History In An Hour by Rupert Colley
Rupert Colley is an author and editor of several books in the History in an Hour series. His latest, The Russian Revolution, was published yesterday.
The fascination with history was always part of my growing up – why, I even had a father that was historic. He was already 63 by the time I was born and, as a teenager, it wasn’t always easy having a septuagenarian dad. Friends at school used to ask, 'why’s your dad so old?' They were right; in fact, he was so old, Queen Victoria was still on the throne at the time of his birth. He collected medals, a collection I've now inherited, and as a boy I was mesmerised by their appearance and the stories that lay behind them. Most had the name and rank of the recipient inscribed on the rim and I dreamt of being like them – a military hero in faraway lands which, given my inherent cowardice, was fanciful to say the least.
My brother inherited the same interest in history. He recently exclaimed to me that his new girlfriend hadn’t even heard of the Retreat from Mons. Well, really, one should expect more.
And just as my father embarrassed me simply for being so ancient, I'm now an embarrassment to my teenage son – other dads don't have a bust of Lenin, a candlestick made from canon balls from the Crimean War, or a framed Victoria Cross on their walls (sadly a replica).
I took a history degree but my real interest started after graduating because then, finally, I could read whatever I wanted-- but where to start? The choice is unending and I found myself flitting from one subject to another-- Henry VIII this week, the Spanish Civil War the next, the American Revolution the week after that. Sometimes all I wanted was a simple introduction. There were over 10,000 military engagements during the American Civil War but I just wanted to know the headlines. Shallow of me, perhaps, but I also wanted to know why Alfred the Great burnt his cakes, how the Egyptians built their pyramids and why Napoleon invaded Russia. And all at the same time.
So slowly an idea formed in my mind of presenting history in its most digestible form, a way of providing a starting point; and from such musings came the idea for History In An Hour. I knew there was, and still is, a huge demand for history presented in such a way yet for years I held back, thinking it wasn’t the proper way to 'do' history. Amazon helped me change my mind. The revolution in how we read seemed ideal for History In An Hour: quick reads for people on the go in this, our digital age.
Far from "dumbing down", it provides a way into history for people who may feel daunted by the mass and sheer length of new history titles that come out every year. I call it 'history for busy people'.
And my wife could still, with a limited interest in history, tell you about the Retreat from Mons – reluctantly, maybe, but she could.