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The Landscape of History

How Historians Map the Past

John Lewis Gaddis

Publication Date - April 2004

ISBN: 9780195171570

208 pages
5-5/16 x 8 inches

In Stock

A brilliant book about what history is and what historians do, by one of the most respected scholars in the field


What is history and why should we study it? Is there such a thing as historical truth? Is history a science? One of the most accomplished historians at work today, John Lewis Gaddis, answers these and other questions in this short, witty, and humane book. The Landscape of History provides a searching look at the historian's craft, as well as a strong argument for why a historical consciousness should matter to us today.

Gaddis points out that while the historical method is more sophisticated than most historians realize, it doesn't require unintelligible prose to explain. Like cartographers mapping landscapes, historians represent what they can never replicate. In doing so, they combine the techniques of artists, geologists, paleontologists, and evolutionary biologists. Their approaches parallel, in intriguing ways, the new sciences of chaos, complexity, and criticality. They don't much resemble what happens in the social sciences, where the pursuit of independent variables functioning with static systems seems increasingly divorced from the world as we know it. So who's really being scientific and who isn't? This question too is one Gaddis explores, in ways that are certain to spark interdisciplinary controversy.

Written in the tradition of Marc Bloch and E.H. Carr, The Landscape of History is at once an engaging introduction to the historical method for beginners, a powerful reaffirmation of it for practitioners, a startling challenge to social scientists, and an effective skewering of post-modernist claims that we can't know anything at all about the past. It will be essential reading for anyone who reads, writes, teaches, or cares about history.


  • Written by one of the most accomplished historians at work today, John Lewis Gaddis.
  • An engaging introduction to the historical method for beginners.
  • Helps answer the question: What is history and why should we study it?

About the Author(s)

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University. A leading authority on Cold War history, his books include We Now Know, The Long Peace, and Strategies of Containment. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.


"Will... never allow either the reader of history or the writer of it to think about the past in quite the same way as before."--The New York Times

"A masterful statement on the historical method.... Gaddis' characterization of the social sciences will surely spark debate even as it illuminates important intellectual connections between the disciplines. Delightfully readable, the book is a grand celebration of the pursuit of knowledge."--Foreign Affairs

"A bold and challenging book, unafraid of inviting controversy. It provides a strong statement for our time of both the limits and the value of the historical enterprise."--The New York Times Book Review

"A real tour de force: a delight to read, and a light-hearted celebration of the odd, 'fractal' patterns that intellectual and other forms of human and natural history exhibit."--William H. McNeill

"Turns the old argument over science and history upside down."--The Washington Post Book World

"Never before have I come across a book that so illuminated the craft of the historian."--Michael Pakenham, The Baltimore Sun

"This is another of those books that rewards the effort it requires. Besides providing invaluable insights into how the historian goes about his business, it teaches--like all really good books--of life beyond its boundaries."--Colin Walters, Washington Times

Table of Contents

    1. "The Landscape of History"
    2. "Time and Space"
    3. "Structure and Process"
    4. "The Interdependency of Variables"
    5. "Chaos and Complexity"
    6. "Causation, Contingency, and Counterfactuals"
    7. "Molecules with Minds of Their Own"
    8. "Seeing Like a Historian"