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May 16, 1990

Literature of Medicine

JAMA. 1990;263(19):2651-2652. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440190107056

Well-written history is good literature and always has been. Thucydides, Julius Caesar, and Gibbon were read in their times, just as Daniel Boorstin and Arthur Schlesinger are in ours. The course of human events seems always to have fascinated the literate mind. Practicing their craft, historians have informed and educated their fellow citizens, expanding the public horizon beyond the personalities and events immediately at hand. To do this well, historians have had to write creatively, capturing not only the hard facts of history but the imaginations of their readers as well. "I would like to suggest that the thought applied by the historian to his subject matter," writes the late Barbara Tuchman, "can be no less creative than the imagination applied by the novelist to his. And when it comes to writing as an art, is Gibbon necessarily less of an artist in words than, let us say, Dickens? or