Overall, writers tend to lead ordinary and undramatic lives. What matters is the books they have written. These are listed in the "My Works" page on this web site. Alternatively you may "click" on the name of each of the books listed in the left hand column.
I was born in Chicago in what then was a Polish-American community. Thus I was given the name Jan without anyone considering that this might cause confusion in later years. In fact, I am male, and I prefer that the name be pronounced as Yon.
After graduating from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, I earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in history at Princeton University, and I have taught courses in history at universities in Cambridge, Chicago, Miami, and New York. For some years, I was the research director at a large public relations agency, where I made use of much the same methods and skills on which academic social scientists rely.
I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 954-463-5526.
The books I have written are based on careful analysis of first-hand accounts and primary sources. I enjoy the challenge of each step of historical investigation–finding the evidence, analyzing the data, and asking how it all fits together. I do not know what I am going to say before I look at the historical records. Often, I am surprised by what I discover. People do the most amazing things.
Because they really took place to people who actually existed, I respond emotionally to past events. When a play or movie is over, the actors can go away and resume their everyday lives. The men and women about whom I write enjoyed success and suffered pain in real time. To say so may be a cliche, but the truth really is stranger and more enthralling than fiction.
I love the study of history. I truly do. I enjoy finding out about real people. How they lived and earned their living, what they wanted for themselves and their children, and what they achieved. Learning about the past is not a simple task, but it is a highly satisfying.
I am not the first to notice that an historian's work is much the same as that of a detective investigating a crime. There may be clues to be found, but it is not immediately apparent what they mean nor how they might fit into a pattern.
The distinction between primary and secondary sources remains fundamental. A primary source is a first-hand amount, a document written at the time an event happened; a secondary source is any description of or comment on what the first-hand account says. For times before our own, the first-hand or primary evidence is very limited. Before the invention of photography, phonograph records, and audio and visual tapes, we usually must depend on a few archaeological artifacts and on the surviving written documents.
The records passed down to us are limited. There are very few diaries and personal letters. What we have are the decrees of rulers and other legal records as well as financial documents--tax records, documents kept to prove ownership of property, the accounting ledgers of merchants. Religious rules and myths have been preserved from most cultures and societies. In addition, from some eras, there are contemporary reports and chronicles as well as the tales of travelers.
Whatever their nature, first-hand accounts must initially be treated with suspicion. Laws remain on the books after they no longer are enforced. Merchants keep one set of accounts for the tax collector, the other for themselves. Believers often ignore some or many rules of their faith, and they attend religious rituals conducted in sacred languages whose meaning no longer is understood. Legal documents and court records contain false testimony. Those writing about events in their own time may be lying or simply mistaken. What they present as fact may well be fiction.
The methods for testing the truthfulness and relevance of historical evidence are much the same as those we use to evaluate evidence about our own era. We all know we cannot accept without examination everything we hear or read–whether made by corporate spokesmen, salesmen, politicians, or the lawyers addressing juries. The primary rule is "cui bono"–who benefits by asserting that something is a fact.
After it is gathered and scrutinized, the third step is to present the evidence accurately. All interpretations are not equally valid. Some statements about the past are more likely to be true than others. For example, there is only one possible answer to the question "Which of these incidents occurred first?" This is Aristotle's Law of Noncontradiction. A person cannot be both alive and dead at the same time. A certain event either happened or it did not happen. (Although sometimes the most honest judgment is that we no longer can know whether or not it occurred.)