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A reconsideration of the first modern historian and his methods from a renowned scholarThe grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own tiA reconsideration of the first modern historian and his methods from a renowned scholarThe grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own time. In Thucydides, Donald Kagan, one of our foremost classics scholars, illuminates the great historian and his work both by examining him in the context of his time and by considering him as a revisionist historian. Thucydides took a spectacular leap into modernity by refusing to seek explanations for human behavior in the will of the gods, or even in the will of individuals, looking instead at the behavior of men in society. In this context, Kagan explains how The Peloponnesian War differs significantly from other accounts offered by Thucydides' contemporaries and stands as the first modern work of political history, dramatically influencing the manner in which history has been conceptualized ever since....

Title : Thucydides: The Reinvention of History
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ISBN : 9780670021291
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
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Thucydides: The Reinvention of History Reviews

  • Darwin8u
    2019-02-18 14:28

    "I doubt seriously whether a man can think with full wisdom and with deep convictions regarding certain of the basic international issues today who has not at least reviewed in his mind the period of the Peloponnesian War and the Fall of Athens." - George C Marshall, 1947"And, perhaps, my account will seem less pleasing to those who hear it because of its lack of fabulous tales, but if it be judged useful by those who seek an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be satisfied." - Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian WarDonald Kagan, one of the preeminent Classical scholars of the last 50 years, who has spent most of his professional career writing and researching the Peloponnesian War has written a tight book exploring Thucydides as a historian, philosopher, and comparing the myth of the Man/Historian/Philosopher against the reality. Kagan investigates Thucydides motives, revisions to history, and opinions. It is an interesting biography of a historian combined with a light textual analysis of his book. It is a historical love note, with just a dash of realism and hint of criticism. It is also, put in today's context, not a little bit ironic. Each time I've read about the Peloponnesian War I finish the book or article thinking of how Thucydides was an early master of real politick. I think about how Athens invading Sicily strangely parallels the US preemptively invading Iraq, waging war against the "enemies of democracy" and the "axis of evil". I was going to make some snarky comment about how hard it must be for Donald Kagan, this historian of the brilliant and pragmatic historian/philosopher/general Thucydides, to share a name with Robert Kagan one of the neocons responsible for providing intellectual cover for the last couple decades of American Imperialism. Imagine my surprise to discover that Donald is John's father. Gods. What a Greek Drama there. I just can't decide if having Robert Kagan be Donald Kagan's son is more of a comedy, satire, or tragedy. Some lessons just don't get shared with sons I guess. Well, perhaps they do, but only when they are carved into marble.

  • Chris
    2019-02-12 10:26

    A friend asked me about this book. Here is what I wrote to him...Of course I recommend the book...It's Donald Kagan on Thucydides!!! I admit that I have only inspected the book and have not yet given it the complete reading it obviously deserves. But here's my preliminary impression.First off, the book develops themes that Kagan has presented in some of his previous work, especially in a brief (and quite insightful) article he wrote about 20 years ago called something like, "The First Revisionist Historian." Also, some points in the book previously appeared in Kagan's biography of Pericles, others in vol. 1 of his four-volume series on the Peloponnesian War, and still others in chapter 1 of his fine book, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. In short, there does not appear to be a lot of new stuff in this book.Second, Kagan reads Thucydides primarily with historical questions in view. This is, of course, legitimate and important, but such a reading necessarily overlooks other aims of Thucydides' project. Thus, to assess Thucydides as a historian is to assess only one dimension of Thucydides. To his credit, Kagan understands this. But a reader should be aware that there is far more going on in Thucydides than what Kagan chooses to interact with.Third, the book displays Kagan's remarkable clarity and depth. Few equal him in either attribute.Fourth, Thucydides is the premiere political historian, and delivers a powerfully nuanced political philosophy through his narrative. His greatest followers, Machiavelli and Hobbes, towering figures though they were, could not rise to Thucydides' level. What I quarrel with in Thucydides--adamantly--is his view that political explanations are total explanations. On this point I fall squarely on the side of Herodotus over against Thucydides. I join Herodotus when he takes social and cultural matters seriously in historical analysis. But on this question Kagan sides with Thucydides. I don't buy in to the old-time tendency to privilege political history that Kagan celebrates.Finally, if you buy only one book by Kagan, get his one-volume Peloponnesian War or On the Origins of War. If you buy only one book on Thucydides, I would put this one in line behind both Clifford Orwin's The Humanity of Thucydides and Gregory Crane's Thucydides and the Ancient Simplicity. Does that mean that Kagan's book on Thucydides is not worthwhile? Not at all. Read that one too!

