Read history

The plaster castings from Pompeii are a haunting reminder of past disasters and difficulties. May 2008

Plaster castings at Pompeii, a haunting reminder of past disasters and difficulties. May 2008

“If you think you have it tough, read history books.” — Bill Maher

I’m no fan of Bill Maher, but he has a point about history.  It’s a great way to gain some perspective.  Not long ago I read Bill Bryson’s fascinating book At Home, and I realized I’d never fully appreciated such things as electricity and sewer systems.  From relatively trivial blessings such as comfortable furniture, to life saving improvements such as modern medicine, we are fortunate to be living in today’s world.

A couple of years ago our son gave us the DVD set of the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book by David McCullough.  The gruesome scenes of very early (and thus quite risky) smallpox vaccinations, or the equally sobering portrayal of the Adams’ daughter’s breast cancer surgery, done without benefit of anesthesia, offer graphic reminders that even the prominent and privileged of past centuries had a far less easy life than the average person today.

Look around you and notice how many things in your environment were not readily available to your grandparents or great-grandparents.  Aside from the endless digital and electronic devices that we increasingly depend on as necessities, there are slightly older but no less essential comforts such as air conditioning, spacious kitchens, bathrooms and closets, and abundant, affordable choices in everything from clothing to housewares to groceries and fresh produce.

It’s easy to romanticize the past, but reading one of the many popular books by gifted historians such as McCullough, William Manchester or Barbara Tuchman will be an eye-opening experience that will leave you thankful for being who you are, where you are, and when you are.  Besides, many of the history books themselves are better now!

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

2 Comments

  1. carol hoyos

    Julia, In the reverie of my childhood I sometimes ache for times past. They were good times…the end of WWII with all that lay ahead for our parents. Yes good times. One generation earlier my grandparents and great grandmother (she lived to 101 years) were not so great. We loved visiting the farm in Kentucky for a couple of weeks each summer. The outhouse and chicken coop were a novelty for us but my parents jumped in and worked non stop helping my grandparents as they aged. Not much of a vaca for them. They raised tobacco and 8 children on that farm and somehow my mother survived meningitis as a child. I saw first hand the changes in the generations, the good and not so good. I’m glad I got to witness those days if only a couple of weeks a year. 🥰

    • Carol, I so enjoyed reading your memories here. We are lucky to remember our parents and grandparents, and realize what their generations endured. I hope you have your great-grandmother’s genes when it comes to longevity! I also am glad that I have lived during the years when I did. The world seems so difficult now. I know it was never perfect, and some people (including those with disabilities, such as Matt) would not have had nearly as many opportunities in earlier years. Still, I can’t help feeling that so much is being lost. The easier life gets, the more unhappy people seem to be. So often, more is never enough. Thanks again for for sharing your thoughts and for being here.

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