How to Study History (the top 10 tips)

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How to study history best books

August 6, 1806.

That was the date on which the Holy Roman Empire–first established by Charlemagne in AD 800–was dissolved by Austrian emperor Francis II, after getting his ass whooped by Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz.

On this particular day Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was staying at an inn. He noted grimly that the people in the inn were MORE interested in a quarrel between the innkeeper and a coachman, than they were about the fall of a 1000-year old empire!

How to study history map

This was perhaps the most monumental event in the history of Europe–and definitely in their lives–and still they didn’t care.

Most people have no sense of history, but. . .

Every Student of Success is Also a Student of History

–At the very least, they know the history of their industry well.

Steve Jobs was very knowledgeable about history, and not just the technology, media and computer industry.

Mike Tyson is maybe not the brightest guy, but he’s very well read on history, especially about war and boxing. He knows all there is to know about warlords and former champions:

I was serious about my history because I learned so much from the old fighters. What did I have to do to be like this guy? What discipline did this other guy possess?

Even the not-so-photogenic Ronald “Slim” Williams, CEO and founder of Cash Money Records, has studied the history of the music business, its record labels, and rap.

How to study history rappers

Rapper Lil’ Wayne, Ronald “Slim” Williams, and his brother, rapper and co-owner of Cash Money Records, Bryan “Birdman” Williams.

Studying history has little to do with memorizing specific dates and much to do with understanding large-scale trends; like: which things stand the test of time, which do not, and why that is.

If neuroscience is about the brain, physiology about the body, biology about living organisms, psychology about motivation, then history is about all those things in combination. History is for big picture thinkers.

By studying history you are less prone to jump to the conclusion that “the reason things are like they are today is because it’s the best possible solution.”

. . . Which simply isn’t true, in many cases.

Know Your Historical Context

When you start seeing how  and why things came to be the way they are, you realize that things aren’t set in stone.

You realize that things could easily have gone the other way and the world would be very different.

If Hannibal had conquered Rome. If Napoleon hadn’t been forced into war with Russia. If Hitler had won WW2. . . and so on.

You begin to understand things; like why your country is rich or poor, why your culture is the way it is, why certain traditions and customs exist. And you begin to question things.

 * * *

In this article I will reveal my 10+ best & most-used tips for how to study history

These tips are equally useful for reading biographies, because the best people make history. Hence the important of studying great men.

 * * *

1) History teaches by analogy and example; not by detail.

Or as Mark Twain put it, “history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Past  Present

Just because something happened or some method worked in the past does not mean it will happen or should work in the same way today. And vice versa.

This is another form of the “perfect-knowledge-trap”. (Because you’d have to know every confluent force converging into that outcome in the first place, and you don’t and you can’t.)

 

1b) Remain humble to randomness and extreme coincidences.

When Caesar Augustus (Octavian) rose to power at age 19 and became the foremost figure in Rome–and the known world–he did so by virtue of having (1) enormous sums of money to fund the largest army; (2) inherited Julius Caesar’s name and legacy, and (3)–which must not be overlooked–(3) balls of steel.

He then did many great things and had an enormously positive impact on Rome 1, restoring its morality and economy from a state of dissolution, chaos and near-anarchy after 50 years of brutal civil war.

–Now, that’s admirable, but it’s a situation birthed by an extreme combination of coincidences without historic precedence, before and after. How to study history Rome

1c) But also be open-minded enough to acknowledge that certain individuals, and the results they achieved, weren’t coincidental.

Like Napoleon.

The aftermath of the French Revolution augmented his rise, but you could’ve have put him in ANY era or industry, and he would still have been the boss.

 

2) Beware of falling victim to historical biases.

The two main ones are: (1) A particular historian’s ideological viewpoints and (2) anachronisms2 by yourself and others.

 

3) Do not pay overmuch attention–or attribute much importance–to weird quirks of historic figures or complex phenomena.

Yes, it’s true, Warren Buffett really does eat like someone from a poor black community. And he really does drink a fair amount of Coke/Pepsi/sodas. What of it? It’s just unhealthy.

This sort of stuff is both interesting and funny, I think so too, but it’s not important and should deliberately be cognitively weighted as such.

 

3b) Try to study failure equal to success.

Especially when it comes to business.

Said Francis Bacon: “Neglect not also the examples of those that have carried themselves ill in the same place”

Said Machiavelli: “look at their wartime strategies and study the reasons for their victories and defeats so as to avoid the failures and imitate the successes. ”

There is a bias only to look at success in a certain industry or at the people who were successful at XYZ. Beware of this and try to force yourself a little harder to look at the failures also. This may be more boring (less glamorous) to study, but they often hold more practical value.

