The History-Makers

2500 Years of Shaping the Past

Richard Cohen

736 pages June 2021 History

An epic exploration of who writes about the past and how the biases of certain storytellers—from Julius Caesar to William Shakespeare to Simon Schama—continue to influence our ideas about history (and about who we are) today.

There are many stories we can spin about the past, but which stories get told? And by whom? One human being can shape our understanding of the past through the prism of his or her own beliefs and prejudices. In this book Cohen reveals how historians–and other critical witnesses such as the writers of the Bible, novelists, and political propagandists–influence accepted accounts of the human experience.

In The History-Makers, Cohen investigates the published works and private utterances of our greatest historical thinkers to discover the influences and biases that informed their scholarship and views of the world, and which in so many ways have informed ours. From the origins of journalism through television and the digital age, The History-Makers is packed with captivating figures brought to vivid life, from
Thucydides and Tacitus to Voltaire and Gibbon, Ulysses Grant, Winston Churchill and Mary Beard. Rich in character, complex truths, and surprising anecdotes, the result is a unique exploration of both the art and craft of history-making that disturbs the dust on history and makes us think anew of our past and ourselves.



“With meticulous research and riveting anecdotes, Richard Cohen has peeled back the hidden history behind those who record our past. He brilliantly shows how an extraordinary gallery of characters—from prodigies to charlatans, from ideologues to heroes—has exposed, shaped, and, at times, bent and even covered up the facts. In the process, Cohen has achieved what only the finest historians can: he has scrupulously and engagingly made history.”— David Grann, Bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z.

“What a brilliant achievement! Like all Richard Cohen’s writing, The History-Makers opens a dialogue with the reader – grave and witty, suave yet pointed – erudite yet engaging and full of energy. It has huge scope, but never forfeits the telling detail. It is scholarly, lively, quotable, up-to-date and fun.” — Hilary Mantel, author of the bestselling Thomas Cromwell Trilogy.

“What a grand, illuminating, and fun book! Richard Cohen takes us on a learned tour through the cacophony of history and of the characters who’ve told the stories that shape us. To understand who we are, we have to understand who we’ve been—and, as Cohen amply demonstrates, who has formed those understandings.”— Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

“Richard Cohen has written an utterly engaging love letter to history’s hidden story tellers. Provocative, funny but scrupulously fair, The History-Makers is a timely reminder that history doesn’t write itself.”– Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, A World on Fire, and The World Made by Women.