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Cabbages and kings

The popularity of history programmes on television contrasts pitifully with their quality

By David Herman   April 2002

The rise of the serious historical bestseller has been one of the cultural highpoints of the past few years. Consider Felipe Fern?ndez-Armesto’s Millennium (1995), Orlando Figes’s A People’s Tragedy (1996), Norman Davies’s Europe (1996) and Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1998). Lately, Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and David Starkey’s Elizabeth have both been in the bestseller lists.

The impressive sales figures are reflected in publishers’ advances. Oxford historian Niall Ferguson has a ?500,000 three-book deal with Penguin. Richard Evans has recently signed a deal said to be worth more than ?1m for a two-volume history of Nazi Germany.

But nowhere…

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