The central hypothesis of this book, although not readily ascertained from an initial reading, is that those who manipulate power also manipulate the production of history. Michel-Rolph Trouillot repeatedly asserts that there has existed from time immemorial (and continues to exist today) a consistent conspiracy on the part of the powerful to deny or obliterate important aspects of local and international history. His corollary is that the present circumstances of social groups are not necessarily determined by their past, yet a consciousness of their history remains relevant.

The thesis is not as coherently argued as it is proposed in the preface. Instead, the main body of the book is a rambling, intensely personal discussion of a number of seemingly unconnected themes. The main focus is on the Haitian Revolution, but the larger discussion ranges widely across time and space. The author deals with the significance of the Alamo, the arrival of Columbus (and the diverse ways this singularly important event has been interpreted during the past five hundred years), and, in a more limited way, opinions about the Holocaust dispute. Toward the end of the book, he throws in some comments about the unsuccessful attempt by the Disney enterprises to construct a historical theme park in the rolling Shenandoah Valley. Apparently, all these events have something in common: either the nature of agency or the problems of reportage, or, as the author prefers to put it, the fact of history versus the narration of history.

With its pithy, aphoristic, accessible style, the book is easy to read, and was consciously designed to appeal to a wide circle of popular readers. This creates some problems, as overall it is difficult to ascertain the specific audience the author has in mind at any given moment of the reading. Evaluating the arguments, moreover, depends to a large extent on the reader’s background. Many of the general assertions will immediately appeal to nonprofessional historians, although some may provoke sharp differences of opinion.

This is especially true of the discussion of the Haitian Revolution, the strongest, most broadly persuasive, and most interesting part of the book. After suggesting that professional historians often do not influence public history, the book points out that the Haitian Revolution has not been widely accepted as one of the most significant revolutions in world history. Rs probable importance has been overlooked or underestimated, or both. Its importance, the author points out, stems from the eclectic and pragmatic construction of an independent black state in a world where “only 5 percent of a world would have been considered ‘free’ by modern standards” (p. 88). He then observes that the same may be said of both the achievement of Christopher Columbus and the centuries-long discussion over the event itself and its consequences. This statement is followed by a tangential narrative of the author’s first visit to Chichen Itza, and a concluding discussion relating to the ill-fated Disney proposal to build the entertainment theme park in northern Virginia. This section, in turn, forms the basis for a short query on the nature of authenticity, in which the author asserts, “authenticity cannot reside in attitudes toward a discrete past kept alive through narratives” (p. 150).

Throughout these logically unconnected discussions, Trouillot addresses the practice and nature of history and historicity. Nowhere, however, does he explicitly define what he means by “history”; nor does he make any critical examination of the historiography, if not going all the way back to Herodotus, then at least to the organizations of professional historians. Indeed, professional historians will be disappointed by the scant references to the terrain of their familiars: to models of professional historians, such as Garrett Mattingly, Lawrence Stone, William Mac-Neil, Jack Greene, or Philip Curtin; or even reflections on the practice, such as those offered by Gordon Childe, J. H. Hexter, or Robert Jones Shafer. To talk about motivation, production, and public is to become engaged in the many literatures of history, and that simply is not accomplished successfully in this small volume. The selectivity of Trouillot’s sources and his narrow dependence on narrative history to represent the varied fields of historical production will leave many readers quite dismayed.