  • Bryn Hammond
    2019-02-06 15:10

    This writer on Thuc isn't for me; I found his interpretations influenced by his views on the present day (and I differ from his politics). But then it bugs me that Thuc is enlisted in our world affairs the way he is.

  • Karl Rove
    2019-01-29 10:24

    If you haven’t read any Kagan before, better to start with his majestic Pericles Of Athens And The Birth Of Democracy.

  • Pterodactyl
    2019-02-14 13:14

    Donald Kagan starts out with a simple thesis: Thucydides, who is widely renowned in modern times for giving "just the facts" in his history, is not entirely free from bias in his History of the Peloponnesian War... in fact, his point was to convince his contemporaries to accept a radically different view of the war than was popular in his day. Contemporaries blamed the war on Pericles, but big T, who had long been a supporter of Pericles, argued that the war was systemic and inevitable. They also blamed Nicias, another man T admired, for the failure of the Sicilian expedition. T says no, it was the fault of demagogueic post-Periclean democracy. Kagan points out how T can be selective in his reporting in order to show his side of the story... but after basically ripping on T for the whole book, in the final chapter Kagan makes it clear that he still admires Thucydides (as one would expect, since Kagan has dedicated much of his professional career to T and the Peloponnesian War), and that most of the evidence he uses against T comes straight from T's history: in short, while even T could not completely escape bias in his conclusions, he was still a model historian because he gave the facts so that many conclusions could be drawn. Kagan also speaks up for political history in the last few pages, defending it against the ever growing tide of social and cultural history that now dominates.This book was really engrossing. I knew very little about the Peloponnesian War before reading the book, but Kagan fills in the basic for neophytes like myself, and the narrative of the war is well balanced with his analysis. It seems written for a fairly general audience, but you will probably need some interest in history to care about whether or not Thucydides was biased.

  • Masen Production
    2019-01-30 14:04

    “2500 years ago a war raged in ancient Greece that lasted 30 years. It was then chronicled by Thucydides an Athenian by birth & who too had been part of this war. His account of this war has been a treatise for all historians across two & a half millennia to muse over & to comprehend what caused this great war & draw parallels to wars of their times.Thanks to his research & unbiased writing History had finally found a pioneer who taught how one should chronicle it. This book by Donald Keegan is a treat since for the first time an individual has written an autobiography of him based out of the book he has written.Its a wonderful attempt & for all those who are aware or read Thucydides "30 years of Peloponnese war" Then this book is a treat not to be missed.”

  • Sigrid Fry-Revere
    2019-02-12 12:03

    I was fascinated by Kagan's reinterpretation of Thucydides and Kagan's faith in democracy -- a faith I believe Thucydides rightly didn't share.

