really talk about an hierarchy of catastrophes, with the Holocaust on top, which can really only serve other goals, far from the actual historical understanding of the Holocaust.

One important point to stress here: this idea of 'serving other goals' does not mean that there is any kind of conspiracy, any far fetched group which plans and plots about how the holocaust will be discussed. This couldn't be further from Novick's point. What he argues is rather more everyday. How all of us, you and I, discuss and understand the holocaust today, has to do with present needs and desires that we have: for example, the need to have a clear moral compass, a guide to show us what the absolute good and what the absolute evil is. It is to an understanding of these needs and desires of all of us that lead to certain ways of understanding the holocaust that Novick addresses his book.

All in all, Novick's book is interesting, thought-provoking and actually a quick and easy read. Its main points are explained well, and I think anyone interested in this subject would find it a very good read.
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marialondon | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | Jun 30, 2009 |
We get, Mr. Novick, you know French and German. This book is little more than the author showing off all the French and German he knows. It is also an endless string of quotes from other authors. The two best uses for this book are: a doorstop, and clubbing a burglar. But, come to think of it, this book would likely kill someone if you hit them with it.
w_bishop | Hi ha 2 ressenyes més | Mar 14, 2009 |



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