How? By giving you a clear anti-example of what not to do. I personally learn best in this way (by process of elimination).

 

4) Do not be dissuaded by dislike/hate bias.

I like Hannibal and Scipio.
I like Caesar and Pompey.
I like Churchill and Hitler.

It’s important to learn from every great and significant historic figure.

Choosing not to learn from successful people–just because you dislike them–is a perfectly good way to make yourself an intellectual retard.

As much as I like Napoleon, I also appreciate Talleyrand’s eloquence, diplomacy, and intellectual versatility. At the end of his life, Talleyrand was probably the most valuable French statesman (and without a doubt the most experienced one).

How to study history read books(“Do you even read, bro?”)

5) Time-frame and perspective.

Knowing how to study history is great for becoming better at long-term thinking and familiarizing yourself with the fact that most important things take a LONG time. So you need to be patient.

I think adopting a proper time-frame and perspective come about naturally when you study history a lot. But. . .

. . . when you’re reading a biography, or studying the history of a particular field, the writer often skips over time as if it were nothing. In particular if nothing monumental happens. Be mindful of this when you notice it. Especially if it’s a great person’s life–because it is indicative of personal transformation or disciplined build-up.

It’s often in those long stretches of seeming passivity that the preparation goes on; like Hitler spending his 20s building the conceptual framework of the Reich, or Churchill hustling his ass off on speech tours for years to become financially independent, or Bernie Ecclestone learning everything about Formula One for several years before taking it over, or Lee Kuan Yew establishing his support network of voter constituencies for entering politics.

 

6) Use history as material and mental building blocks for memorizing bigger ideas, mental models, and phenomena.

History sticks well to the brain. You should use it specifically to remember important mental models, make sense of complex ideas, and such.

(You can read more about how to build a strong framework for learning here.)

 

7) Implant historic figures into your Dunbar’s Number and instinctively ask the question, “What would ______ do here?”

Above all he [the Prince] must do what some great men have done in the past: take as model a leader who’s been much praised and admired and keep his example and achievements in mind at all times. Alexander the Great modeled himself on Achilles, Caesar on Alexander and Scipio on Cyrus.”
Niccolo Machiavelli

This holds true for every discipline.  Steve Jobs’ #1 role model was George Eastman (Kodak founder). And it’s why Tyson studied warlords and fighters.

You also want to be able to invert the question: “What would __________ NOT do here?”

 

7b) And get to know the “real man” behind the standard portrait of the great man.

No one is without flaws; it’s just that every great man overcame them.

They suffered hardship and adversity, but conquered it. No one ever pays attention to the years spent in The Gauntlet. People only start paying attention once you’re triumphant in golden armor.

how to study history and triumph

Caesar suffered from epileptic attacks (which were a total taboo, as it indicated being CURSED BY THE GODS) and had to take great care to keep it hidden or his troops would’ve left him; Napoleon suffered from heavy hemorrhoids multiple times and may have lost at Waterloo due to being incapacitated from it that day; and Augustus–like JFK–was plagued by illnesses for much of his life.

But they still managed.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

8) See past the propaganda, or if that is not possible, deliberately underweight it in order to get a better idea.

History is rewritten with every era and its corresponding dominant ideology. The Communists are known to have enforced extreme historic revision (to make it seem like everything great ever made was made by Communist people). Similar revisionism is CONSTANTLY going on, only today we have many more ideological powerhouses trying to interpret history in a way that benefits them. Therefore: Ask yourself whose side of the story you’re being told.

This is why Henry Ford thought that “history is bunk”, and why Napoleon said that “history is a set of lies agreed upon.”

 

8b) Distinguish between two kinds of history: before and after the 19th century.

You’ll notice it’s much easier to find historic info after the 19th century. Especially information about famous people. You will also notice that this information tends to be a lot more coherent, as if following a narrative.

The reason why you should distinguish between history before and after the 19th century is because propaganda got much more efficient after this time. For example, radio was first put to serious use by powerful people ~1930.

Herbert Hoover was the first President of the United States who was able to use radio to spread his message. Because of this there’s a lot more–and coherent–information (probably carefully engineered to create a positive impression) about Hoover, than there is about the quiet Calvin Coolidge, who preceded him.

This is also true about Swedish mainstream history.

