The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences

by David Cannadine

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | January 14, 2014 | Trade Paperback |

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From one of our most acclaimed historians, a wise and provocative call to re-examine the way we look at the past: not merely as the story of incessant conflict between groups but also of human solidarity throughout the ages.

Investigating the six most salient categories of human identity, difference, and confrontation-religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization-David Cannadine questions just how determinative each of them has really been. For while each has motivated people dramatically at particular moments, they have rarely been as pervasive, as divisive, or as important as is suggested by such simplified polarities as "us versus them," "black versus white," or "the clash of civilizations." For most of recorded time, these identities have been more fluid and these differences less unbridgeable than political leaders, media commentators-and some historians-would have us believe. Throughout history, in fact, fruitful conversations have continually taken place across these allegedly impermeable boundaries of identity: the world, as Cannadine shows, has never been simply and starkly divided between any two adversarial solidarities but always an interplay of overlapping constituencies.

Yet our public discourse is polarized more than ever around the same simplistic divisions, and Manichean narrative has become the default mode to explain everything that is happening in the world today. With wide-ranging erudition, David Cannadine compellingly argues against the pervasive and pernicious idea that conflict is the inevitable state of human affairs. The Undivided Past is an urgently needed work of history, one that is also about the present-and the future. 

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: January 14, 2014

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307389596

ISBN - 13: 9780307389596

Found in: History

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The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences

The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences

by David Cannadine

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: January 14, 2014

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307389596

ISBN - 13: 9780307389596

Read from the Book

When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was “us versus them,” and it was clear who them [sic] was. Today, we’re not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there. —President George W. Bush, quoted in the New York Times , April 16, 2006   The world is awash in divisions rooted in the human compulsion to believe our differences are more important than our common humanity . . . . [But] our common humanity is more important than our interesting and inevitable differences. —President Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World     This book sets out to explore and investigate the most resonant forms of human solidarity as they have been invented and created, established and sustained, questioned and denied, fissured and broken across the centuries and around the world, and as they have defined the lives, engaged the emotions, and influenced the fates of countless millions of individuals. It does so by looking at the six most commonplace and compelling forms of such identities, namely religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization. Sometimes regional, sometimes national, and sometimes more global in their compass and in the claims made on their behalf, these groupings have commanded widespread allegiance and commitment, on occasions for good, but often not, since every collective solidarity simultaneously creates an actual or potential antagonist out of the gro
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From the Publisher

From one of our most acclaimed historians, a wise and provocative call to re-examine the way we look at the past: not merely as the story of incessant conflict between groups but also of human solidarity throughout the ages.

Investigating the six most salient categories of human identity, difference, and confrontation-religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization-David Cannadine questions just how determinative each of them has really been. For while each has motivated people dramatically at particular moments, they have rarely been as pervasive, as divisive, or as important as is suggested by such simplified polarities as "us versus them," "black versus white," or "the clash of civilizations." For most of recorded time, these identities have been more fluid and these differences less unbridgeable than political leaders, media commentators-and some historians-would have us believe. Throughout history, in fact, fruitful conversations have continually taken place across these allegedly impermeable boundaries of identity: the world, as Cannadine shows, has never been simply and starkly divided between any two adversarial solidarities but always an interplay of overlapping constituencies.

Yet our public discourse is polarized more than ever around the same simplistic divisions, and Manichean narrative has become the default mode to explain everything that is happening in the world today. With wide-ranging erudition, David Cannadine compellingly argues against the pervasive and pernicious idea that conflict is the inevitable state of human affairs. The Undivided Past is an urgently needed work of history, one that is also about the present-and the future. 

About the Author

Sir David Cannadine was born in Birmingham, England, in 1950 and educated at Cambridge, Oxford, and Princeton. He is the author of many acclaimed books, including The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, G. M. Trevelyan, History in Our Time, Class in Britain, Ornamentalism, and Mellon. He has taught at Cambridge and Columbia Universities and has also served as director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. He is currently Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University.

Editorial Reviews

“Cannadine does not say so, but he may well have written his book in response to Samuel Huntington’s famous argument about the clash of civilizations. I can only hope that The Undivided Past . . . so authoritative in its coverage of history . . . will have all the impact of Huntington’s work, serving as an important reminder that human beings around the world not only have much in common but also have improved the conditions of their lives over time. His optimism is both refreshing and necessary.”             —Alan Wolfe, The New York Times Book Review “Elegantly written and stimulating. . . . Cannadine is justified in drawing attention to how dangerously politicized history can become.”             —David Priestland, The Guardian (UK) “One of our most provocative and profound historians, Cannadine confronts the brutally populist, crudely polarized Manichean concept of ‘us versus them’ in the writing of history. He affirms, rather, the complexity and diversity of humanity and the connectedness of its manifold identities.”             —Iain Finlayson, The Times (UK) “A spirited case for harmony against the myths of identity politics. . . . The Undivided Past succeeds best as a Swiftian treatise on the ignorance of the learned, and t
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