The study of history is an edifying pursuit, but it’s also time-consuming. We all…okay, well most of us I should say, like to be edified, but most of us don’t have the time…or the attention span. And so it’s always nice when some great scribe lays down the lessons he or she has learned from a lifetime of personal study.
Such is the case with professor H.W. Brands. He has written a number of history books, but he’s mostly known for his superb biographies. Biography, in my view, is the highest of art forms under the category of History. As I’ve said before, I think you get more wisdom and inspiration from the study of people’s lives than almost any other literature.
I pulled Brand’s bio of FDR from my bookshelf the other day (I haven’t read it yet), and that led me to his internet homepage where I found these aphoristic observations from Brands’s life of studying “humanity’s crooked path.”
Idiosyncratic observations on humanity’s crooked path
1. There are no laws of history.
(History is not physics; people are not atoms. But there are patterns.)
2. Beliefs die when the believers do.
(People don’t change their minds, but neither do they live forever.)
3. The Sabbath comes once a week; people eat every day.
(Material desires are the locomotive of history; ideals are the whistle.)
4. Every country gets the foreign policy it can afford.
(Poor countries bend to fate; rich countries try to change it.)
5. Happy stays home.
(Immigrant nations like the U.S. are inherently restless.)
6. Sex makes babies; war makes heroes.
(Which is why humans are so attached to both.)
7. Even monsters sleep well.
(The capacity for self-justification is boundless.)
8. Great leaders have limited vision.
(People who look too far ahead trip over the present.)
9. History is complicated.
(For simple, see myth.)