It is commonly assumed that the establishment of the “Folkhem” is the main reason for Sweden’s prosperity. The main guy behind it was the Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson. He was in power during WW2, and is often hailed as the greatest Swedish politician ever. But no one associates him with the shady deals between Germany and Sweden. Isn’t that funny?

 

9) While studying, make notes of other great/interesting historic figures being mentioned in context.

You should aim to know at least ~3 great men per era.

Everyone knows Caesar, Cicero, and Pompey; few know much about Crassus, Atticus, or Labienus.

For your information, I think Atticus may have had the most interesting and enjoyable life out of those six. He was like the Charlie Munger of that era.

The reason it’s important to know about several great historic figures per era is because. . .

 

10) The Great-Man Theory is correct for the most part.

Only a select few in each generation make up their mind to accomplish something worthwhile and remarkable, like Napoleon or Lee Kuan Yew.

Most people are self-serving Homeostasis Dwellers who are too lethargic to break out of it, given the high default level of comfort and security in modern society. Mastery is a foreign concept to them.

great man theory of history how to study history

Greek, Roman, French, and U.S culture (up to 1950 or so) did a great job encouraging this fact. Why did we stop building monuments and statues in commemoration of the greatest individuals?

Where is Lee Kuan Yew’s statue? Not in Singapore.

Pay no heed to the Batrachians who sit croaking idly by the stream. Life is a straight, plain business, and the way is clear, blazed for you by generations of strong men, into whose labours you must enter and whose ideals must be your inspiration.
William Osler

 

How to Study History According to My Best 10+ Tips

  1. Look at the big picture; not the minutiae.
  2. Be humble about randomness and weird circumstances. . .
  3.  . . but understand that there are great men who shape history.
  4. Beware of historical biases, like anachronisms.
  5. Be mindful of “time-skips”, especially in biographies.
  6. Don’t be weak-minded enough to be bothered by who you (dis)like when it comes to studying successful people.
  7. Use history mainly as a building block for conceptualizing or contextualizing big, complicated ideas.
  8. Study the greats to implant them into your Dunbar’s number.
  9. See past the popular portrait of famous, historic persons.
  10. Distinguish between pre/after 19th century (due to propaganda).
  11. Strive to know at least 3 great men per historic era.
  12. Keep the Great Man Theory top of mind at all times.

 


Note: The best introductory book about history, which I always recommend when asked, is The Lessons of History by überhistorian Will Durant.


Over to you:

Do you have any helpful tips on a similar vein?

Maybe you’ve got some book recommendation?

What historic figure(s) or era(s) are you particularly interested in currently?

 

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  1. Pax Romana

  2. which is when you extrapolate today’s morality onto the past.

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Comments

  1. Another great one Ludvig, I would suggest the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary. A great introduction to history and funny too.

    A timely reminder to read more history books. Much appriciated!

  2. It has been a while since I read your site or any Internet site now. (And I am all the better for it). Been busy with biz. But dang this is just gold mate.

    Also voted for you and your podcast friend. Good luck and I hope you win.

  3. My top tip:
    Popular history is often framed as “Hood guy” vs “Bad guy” and you gotta know that it is often in between.

  4. Thanks.

    Your point #8 is basically that history is written by winners. But did you know history is sometimes written by the “losers”? I mean people who have too much time on their hands or because they get paid by a “charitable foundation” If you catch my drift…….. .

    How to study history is an interesting idea to even begin with. You think in cool ways my friend.

  5. Highly skeptical says:

    I know Atticus but why of how do you think he possibly had a cooler life than Caesar??

    • I don’t know. But what I like about him is that he was able to remain outside the system, innovate and improve on the system, without having to risk his life or kill people.

    • Atticus was an Epicurean and for most Epicureans the mantra was to stay out of politics and enjoy life (although in a moderate way). He was like the guy who invents an app, gets lots of money and then cashes out.

      • Maybe the Epicureans don’t deserve their hedonist reputation then, based on today’s standards. Perhaps only they are remembered as “weak” or shameful for enjoying life is because they are put in contrast to the Stoics or other extra hard-working cultures that existed then. But by today’s standard’s they would still be admirable, based on what you are saying.

  6. This is some crazy good advice – thanks so much for lighting the way. I often find myself curious about these things but i haven’t been able to make sense of it until now, when it clicked!

    I have to ask about TGMT though. Since it is so important what should I learn more about it? For example the most popular book from what I see via simple googling is Thomas Carlyle. What’s your thought on this??

    • You don’t need to read Thomas Carlyle’s book (unless you want to). I read it and did not find it helpful. You only need to keep it in mind and understand that a few individuals have had a tremendous impact on civilization.

