Donald Kagan | National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

“Throughout the human experience people have read history because they felt that it was a pleasure and that it was in some way instructive,” says Donald Kagan. “Without history, we are the prisoners of the accident of where and when we were born.” Known to his students as a “one-man university,” Kagan has illuminated the history of the ancient Greeks for thousands of students.

Kagan’s best known work is his monumental four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War. He admires Thucydides, the original historian of that war, and credits him with changing how history is written. “Thucydides stood on the edge of philosophy. He was sufficiently a historian to feel compelled to establish the particulars, to present the data as accurately as he could, but he was no less, and perhaps more, concerned to convey the general truths that he had discovered.”

“It’s not an accident I spend most of my life reading Thucydides. Most people who are interested in history start with him,” continues Kagan. “Herodotus is first, but there’s a continuity between Thucydides and the way he carried out his work and serious historians afterwards.”
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