Previous
Next

Like Christmas, it comes but once a year.

September 27, 2010, 12:51 pm

I half-remember an anecdote about an English MP a philosopher (graciously identified by ben below) who, when asked if he read novels, replied, “Oh yes. All six of them, every year.” For me, in recent years, the equivalent has become the annual re-reading of Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream.

I first read it in 1991-2, my first year of graduate school. I think my experience of it was similar to many beginning graduate students: it has so many names that then meant little to me, because I had read so little history before arriving in my inaugural seminar. I plowed through it and worked out, as best I could, the points about the misbegotten origins and fundamental incoherence of the objectivity ideal, the rise of relativism, and the inconclusive end of the story. Then I set it aside.

When, amid several moves and the turmoil of disappointment on the job market, I despaired of ever needing an academic library, I let my copy go. But when I got a tenure-track job, I bought a copy again, and read it again. And I found I had nearly grown into it: now I knew who many of the names were (it helped that I had written about Charles and Mary Beard for my dissertation, and that I had taught the Sears case in a seminar) and I was better able to appreciate it as a well-written book backed by immense research.

Since its reacquisition it has maintained a place in my library, despite many further moves. And now I teach it, and so re-read it, pretty much every year. It is a pleasure to revisit; it repays re-reading, and perusal of the footnotes. One has recently inspired me to exhume some notes for a post; maybe I’ll actually get around to doing it.

I’ve met Novick only once, and that briefly at a conference—I doubt he remembers it—but I enjoy the illusion that I know and like him from his authorial voice, and am grateful for his annual company.

This entry was posted in a hit of methodology, our thing. Bookmark the permalink.