  • Stephen Tuck
    2019-02-02 11:23

    The cover notes for this book describe it as an example of one great historian engaging another across the centuries. The assessment is entirely sound.Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is an intriguing instance of a book which is both a history of a particular historical event, as well as being a historical phenomenon in its own right. One of the points Kagan makes is that Thucydides shaped - indeed, created - the Western conception of what a history (as opposed to an annal or a chronicle) should be and what form it should take. So influential has he been, that two-and-a-half millennia later luminaries like Hayden White and Dominick LaCapra are still unteasing the threads of the genre he created. Adopting some of the ideas as to how culture is absorbed and transmitted that Ginzberg developed in The Cheese and the Worms, we can even say that the History still shapes how we think about the past and, indeed, how we imagine historical cause and effect.Kagan’s particular concern is with the ways in which Thucydides took a revisionist approach to the received wisdom of his day. Some of these ideas can be extracted from contemporary records (the plays of Aristophanes, for example). More frequently, they are inferred from Thucydides’ own history, and from the gaps between the events he recorded and the analysis he extracted from them. Kagan’s extraction of these ancient opinions from between the lines of history is no mean intellectual feat.The book proceeds by looking at key events in the Peloponnesian War - in particular, the military strategy developed by Pericles, the success at Sphacteria, and the disastrous campaign on Sicily - and contrasts the analyses and assessments made by Thucydides with the evidence he marshals, pointing out how on a number of occasions the two can only be made consistent with a degree of intellectual gymnastics or rhetorical sleight of hand. The key impression one is left with is that there was a fundamental tension within the man between the historian who wrote for eternity, and the statesman and general who was attempting to defend policies which his era considered to have failed. In that regard, Thucydides set the pattern for later writers in the forms of Niccolo Machiavelli, Jefferson Davis, Jawaharlal Nehru and Winston Churchill. That each of these writers took up the challenge of attempting to analyse the record without impugning their own record seems, in light of Thucydides example, praiseworthy. At the least, it suggests that when looking at any past man or woman of office who has taken up the pen to write history, we should perhaps heed the warning of another historian -"One thing therefore History will do: pity them all; for it went hard with them all. Not even the seagreen Incorruptible but shall have some pity, some human love, though it takes an effort. And now, so much once thoroughly attained, the rest will become easier. To the eye of equal brotherly pity, innumerable perversions dissipate themselves; exaggerations and execrations fall off, of their own accord": Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Ch 3.3.I (1836)

  • Ken
    2019-01-22 11:04

    I wondered what the author meant when he said that Thucydides was writing a revisionist history since he was the first one writing a history of the Peloponnesian War. He had two goals in mind to revise what he thought were errors in contemporary thought on the subject and to leave an objective record for future readers. The author disagrees with many of Thucydides' interpretations of event, yet finds that he has left a clear record for later readers to come up with their own interpretations and understanding of events. For instance, Thucydides lays more blame upon the sort of democracy that would lead to rash decisions about the invasion of Sicily rather that the architect of the disaster, Nicias. Contemporaries and the author believe that Nicias should have abandoned Sicily while there was still time to save his army. He didn't due to fear of being put to death when he returned to Athens having failed in his expedition. Consequently his whole army was destroyed. There is a discussion of the workings of the Athenian democracy. During Pericles' lifetime about 50,000 people were considered citizens and in any given time about 5.000-6,000 would show up at the assemblies held on a hill called the Pnyx. The citizens sat on the hill and listened to speakers on a low platform. The meetings were called when needed and would approve and disapprove measures, pick generals, etc. Thousands citizens were too many to conduct business without help so they had a Council of Five Hundred, chosen by lot among the citizens. This councils main job was to prepare legislation for consideration by the people. In the end the vote would be a simple majority among the whole of the citizens at a meeting.There were a great number of public servants chosen by lot by the assembly;such things as market inspectors were even chosen by lot.Juries consisted of from 51 to 1501 jurors. There was a very complicated selection of jurors to prevent any kind of bribery. Trials were held in just one day. The litigants would make their testimony and then there would be a vote. The trials despite their many flaws were simple, speedy and open. If a plaintiff did not win a certain percentage of the votes they would have to pay a hefty fine which was a way of preventing frivolous law suits. I quite enjoyed this work and am happy to learn about the first political historian and the Greek historian who had the greatest influence upon later ancient historians and his influence on those of modern times.

