An erudite scholar and an elegant writer, Gordon S. Wood has won both numerous awards and a broad readership since the 1969 publication of his widely acclaimed The Creation of the American Republic. With The Purpose of the Past, Wood has essentially created a history of American history, assessing the current state of history vis-à-vis the work of some of its most important scholars-doling out praise and scorn with equal measure. In this wise, passionate defense of history's ongoing necessity, Wood argues that we cannot make intelligent decisions about the future without understanding our past. Wood offers a master's insight into what history-at its best-can be and reflects on its evolving and essential role in our culture.
When a writer sets out to publish a collection of his or her essays and reviews, the finished product all too often shows traces of the author's unsuccessful struggle to create a unifying theme for disparate and unwieldy material. But Gordon S. Wood, the eminent historian of 18th-century America, has not had to make any such effort, for this collection of his long reviews (most of which initially appeared in The New York Review of Books) serves as a neat anatomy of the changes intellectual fashion has imposed on his discipline over the past 25 years, and a commentary upon the process of writing history that is both sensible and sensitive -- and sometimes impassioned, as well.