Remembering an All-Ages Historian

History, in its most basic form, is storytelling. Who did what? And how? And why? Like the best stories, the answers to these questions are oftentimes complicated, muddled by both conflicting viewpoints and the inevitable, obfuscating passage of time. For children, these questions are made further confusing by heightened questions of authority. Why is this person telling me that this happened? What is their purpose for doing so?

Luckily for us, we had Russell Freedman here to help us figure it all out.

Starting in 1961 with Teenagers Who Made History, Freedman authored some fifty books of history, primarily written for children and teens (LPL has 23 of them, some in multiple formats). He was a masterful storyteller; avoiding the pitfalls plaguing many children’s history books, he wasn’t jingoistic or overly sentimental. People sometimes did good things. People sometimes did bad things.

Oftentimes, Freedman told us, people just did things because they felt they had no other choice.

In preparation for this blog post, I looked at three of Freedman’s works: Vietnam: A History of the War; The War to End All Wars: World War I; and We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler. I could not recommend them highly enough, for both children and adults. Well-researched, trustworthy and thorough, they are like the Eyewitness books on steroids. They are also overwhelmingly optimistic; like I wrote earlier, Freedman doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but his writing is imbued with a belief in humanity’s resilience. Of the eventual reconciliation between Vietnam and the U.S. he wrote “it was a lesson in the power of forgiveness”; “The story of the White Rose movement and its decapitated martyrs,” he argued, “tells us that miracles still occur.”

What an encouraging thought.

Russell Freedman passed away on March 16th at the age of 88.

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