  • Philip
    2019-01-23 11:08

    Interesting take on Thucydides by one of his most famous modern scholars... I can't say I agree with all the conclusions Kagan arrives at (like Thucydides himself, Kagan is reliant on what he assumes people would've thought given certain information) but the simple practice in critical thinking that an analysis of history such as this requires is highly commendable. Wouldn't it be amazing if this was the level of political discourse in a modern American election? I can't help but think of someone like Trump as a modern Cleon, as described by Aristotle: "[Cleon] seems to have corrupted the people more than anyone by his attacks; he was the first to shout while speaking in the assembly, first to use abusive language there, first to hitch up his skirts [and move about] while addressing people, although the other speakers behaved properly." Political discourse in America has never been more shallow or aggressive as it currently is in 2016. For this reason alone I would recommend this book to anyone: it is important to exercise critical thinking, especially when applied to political theory and respected views from history. No historian has ever been free of personal bias and it is important that every citizen maintain the mental abilities to arrive at intelligent conclusions using solely their own judgement, not simply what someone has told them.Despite Kagan's best attempts, I still side with Thucydides in thinking that the Athenian democracy's ignorance and shallowness led to their state's demise. If we do not wake up, we are in danger of committing a very similar folly today. Every voting citizen in a democracy should have an understanding of the viewpoints put forth by Thucydides, regardless of what conclusions are drawn from them. Unrelated, but I can't help but thinking the Peloponnesian War (or at least the Sicilian Expedition) would make a great HBO mini-series...

  • Trav
    2019-02-12 14:07

    The title of this book is a partly misleading. Though Kagan does an excellent job of supporting his view that Thucydides was the world's first revisionist historian, this short, insightful, and well written book goes much further than merely critiquing Thucydides History. It provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the context and some of the key events of the Peloponnesian War.The common thread that links the themes of the book is the influence the democratic system had on Athenian decision-making both before and during the war. Kagan highlights Thucydides' different treatment of Athenian democracy during the Periclean, and post-Periclean periods. Thucydides' disdain for the demagoguery that afflicted Athens following the death of Pericles, Kagan argues, influenced his telling of the history of this period. One can't help walk away from Thucydides description of the Sicilian Expedition and the treatment of Nicias, in particular, without appreciation the author's apparent frustration with the events as they unfolded. However, Kagan, drawing on other ancient commentators, as well as Thucydides' own words, puts forward a convincing argument that though the democracy was be no means blameless for the strategic failures of the latter parts of the War, it's actions by no means preordained the failures that befell it.In all, this is well worth the read for anyone with even a passing interest in the Peloponnesian War, or for understanding the role the historian plays in shaping history. At just over 230 pages, if you have managed to read Thucydides' masterpiece, Kagan's critique would be a well worthwhile an illuminating walk in the park.

  • Andy Miller
    2019-02-05 07:12

    Thucydides wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and is widely credited as the first modern historian. The book was written by Thucydides while in exile during the war and his based on his research as well as his first hand observations of many of the key debates and votes in the Athens council. This book by Donald Kagan is not so much a biography of Thucydides as it is a critical analysis of Thucydides' history. Kagan's thesis is that Thucydides revised the thinking of the time as to the key events in the war. Kagan argues that much of the revision was based on the loyalty Thucydides had to Pericles and other subjective opinions Thucydides had at the time.This was an interesting but by no means an easy read. It assumes a certain knowledge by the reader of Greek history at the time, and I found myself doing occasional research during my reading of the book. The book was as much about the issues of writing history as it was about the wars between Athens and Sparta though I found chapters such as whether Athens was truly a Democracy and perspectives on Athens as an empire and other Greek city states looking at the wars as wars for liberty very informative of the times.I would not recommend this to a casual reader looking for a general history of the time, but it is an absorbing read if you are interested in a critical analysis of how histories are written

  • Greg
    2019-02-07 13:29

    Donald Kagan is the pre-eminent modern historian of the Peloponnesian War, and in this book, he retells the essential parts of the history in the context of Thucydides' aims. Kagan's essential point is that Thucydides, writing for a contemporary audience, is attempting to sway the readers away from popular interpretation of events toward the true, as he defined it, interpretation of events. He uses a number of artistic devices to do this - his selection of speeches and the juxtaposition of events foremost among them. To be specific, Thucydides is critical of direct democracy run by the mob, as opposed to the democracy led by Pericles. Kagan's argument is well-supported, and straightforwardly presented. For the reader without background in the Peloponnesian War, he presents complimentary history to go along with the argument. Kagan also, especially at the end, emphasizes that Thucydides presents the truth and makes an argument for its interpretation, as opposed to misrepresentation of the facts. In his analysis of the treatment of Nicias, he clearly articulates that Thucydides is sometimes less than successful.I highly recommend this book for the depth of its analysis, the clear presentation of the history itself, and the quality of Kagan's writing and research.

