Bernard Bailyn is one of the most influential historians of the American Revolution of the last half-century; at ninety-two, he is the topic’s elder statesman. With books like The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Voyagers to the West, and The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson,the Harvard professor reshaped the study of colonial and revolutionary America, gaining critical and popular acclaim with prizes like the Pulitzer for history, which he won twice, and the National Book Award for history. Whether Bailyn is worth reading is a settled question: the answer is yes. Whether everything he has written is worth reading is another question, one raised by his interesting but heterogeneous new collection of essays, Sometimes an Art.

The new book is divided into two broad sections: the first comprising pieces on historiography—“history and the struggle to get it right”—and the second...

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