Ten Great Events in History by James Johonnot is not really a history book. It is, rather a book of stories about historical events. This is not a criticism, but the distinction is a necessary one. A historian tries to determine what events actually occurred and when, how and why they happened. He then tries to write about the events in as evenhanded and unbiased manner as possible. A storyteller, on the other hand, makes use of historical events to entertain or educate the reader. He does not necessarily let the way of a good story. It is not that he tells falsehoods but his focus is on what amuses or edifies the reader.
James Johonnot was not acting as a sober historian in Ten Great Events in History. He was telling inspiring stories of deeds done by valiant people. The general theme of these stories is the defense of freedom against tyranny. The ten events are
Defense of freedom by Greek valor
Crusades and the Crusaders
Defense of freedom in Alpine passes
Bruce and Bannockburn
Columbus and the New World
Defense of freedom on Dutch dikes
The Invincible Armada
Freedom’s voyage to America
Plessey and how an empire was won
Lexington and Bunker Hill.
It is a little difficult to see how some of these events actually advanced the cause of freedom. The native inhabitants of the New World were not made freer by Columbus’s voyage. The Battle Plessey began the process by which the British conquered India. Though Britain undoubtedly ruled India with more efficiency and justice than the Mughals, India was not exactly freed.
James Jononnot wrote this book in 1887, long before our modern age of political correctness, when writers were freer to say what they really thought about other cultures. Thus, there are the usual nineteenth century stereotypes in Ten Great Events. Orientals are indolent and subject to despotism. Spaniards are cruel and superstitious. Anglo-Saxons are brave and freedom loving. Despite such weaknesses, Ten Great Events in History is fun and easy to read. If the whole stories behind some of the events are not told, at least the reader has a good starting point and the stories are really inspiring.