  • sologdin
    2019-02-09 10:02

    The basic argument here is that Thukydides may well be decently reliable in his reportage, but that his interpretation of the events reported is subject to challenge on numerous counts, such as the causes of the Peloponnesion War, the effectiveness of Pericles, the meaning of Athenian democracy, the scope of the conflict, and the responsibility for the Sicilian disaster (i.e., Kagan makes a decent case that Thukydides' favorite, Nicias, should be cast in judgment). The fundamental tool of analysis is that Thukydides is a revisionist, even though he is the first true historian in the modern sense (Herodotos doesn't count for Kagan), which nicely renders all history as revisionism. The target of revision was, for Kagan, the conventional opinions of Athenians at the time of Thukydides' writing; Kagan does not fail to point out that Thukydides is himself not exactly sympathetic to Athens after his exile during the war.The text is short and sweet, and though I may prefer de Ste. Croix's reading of Thukydides, this is certainly worthwhile for ancient history nerds, art of war geeks, Alcibiades epigones, and Peisistratid apologists.

  • Alexandra
    2019-01-27 10:17

    I bought this book ages ago because I was fascinated by the idea of finding out more about Thucydides. I've read bits and pieces by the man, of course, although never all that much. The thought of having such a seminal figure put in his context and explored as a fallible man and amazing historian was alluring indeed.Alas, this is not the book I was expecting. It would be better titled Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War - which wouldn't have appealed to me as much, because I'm not quite as in love with the Peloponnesian issues as I am with, say the Persian, but that's beside the point. What Kagan has written here is overwhelming about the Peloponnesian War, with bits about Thucydides' perspective and how he's being a revisionist woven through that. Which is an entirely admirable project, but it is NOT what this book proclaims itself to be. So I was disappointed.Overall it's readable; fairly dense, but I haven't studied this era in ages and I am not a military historian, and I still got on relatively well.

  • Rob
    2019-01-27 07:32

    Thucydides is commonly held to be the first "modern" historian. Kagan persuasively adjusts that perception to frame Thucydides as the first "revisionary" historian, as well. By looking at the intra-texutal clues, and available other evidence, Kagan shows that much of Thucydides goal was to persuade or dissuade his fellow Greeks from their commonly held beliefs. An exploration of why Thucydides seemt to gloss over important events and spend inordinate time on less critical happenings, plus the rhetorical techniques and shading employed seem to support Professor Kagan's thesis. This understanding imposes a revision upon the thought of students of Greek history, who can no longer merely take Thucydides assertions a priori, but instead should apply the same critical thought, and using the same evidence that Thucydides shared with his readers, to try and understand the milieu of the Peloponnesian War.

  • Jared Saltz
    2019-02-01 07:08

    Kagan's popular-level introduction to Thucydides and historiography in general should be mandated reading for all students of history. This is a popular-level book that nonetheless introduces extremely nuanced issues in an accessible way. Kagan refutes the modern concept that "good history is unbiased history," and instead recognizes and lauds the integral role of the historian in history. It's only by recognizing and appreciating the authorial presentation that we can truly value the information provided. This maximalistic anti-modernistic interpretation is much needed in a world that asks "What is truth?" and very much doubts the value of text as useful in discerning historicity or fact.

  • Yofish
    2019-02-19 13:06

    Pretty boring. It took me months to finish, and it didn't bother me. Not sure what I got out of this. Maybe I learned a little about the Peloponesian war(s)? Will I remember? He seemed to be trying to make a point about how Thucydides treated history different than others. But I think I missed that, too. I guess Thucydides was an exiled Athenian general, and part of the purpose of his writing was to present his side of the story. But most of it seemed to be focused on events he witnessed but didn't really take part in. The voice of the reader of this book on tape made it even more boring.