  7. A good book I am reading now is the main bio about JFK. He came from a special family.

    One thing that is worth being mentioned when it comes to history is that often something doesnt get though to the “mainstream” because its just not fun enough to repeat. So the cooler story sorta wins out if you know what I mean.

  8. If I understand correctly, it was a question by some extremely handsome gentleman some 2 years ago that inspired this post. :D

    I always find it easier to implement wisdom from a direct-advise book like Pitch Anything than any history book I’ve read thus far.
    Does this concur with your experience?

    I certainly wish there was an easier way to get straight to the core nuggets of wisdom in history books. Takes an enormous amount of time to go through a history book. I could do 10 direct advise books in that time, so I always end up picking the latter.option.

    • Same problem here, I’ve got loads of history books but default to reading direct-advise books instead.

    • It was indeed, thanks for the reminder! :)

      For the most part, I agree with you about practical books. And I mostly read those books. But I don’t read history or biographies for the same reasons. History, for me, is for gaining an overview, seeing the bigger picture, and strengthening ideas via association.

  9. Great advice.
    I am not particularly well read on history but I think the US Civil War period is interesting.

  10. #7 Is super important. I was in a bad spot some years back and read up about Caesar. Pharsalus was world-defining. To think that Caesar had to take his troops inland whilst they were starving and risking everything on a last stand was astounding. It’s widely documented that the troops ate roots during this time. When you have a choice of death of victory, you certainly lose most of the menial trepidation which prevents decisive action.

    Here’s a snippet:

    “Caesar’s men suffered most since they had a longer position to defend and could never gather enough food. Soon they were eating anything they could find. Some enterprising soldiers from Caesar’s camp discovered a local root called chara and turned it into a kind of bread. A few of Caesar’s men ran up to Pompey’s wall and tossed over samples shouting that as long as they could dig roots out of the earth they would keep up the fight. When Pompey’s officers showed some of the bread to their general, he exclaimed that if Caesar’s army could eat such food they must be beasts, not men.
    Pompey’s troops began to look on Caesar’s army as adversaries who could endure any hardship. Morale behind Pompey’s line weakened every day as they launched petty raids and suffered attacks but did nothing to drive Caesar’s men from the hills. “

  11. Nice tips Ludvig. I will pay attention to “know at least 3 great men per historic era.”

    >Maybe you’ve got some book recommendation?
    I recommend 48 laws of power, as an introduction and a motivation for studying history. I don’t know if you have already read it, is a best seller. Every chapter is a law for what you have to do to obtain power against other people, and it is illustrated with stories from famous men in history. After the story it comes the lesson. Very easy to read and fun.

    >What historic figure(s) or era(s) are you particularly interested in currently?
    I’m currently interested in Henry Ford. I’ll read the biographies of other people from the era, specially the ones that were in the business of cars. Maybe Ferdinand Porsche… Ferrari has to have one too. Perhaps Lamborghini too?

    • Thanks for the recommendation.

      I’m also going to read about Enzo Ferrari some time. After reading about Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One, I got interested in him.

    • In my opinion, the problem with the 48 laws of power is that those laws only apply in certain situations. The ideas there rely heavily on survivorship bias. The key is to know when to apply a particular law, since in one situation it might work and in another it won’t. It’s an interesting book, but very case specific.

      My tip for a guy from that era who isn’t always well-known: Tomas Bata – he built a global shoe empire and is the one who invented psychological pricing (prices ending in 9).

  12. Constant gold. I’ve always been intrigued by history and this pretty sums up how I should absorb it. Way too often I feel as if I’ve spent months studying History only to finally conclude that I can’t remember a thing. Thanks for great advice, as always. Been a long time reader.

  13. 1. Good point. Knowing the past helps us understand the present and predict the future, but only if we understand the past well enough to know its essential /differences/ from the present.

    2. How do you detect bias? Consider what agenda the interpretation might serve, the use of emotion in its presentation, the use of legitimate source material, and if possible the background of the writer. Anachronisms are best avoided by knowing enough history to know what things have changed, and when.

    3. This could be generalized to “Don’t obsess over trivia”. I know lots of people who think they are history geniuses because they know things like the name of Hitler’s dog or who pitched in the first World Series. This is worse than memorizing dates; a precise date is relevant information rendered to an unnecessary precision, but most of what people know about history is just irrelevant.

