Why I would choose to read a 700+ page book versus an 11 page summary on an important historical period

I recently read two histories of a similar time period and both texts addressed the North American aspects of the Seven Years’ War. However, the texts had very different lengths. One book was over 700 pages and included many details. The other book included a summary of the same war in 11 pages. Which was the better read?

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Much of this answer depends on what I hoped to accomplish in my reading. Months ago, I had stumbled onto the Wikipedia page for the Seven Years’ War and realized I knew relatively little about it. The North American branch of this conflict involved relatively few troops yet had very important implications for the subsequent history of the United States. I searched out some recommendations on notable academic histories that addressed this period and received a few books from my library. I wanted to know more and now I had options.

I enjoyed reading the 700+ page book. Did I need all the details in my life? Probably not, but much of what I read was fascinating and provided insights that shorter summaries could not. I am glad that I read all of this so that at least at one point in life I could say I tried to take in all of this knowledge.

The 11 page summary was also interesting and well-written. It also took much less time. I recognized the high points of the conflict from the much longer narrative. These high points made a lot more sense given all the details I had read not too long before.

In the academic world, we run into these sorts of issues all the time: how much knowledge do I need to proceed? Would a one page summary be sufficient or should I devote years to studying this? We publish different length materials, ranging from encyclopedia entries and shorter notes to longer articles and books. One cannot read and study everything so we must be judicious in what we spend our time on. Yet, the joys of diving deeply into material is one of the best parts of study and research.

Having read both texts, I am still in favor of reading the much longer text. I may go years before reading anything on the Seven Years’ War and the longer text gave me plenty to consider. I had the time to spend on it and I may not make the same decision regarding another subject area given different circumstances. But, for two weeks this summer, reading a lot about the Seven Years’ War was a good decision.

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