David Rubel - Author, Historian, Speaker
Past Imperfect

Category: Adult
Publisher: Henry Holt
Pages: 320
Publication Date: September 1995
Current Edition: November 1996


< Previous Book | Next Book >

Past Imperfect
History According to the Movies
Edited by Mark C. Carnes, Ted Mico, John Miller-Monzon, and David Rubel


Publisher’s Description
In this widely acclaimed volume, some of our greatest historians address the facts—and fiction—as seen in Hollywood’s often-epic recreations of historical events. Offering hundreds of movie stills, archival photographs, maps, and other illustrations, along with sidebars on related historical events, Past Imperfect sheds new light on the uses of history in popular culture.




Newsweek Review
Past Imperfect presents 60 scholars, each a film lover, critiquing a historical movie. Frances FitzGerald eviscerates Apocalypse Now. Stephen Jay Gould dissects Jurassic Park. Never has the record been set straight so entertainingly.


New York Times Review
Link to the New York Times review.


Pittsburgh Post Gazette
This book is one of those simple ideas that make you ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The result, produced under the aegis of the Society of American Historians, is a leisurely fun read about Hollywood and history, a view of the world as it is and how filmmakers made it something different.


What the editors did was assemble a collection of 60 historians and writers—including Gore Vidal, Simon Schama, Richard Reeves, Anthony Lewis, Frances FitzGerald, Stephen Jay Gould, and Antonia Fraser—and told them to look at movies, old and recent, and write about them.


There will probably be additional volumes inspired by this one, since the subject is a treasure trove. Past Imperfect is not only an education, but enjoyable reading as well.



Booklist Review
This blockbustingly good book matches dozens of history flicks with historians who know what went on behind the scenes. A John Sayles/Eric Foner debate about the balance between veracity and dramatic license sets the stage, then the curtain rises on Jurassic Park as reviewed by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Scoffing at that movie’s premise (revivifying extinct organisms) and criticizing its operating stereotype (the hubris of mad science), he establishes the pattern that imbues this volume with a rich and often risible character. For easy as it is to laugh at moviemakers’ mistakes, it becomes more illuminating to ask why they warp or omit the facts. Errors in war movies, here in healthy numbers, seem to be a congenital if innocuous feature of the genre, but they tend not to inflict as much damage on popular perception of the past as do, say, some westerns or film biographies. The public becomes even more vulnerable to deception in such movies as JFK, a major mugging of the facts about Kennedy’s murder, just as Birth of a Nation reinforced an earlier generation’s belief in the virtues of white supremacy. Wherever historical reality meets celluloid imagination, this book’s historians limn the collision with appealing conciseness, and an attractive layout replete with stills and sidebars further moves things along. Now that’s entertainment no self-respecting library can do without.