tolstoy on historians

Historians are like deaf people who go on answering questions that no one has asked them. ~Leo Tolstoy

But then, he wrote a novel that's more or less about the formation of history (I think--it's been a while since I've read War and Peace, so I could be mistaken), so I'm not sure if that means he's including himself in that simile. It does strike me as odd, sometimes, all the effort that's put into piecing together the habits and customs and ridiculous little details of people long dead, but I suppose you can treat it as a quest to understand ourselves better by understanding those who came before us and how things got the way they are now.

Tolstoy's being unfair, I think, as people often are when they make such sweeping generalizations.
The second epilogue is easily my least favorite part of the entire novel mostly because it distills and expands upon the rants about history that occupy the rest of the novel, which I also hated, they were just shorter and broken up by beautiful prose and great characters (even if I don't care much for Natasha).

The best point that Tolstoy raises is the difficulty of establishing historical causality--history lets us perform no experiments, conduct no detailed and scientific analyses and so will never be a 'science.' At the same time scepticism should have it's limits as we use it to arrive at a more useful idea of what knowledge looks like. We -can- learn things about history, not just about what happened but why. We can read the speeches, the diaries, look at the sequence of events and determine that the civil ware really was about slavery, not this that and the other thing, or that Germans -didn't- commit the holocaust because they have been programmed since the 16th century (at least) to do so, but due to the antisemitism endemic in all europe, the brutalization of Germany after and during WWI, and so on.

But historians (or people writing histories) have argued for both of the points that I noted above as being erroneous--I think any useful idea of knowledge requires that we can say that people like that are -wrong- and why, and any scepticism that causes us to throw up our shoulders and say 'we really don't know' should be viewed with suspicion as a cheap intellectual parlor trick.