This book goes beyond more conventional histories to address the deeper enigmas that confront a student of the past. In order to do so, the author reconstructs--and at times reinvents--two ambiguous deaths: the first, that of General James Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759; the second, in 1849, that of George Parkman, an eccentric Boston brahmin whose murder by an impecunious Harvard professor in 1849 was a grisly reproach to the moral sanctity of his society. Out of these stories--with all of their bizarre coincidences and contradictions--the author creates a vital work of historical imagination.
The result is a very readable set of stories, the first dealing with the death of the British General Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham during the successful defeat of the French army; the second relating the murder of a medical-doctor-cum-landlord by a Harvard chemistry professor in the 1840s. The tales are linked by the Parkman family—George Parkman is the murder victim in the latter portion of the book; his nephew, Francis Parkman, was a famous historian responsible for excellent work on the French and Indian War.
"The 'Conclusion' that every doctoral adviser urges on his students as a professional obligation has always seemed to my notoriously inconclusive temperament to be so much wishful thinking." p. 321