I was reading a book review tonight that made me think of this discussion thread, and I wanted to add a bit. The review in question was written by Robert Bateman, professor of military history at Georgetown University and author of the book No Gun Ri; a Military History of the Korean War Incident. The review was of Robert Mrazek's A Dawn Like Thunder; The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight. Mrazek was a Navy veteran whose father served under Admiral Mistcher, was a journalist who became a Congressman from NY for 10 years and the author of three military novels. A Dawn Like Thunder is his first work of miltary non-fiction.
Anyway, in praising Mrazek's current book, Bateman states: "Academically trained historians too often reduce gripping events to soul-parching compilations of cautious statementsthat only the most generous might grace wit hteh term 'narrative.' On the flip side, journalists attempting to write works of history sometimes jettison their skepticism; the result is often a great story but not very good history."
Equally appropo to this discussion, he says that Mrazek tells "... the story of Torpedo Eight and the war in the Pacific as it was, not as some might wish it had been."
Now, while the review makes me want to read the book - although it will have to take second place to George Gay's Sole Survivor for the history of Torpedo Eight's ill fated attack at Midway. But my point in posting this is more than just the discussion of the tendency of academic historians to write in a "soul-parching" style (I love that term -- soul-parching).
I also wanted to seek comment on journalists who write history. Some, like war correspondants such as Ernie Pyle and Richard Tregaskis are recording history, but are almost excused for "jettison[ing] their skepticism. Others, such as Thomas Ricks continue to wave their partisan political flags and Mark Bowden bring humanity of the participants to the forefront (I'm not sure that Blackhawk Down qualifies as history, but maybe I'm too close to it to be objective). Then there is Rick Atkinson's two-thirds complete trilogy, which I think bridges that gap between academic history and journalism -- highly readable and well researched.
I think as students of history (I really can't refer to myself as a historian) we should seek to reach that balance. To tell the story in a highly readable manner, but with impeccable research. Obviously, much easier said than done.