    4. Another critical point, which goes beyond just history. You don’t learn much by only exposing yourself to what you already agree with, but that’s all most people ever do in their entire lives. It’s a self-inflicted stupidity, and it’s scary how many people identify /knowing/ about something with supporting it. Not only do very few people read Hitler, most are absolutely horrified that I have, as if it were impossible to read an author without becoming his slave, or of even being interested in something unless you already worship it. Maybe for them it is.

    5. Events often move very quickly, but the forces that drive them evolve over decades and centuries.

    On dates: Exact dates are irrelevant. Exact years are mostly irrelevant. But it’s important to know enough about dates to understand the temporal relation between events. Unless (like me) you get July 4 off work, it’s not important to know the date of the U.S.A. Declaration of Independence. It’s not really important to know that it happened in 1776. But it is important to know that it followed soon after the Seven Years’ War, that it occurred during the late Enlightenment, and that it coincided with the Industrial Revolution in England, rapid improvements in agriculture, and the publication of /Wealth of Nations/, and that it was followed shortly by the French Revolution. Timing is the essence of the historical context.

    6. Concrete examples would be nice. Here’s one: I see history (like biological evolution) as an unstable dynamic process which creates the illusion of “progress” because modern people realize that they would fit poorly into previous epochs. As with any complex non-linear process, there are critical points where a tiny change can have an impact that multiplies enormously over time (the “Butterfly Effect”) but in most situations the ultimate course is inevitable – fluctuations caused by would-have-been-great men are weak and transient.

    7. It’s also important to understand the weaknesses and flaws of great men, not just try to imitate them.

    8. History, especially as taught for the masses, is all too often propagandistic. But I don’t agree with the assertion that it got worse after the nineteenth century. The dispassionate writing of history didn’t really even begin until the eighteenth century with Gibbon. The twentieth century produced a daunting amount of history based on clean scholarship. If you discount the swill that is taught in schools, revisionist crap by neo-liberals, and other obvious propaganda, you will still find that by far most of the important and useful histories were written in the twentieth century and especially after the War. Before then, the resources just didn’t exist to carry out intensive historical and archeological research on a large scale. Nationalist and racist biases were also stronger and more pervasive in the past.

    9. I think it’s more important to know underlying technological and socioeconomic factors, and psychological differences from the modern world, than to know great men. To me it is more interesting why every significant human society, for several millennia, accepted slavery (so universally repugnant to the modern mind) without question, or why we are enthusiastic about such an irrational form of government as democracy, than the elements of Napoleon’s character that resulted in his conquest of Europe.

    10. I don’t put as much stock in the Great Man theory as some do. The potential for an individual to change the course of history has diminished greatly over the centuries. Great leaders have necessarily faded with the rise of democracy, and there is no more room for conquerors at all. Great wars were abolished by the atomic bomb. Crucial inventions are now the work of teams and are planned decades in advance.

    All of the achievements of “great men” are to some extent coincidental. They are usually above average, at least in some important way, but that is hardly enough. Had Napoleon been born a slave in Virginia, he would not have become the boss of anything. With regard to Augustus, is it not likely that, in his default, some other man would have risen into the vacuum and achieved similar (if not identical) things? The times make the man – not from an ordinary man, but there are always more men with the potential for greatness then there are opportunities for greatness.

    • What an excellent comment. Thanks.

      But how dare you downplay the importance of the first pitch?

      “as if it were impossible to read an author without becoming his slave, or of even being interested in something unless you already worship it. Maybe for them it is.”

      –Yes, perhaps.

      “Events often move very quickly, but the forces that drive them evolve over decades and centuries.”
      –Well said. This is especially important when it comes to economics, politics, and other complex systems.

      Re 6:
      Funny that you mention that specific example with evolution. We said the same thing on the podcast some weeks ago.

      “but in most situations the ultimate course is inevitable”
      –Could you give an example of this? I mean, in evolution. Not counting the prominent example of when the gene(s) for neuronal growth in the neocortex spread among our ancestors.

      “fluctuations caused by would-have-been-great men are weak and transient.”
      –In evolution, yes. In the history of human events? I disagree.

      7) Re flaws:
      Yes, that’s equally important.

      8) Re propaganda:
      “If you discount the swill that is taught in schools, revisionist crap by neo-liberals, and other obvious propaganda,”
      –I don’t. Because that’s where most people are perpetually bogged down.
      But I see your point and it is a good one.

      9)
      Great examples.

