Myths That Shaped Our History by Simon Webb – Review
By Sandra Callard
Simon Webb’s eminently readable book may draw gasps of horror, disbelief, or disdain. It may even elicit sad shakes of the head that anyone could deign to play fast and loose with our beloved facts of British history. Or they might just produce a wry smile and a raised eyebrow of the “Well now, fancy that” order. Whatever the reaction may be, it will not be boredom.
Webb raises the misty curtain of myths which inevitably surround great moments of history, and not only digs out the underlying truths, but explains how and why these myths have evolved and become embedded in our national psyche.
It is a mind-blowing and fascinating journey through history, as we realise that more men died in the Scartari hospital in the Crimea after Florence Nightingale arrived than before she came, and that militant suffragettes delayed the parliamentary bill supporting votes for women by many years.
As an island nation we thrive on the idea that we are strongest when our backs are against the wall. We love and encourage the notion engendered by Churchill in WW2 that Britain stood alone, a thin line between freedom and subjugation. But did we?
Never one to question history too much, I nevertheless became hooked on the alternative and undeniable factual information I was presented with, closely followed by an avid admiration of Webb’s unravelling of the stages of myth-making needed to create the final entity.
The author treads a fine line between truth, fiction and propaganda as he defines how myths emerge and are solidified into facts, often by the population at large. Always grounded on the truth, myths are not always deliberately sown by the authorities of the time. Many are built up by ordinary people who bend the facts to their own comfort, or build them up for their own pride, and begin to believe it.
“Alter the accepted view”
This book is not an exposé in any sense of the word. Webb does not try to prove that our heroes and heroines have feet of clay, because he states roundly and clearly that the historical figures he mentions are worthy of their reputations. He simply points out that the underlying and surrounding facts in any given situation, once revealed, can alter the accepted view quite radically. In many cases the revised version of events is not only much more interesting than the previously accepted one, but is also far more logical.
Webb’s writing has an engaging sense of style, and requires no second reading of a phrase to understand his meaning. The text flows easily, and the ten myths which he picks apart are each as interesting as the previous one. It is an entirely absorbing subject and a delight to read.
Unfortunately I will never again read a piece of history (which is my undiluted joy) without wondering if I am reading fact or myth. A small price to pay, however, for this cracking read.
‘Myths That Shaped Our History’ by Simon Webb is published by Pen & Sword History, £12.99