Why Don't We Learn from History? Book Summary - Why Don't We Learn from History? Book explained in key points

Why Don't We Learn from History? summary

B. H. Liddell Hart

An exploration of how history helps us interpret the present and plan for the future

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What is Why Don't We Learn from History? about?

Why Don't We Learn from History? (1944) is a meditation on the nature of history and on why so few heed its lessons. First published near the end of World War Two, this thoughtful treatise contains many insights still relevant today. 

About the Author

B. H. Liddell Hart was a British soldier, historian, and acclaimed theoretician in the field of military strategy. His many works include Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon, The Revolution in Warfare, and The Other Side of the Hill. Germany's Generals. Their Rise and Fall, with their own Account of Military Events 1939–1945

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Studying history broadens our understanding of the world.

When you’re able to learn from history, you can literally change the world. For proof, look no further than Otto von Bismarck, one of the most prominent statesmen of the 19th century. In a few short decades, he accomplished something that seemed impossible. His shrewd diplomacy and decisive military action united dozens of feuding principalities into one vast German empire.

So, how did Bismarck develop political skills and battlefield confidence? Well, the man himself used to say that his expertise had not come about by chance; nor was it based on natural talent. Instead, Bismarck cultivated it by studying history. 

He famously claimed that only fools learn from their own experiences. Truly visionary leaders – according to Bismarck – draw inspiration and insight from the experiences of others. 

The key message here is: Studying history broadens our understanding of the world.

Why study history? At the most basic level, it can help you understand why events happened the way they did. A skilled historian will use solid evidence to piece together an accurate picture of what occurred in the past – and why. 

But history is so much more than just an academic pursuit. It also helps you make better decisions. It gives you knowledge and wisdom you simply cannot get from everyday life. Sure, an 80-year-old may have decades of life lessons to guide her actions, but a student of history will have hundreds or thousands of years’ worth of data to draw upon.

It’s particularly important to study military history. It may be fashionable for historians to focus on slow, subtle shifts in society, brought on by economic trends. However, it’s often armed conflict that drives events. Just consider how different the world would be if important battles had gone the other way. What if the Persians had conquered Greece? What if Napoleon was quashed at Toulon? The world would be an entirely different place. 

As you consider these questions, it’s important to maintain a broader view. Get too caught up in the minutiae, or delve too deeply into just one source of data, and you risk distorting your understanding of events. Great leaders often massage the truth to bolster their legacy. And as for historians themselves, well, even the best of them have biases. 

So, when we study the past, it’s best to take a step back and employ a dispassionate scientific approach. How? We’ll find out in the next blink.

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Who should read Why Don't We Learn from History?

  • Frustrated historians wondering why no-one listens
  • Armchair generals seeking insight on military strategy
  • Anyone curious about how society relates to its own past

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