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Why Do People Embellish History?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: June 24, 2014 
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Why do people who are supposed to be credible embellish history?

—George

? ? ?

Dear George,

Thanks to the human ego, his urge to embellish is about as old as his desire to chronicle, and the two have coexisted as long as man has recounted events of the past. Even Flavius Josephus, arguably the first historian to have had access to both sides in the course of the Jewish War, had his own agenda when he wrote his account for the Romans to whom he had surrendered at Jotapata. It has been said that history tells who we were, but myths tell who we are. Hence, anyone pretending to be objective has to intellectually fight his own natural instincts to keep from putting a spin on whatever he's commenting on. It's just a law of human nature: where you sit is where you stand.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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