  • Classics Fan
    2019-02-20 12:30

    An interesting read. Kagan argues that Thucydides was writing against the popular consensus of the day, and that his History should be treated as a revisionist work, and an partisan pro-Pericles work. Kagan does a good job of interrogating the silences and reading against the text of Thucydides. I'm still not totally convinced by some of Kagan's criticisms of Pericles and his sympathies with the Cleon, and I wish he had discussed Alcibaides, the most compelling figure in the history to my mind. Still, an enjoyable read. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the first great historian, whether they've already read Thucydides or not.

  • Josh
    2019-02-20 10:06

    I found that Kagan did a great job taking what Thucydides did and shown how he worked like any other historian, picking his topics and presentations.To say that he's really 'revisionist,' though I think is misleading. To me, you have to challenge other historians to be a revisionist; and Thucydides, working concurrently with his subject matter could be said to be something more akin to journalism than history.Kagan, I believe, is the true revisionist,challenging the hallowed name of his subject.I still think it was a great read, just had some problems with how it was all presented.

  • Cory
    2019-02-02 09:28

    The Greeks, what a people. I've been fascinated by their history since I was in elementary school and heard the tale of "the trojan horse." One night, I was bored and looking through YouTube videos when I found Donald Kagan's Yale course Ancient Greek History. I enjoyed that course so much that I put on hold several of his books. This was the first book of his that I read. Now that I gave a lot of blah blah blah what did I think of the book? I learned a lot about Thucydides which is why I wanted to read the book. The writing style was good and the information solid. 4.5 stars

  • Bruinrefugee
    2019-02-12 12:23

    This is a look at Thucydides that seeks to pierce through one of the most well-written texts of all time to critique or point out sometimes subtle shaping and arguments made in the book that are framed more as statements than the contentious view they seem to reflect.Does a good job marshaling other sources and keeping Thucydides personal role in events always in sight. Mileage may vary on each argument made by Kagan but overall a good backgrounder strongly thought tobebest read after reading Thucydides through.

  • Owen
    2019-02-09 08:28

    This is a book for serious students of the Peloponesian War. I don't qualify. But, I learned a lot about the period, and about Thucydides specifically. Kagan clearly knows his stuff, and he makes valid points about Thucydides being the first revisionist historian (and a player in the war, at least until he was banished. The book is academic and a little dry, but a solid read for a serious student.Owen Gardner Finnegan

  • Stephanie
    2019-01-26 13:30

    Not sure how to classify this one, as it's about a book or author, not a history itself (Thucydides). At any rate, I wouldn't read it until you've read Thucydides and ideally Herodotus, but if you have, it's extremely interesting. I'm reading more history of historians, lately, so this fits in well.

  • Frank Kelly
    2019-02-01 14:21

    Kagan is the true master of Ancient Greek and Roman history -- and it always an illuminating experience to read virtually anything he writes. Here Kagan reviews Thucydides and his histories, seeking to dispel fact from fiction and thereby giving us a deeper and more robust understanding of this true Father of History. A great companion book to have and read with Thucydides works

  • Leif Erik
    2019-02-22 15:17

    It was pretty amazing so I'm going with the five stars. Kagan does an excellent job of examining what Thucydides actually says and even more importantly, what he doesn't say. In addition to a lucid explanation of the Pelopennesian War, you get a seminar in how historiography works. Check it out classic nerds.

  • Brian
    2019-02-14 11:32

    It is a thoughtful, provocative, and ultimately compelling argument suggesting that Thucydides, while an original and impressive historian, was also not without a biased agenda – which in many respects is in conflict with his own assessment of the Peloponnesian War.

  • Bryn Lerud
    2019-01-25 11:21

    I am very happy to be in a book club that asks me to read things I wouldn't have read otherwise. I thought the Peloponesian War was right after the Trojan War until I read this. History books are not generally my thing but this was interesting.

  • Mackay
    2019-01-28 09:24

    Kagan's intelligence and erudition are ever worthwhile. This isn't so much a biography of Thucydides as it is a biography of his great history of the Peloponnesian War, its ideas and influence, and also a fascinating look into the practice of history.

  • Doug Wells
    2019-02-16 11:30

    Dense and academic. I guess you might expect that from a biography of Thucydides, but I have really come to enjoy a much more readable style of writing about dense and academic topics. Kagan is imminently knowledgeable, but his writing his challenging.