      10)
      “there are always more men with the potential for greatness then there are opportunities for greatness.”
      –That is true.
      Regarding Augustus, I don’t believe so. (Given Caesar’s assassination.) Mark Anthony was a real klutz, but good at power games. And even if he had been overthrown by someone else, it seems extremely unlikely that they could have done what Augustus did. Rome would have been in deep, deep trouble.

      • Thanks Ludvig.

        If you have read about evolution, you may have discovered the concept of “punctuated equilibrium”. It is the theory that things change very slowly most of the time, but big changes happen very suddenly. Contrary to Darwin’s original ideas, it doesn’t take an enormous time for a major change – time alone is not sufficient. What it takes is the right impetus at the right time, and more specifically it takes the right impetus at a time of severe stress (environmental change, in the case of evolution). Species that are lucky enough to have the right mutations lurking in their gene pool undergo a rapid shift of gene frequencies accompanied by dramatic phenotypic evolution to adapt to the new conditions. Other species die out.

        When environmental conditions are stable, species become gradually perfected thereto but their basic nature is unchanged – as sharks are said to be much the same now as they were a hundred million years ago.

        When conditions change precipitously, it is a matter of rapid adaption or extinction. At the end of the Cretaceous, dinosaurs disappeared but mammal and bird species soon multiplied in great profusion. Some few individuals, that had the right mutant genes, were the “great men” of the Cretaceous.

        Other species might just as well have had other mutant genes that would have led to a very different future – perhaps giant arachnids traveling to the stars ten million years ago – but they did not. The point, however, is that none of these genes, in whatever species, made any difference until the asteroid impact. Whatever phenotypical expressions they had were useless, and what’s more there was no possibility that any major phenotypical change would be beneficial. The extant species were already well adapted to the late Cretaceous, and major changes would have been as ludicrous as Creationist nonsense like comparing the evolution of birds to bolting ironing boards to a truck. The “great man” genes were worse than useless; they jeopardized the life of every individual bearing them.

        In human history there are (so far) no external traumas like asteroids, but there are still critical points where everything may hang on the action of a great man – and conversely there are much longer periods where the equilibrium is stable.

        Maybe Augustus saved Rome (you obviously know more of that era than I do) – but why didn’t Spartacus destroy it? By all we know, he surely had the attributes of a great man. But the ancient world was then in a state where his potential – his mutant gene, if you will – had no chance of successful expression. His rebellion, so impressive at first, was washed away without leaving a ripple.

        *Yes, I know that external disturbance is not the same as the instability of a chaotic system, but I think the illustration is still valid.

        **One will see I am not dismissing the importance of great men entirely. Nonetheless I think their influence has diminished with time, not because human civilization is in a state of stable equilibrium but for very different reasons.

      • Thanks for explaining your thinking here.

        Regarding Spartacus:
        I have not read about him *specifically* but I’ve read about him in context several times and I disagree with you. I think his “mutant gene” (as you put it) expressed itself marvelously well. He just didn’t have enough (experienced/trained) troops. Nor the timing. Roman civilization–economy, manpower, and morale–was still quite sturdy at that particular time.

        Had Spartacus done what he did some decades later, during the tumultuous times before Augustus’, who knows what would have happened.

      • Well that, pretty much, is my point. Spartacus acted at one of the times and places where equilibrium was strong and even a major disturbance quickly subsided to the status quo. I think that most societies, most of the time, in most of their aspects, are quite stable.

        There are also points where a tiny nudge at the right time can have massive and unpredictable repercussions for the distant future, even though at the time nothing seems to have changed. This is a great source of “what if” historical speculation, like what might have been different today if George Washington had had a son. It is also a characteristic behavior of complex dynamic systems. /Chaos/ by James Gleick is a good layman’s introduction to non-linear systems behavior.

    • You just made my bus ride a bit more interesting abgrund 📖
      I sometimes skim the comments for your answers but dont think I have replied before.

    • I had just been thinking about tandemocracy today. kind of like they have in Britain, with the government and royalty together. I was also wondering why people hate dictatorships. I had thought about examples of Dictators that were not terrible.

      But could you explain why Democracy is irrational?

      • As a long-term reader of SGM (and your commentary [Abgrund]), I would also like to hear this once and for all.

      • I’m not sure this is the proper post, or the proper forum, for an extended critique of a subject in which most Western people have a deep emotional investment. I defer to Ludvig’s preference on this point.

  14. May need to revisit that list with each new history/biography. Really great checklist of things to keep top-of-mind.

    It seems to me that most of the greats didn’t merely overcome their flaws, but learned to use them. Not escaping the shadow–eating the shadow.

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