Going back to the origin, when summaries aren’t enough

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As a student who studies both English and History higher level, I get to read a lot of books. The aim of reading all these books, be they novels, plays, or history texts, is to enable oneself to come to an opinion about the novel or historical event.

Recently, I have been studying the cold war, and the juxtaposing ideologies between the USA and the USSR. Constantly my textbooks hammer home how the USA was capitalist, the USSR communist, the two ideologies each others antithesis. The text books state that communism is “sharing wealth” so was incompatible with the USA’s capitalist society. For quite a while I simply accepted this, until one day I realised I just didn’t understand what communism actually was. The explanation I had been given painted Mao’s China, Stalin’s USSR, and Castro’s Cuba all with the same brush. The textbooks didn’t bother explaining the differences between true communism and ‘Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism’ etc.. So I did the only thing I could think of, rather than relying on other people’s interpretations, I decided to read the communist manifesto for myself. Studying Stalinism whilst understanding ‘true communism ideals’ really enabled me to understand the differences, and see past the oversimplified summaries in the text books.

This example of ‘going to the source to truly understand the history’ has opened my mind to new ways of learning about the past. In English I am studying the Tempest, a play which addresses the nature of power. My teacher said that Shakespeare would have been influenced by Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, however aside from a too very brief summary, nothing more was said of this influential text. I decided to order it to read it for myself, and it really helped my understanding, enabling me directly see the influence it had on Shakespeare’s writing.

I would urge anyone who’s tired of getting oversimplified summaries to just order the original texts, honestly they’re not that complexly written (you can always google if you’re stuck) and it majorly enhances your understanding.

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