Books: The Past Recaptured

AFTER THE FACT: THE ART OF HISTORICAL DETECTION by James Davidson and Mark Lytle; Knopf; 388 pages; $19.50

Like artists of every stripe, the best historians make their work look easy.Their research may have been long and arduous, but they filter the odor of archival dust and mildew out of the finished product. Also gone are the blind alleys and dead ends, all the large and petty frustrations of scholarship. Few readers mind being spared such details. Yet the tracks that historians cover are sometimes as fascinating as the past they recapture.

This point is not new, but it is amply demonstrated and...

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