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History Lessons

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History Lessons

Clifton Crais

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ISBN 13: 978-1-4683-0368-1
Trim Size: 5 3/8 x 8

Product Description

Born in Louisiana to a soon-to-be absent father and an alcoholic mother—who tried to drown him in a bathtub when he was three—Clifton Crais spent his childhood perched beside his mother on a too-tall bar stool, living with relatives too old or infirm to care for him, or rambling on his own through New Orleans, a city both haunted and created by memory.

Indeed, it is memory—both elusive and essential—that forms the center of Crais’s beautifully rendered memoir History Lessons. In an effort to restore his own, Crais brings the tools of his formal training as a historian to bear on himself and his family. He interviews his sisters and his mother, revisits childhood homes and pores over documentary evidence: plane tickets, postmarks, court and medical records, crumbling photo albums. Probing family lore, pushing past silences and exhuming long-buried family secrets, he arrives, ultimately, at the deepest reaches of the brain. Crais examines the science of memory and forgetting, from the ways in which experience shapes the developing brain to the mechanisms that cause chronic childhood amnesia—the most common and least understood form of amnesia—from which he suffers.

Part memoir, part narrative science and part historical detective story, History Lessons is a provocative, exquisitely crafted investigation into what it means to be human.

Praise for History Lessons:

"This memoir of anguish and struggle is a story of remarkable strength and unlikely, inexplicable resilience." —Kirkus

“In this extraordinary work, Clifton Crais deploys his skills as a historian to attempt to overcome his amnesia concerning a traumatic childhood, plagued by an alcoholic mother and a largely neglectful father. His account of his journey into his personal past offers profound insights into the relationship between history and memory, interwoven with new understandings  of how memory works, both neurologically and socially, derived from advances in the science of memory. Beautifully written, History Lessons offers valuable insights into the relationship between history and memory, a topic of enormous current controversy among historians. In addition to its contributions to this debate, it offers a highly readable and largely triumphant tale of a young boy who made his way in the world to become a major historian of the travails of others, using the memory of his own childhood wounds to arrive at a deeper understanding of the ‘wounds of the past.’” —Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University

Praise for the work of Clifton Crais:

“Magnificent . . . A searing, deeply moving work.” —Los Angeles Times

“Well-written and fascinating.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Clifton Crais is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Emory University, where he teaches courses on history, violence, and memory. He holds a doctorate from The Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of five books, including Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus, with Pamela Scully. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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