Stupid bias in books is ubiquitous, but it is particularly obvious in children’s literature. There is a reason for that. Not only are most works of popularized history and social sciences low brow, but the level of juvenile books is even lower. For that reason I give my twelve-year-old credit for spotting the obvious bias in The Cold War by Britta Bjornlund, which we got from our local library. Reagan was an “aggressive” leader but Gorbachev gets all the credit for ending the forty year standoff of East and West. Ms. Bjornlund also has a pet cat named “Trotsky.” Go figure.

But there are some good nonfiction works for younger readers if you hunt for them. A truly first-rate study is Albert Marrin’s Stalin: Russia’s Man of Steel which was put out by Viking Penguin in the late 80s (still in print), and which draws heavily on the work of scholars like Robert Conquest—the British historian who was one of the first to tell western readers about the full scope of Russia’s mass murders. I’d recommend Marrin’s work for older readers as well. It provides an accurate and unflinching portrayal of the USSR and the man who came to rule it. Marrin offers readable studies of Hitler, Napoleon, Robert E. Lee and other important historical figures.

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4 replies to this post
  1. Many thanks to Mr. Anger: no surprise that he has such a bright and observant son.

    I haven't yet read Marrin's Stalin, but in the 1920s and later Harold Lamb (1892-1962) wrote a few historical novels and many accessible biographies of emperors and war-lords – early Islamic conquest, Genghis Khan, Crusaders, Tamerlane, Suleiman the Magnificent, Alexander, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Theodora & Justinian, Charlemagne, Cyrus the Great, Babur, Hannibal, the Cossacks, etc. Cecil B. DeMille hired him as an advisor on his film 'The Crusades' and others, and Lamb apparently spoke English, French, Latin, Farsi, Arabic and 'a smattering of Manchu-Tatar'! I read many of his biographies as a teenager, but so long ago that I cannot vouch for historical accuracy or any bias. But I remember the joy with which I devoured them.They are available, used, for under two bucks on Amazon.

  2. Thanks. Not familiar with Lamb but grew up on on old historical romance films a la Erroll Flynn. Fun stuff. My kids joked about Trotsky the cat. How about Martin Bormann the dog or a hermit crab named Lord Haw Haw? Why wouldn't that fly? : )

  3. Matt, an academic friend-of-friend collects small portrait busts of hideous dictators but even better is your family's idea of pets with warped names, although i may quail at walking through my neighbourhood calling for Martin Borman! But I could call for Martin harmlessly, and Paul (Pot). Or a cat called Mousy (Tung). Or keep a parakeet called Gen (eralissimo Franco) or a goldfish called Eel (Duce). Wolfie, a good dog-name, was Hitler's nickname to (the horrid) Winnifred Wagner's family at Bayreuth, but when you think he's gone for a run in the park he may be invading Poland.

  4. Stephen, Nice totalitarian puns (chortling loudly). Horrid Wagners indeed! Love the idea of the busts, but would be afraid someone would miss the humor. But then I love the Moe Howard impersonations of Hitler.

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