Although Eley started out as a Social Historian at a time when such methodologies were just becoming popular, he easily accepted the cultural turn and moved into analyses of discourse and meaning, rather than base and superstructure. In the early chapters, he tells us of his largely Marxist-influenced approach to social history, influenced by E.P. Thompson and others trying to reframe history as a narrative of classes (especially the working class) rather than of individuals. I generally recommend this book to people entering graduate study in history, or perhaps to other grad students in the social sciences and humanities. He is interested in theory as a practical means for accomplishing solid work, and he is especially good at taking very complex ideas and making them clear and readable, as he explains how they influenced his own work and thinking over time.
I imagine two types of audiences will enjoy this book: the novice grad student who wants a primer on the disciplinary trends of the past 50+ years, and the professor who will enjoy reminiscing with Eley.
In A Crooked Line, Geoff Eley, a European historian at the University of Michigan, provides a personal answer to these questions from the perspective of a historian who has lived and worked through the shaping of the profession during this period. Eley tells the story from his own perspective as a historian coming of age at the eve of historys first large shift from building traditional narratives to using the tools of sociology to address large-scale questions of the development of society and class relations. This is the portion of the book he titles Optimism, chronicling his own excitement as a historian realizing the possibilities of the social sciences to help answer big questions in history, primarily from a Marxist, materialist perspective. Eley touches on the culture wars that resulted, as traditional historians cleaved to more social historical approaches and resisted what they saw as a dissent into discourse. Eley takes a bright view of the efflorescence of such cultural approaches, asking why such tools and methods should not be used to compliment the historians work. Throughout the book, in his survey of the two great turns in history of the course of the second half of the twentieth centuryfirst the turn toward the social sciences and then toward cultural studiesEley wants to map these changes to outside influences, particularly political. History as an explanatory tool for society, a critical self-remembrance, and as a counterpoint to flawed and potentially destructive global narratives, yes, but Eley seems to claim that the influence was often the other waythe political situation influenced the sorts of questions and methods the historical field itself pursued.
While Eley has many important things to say regarding the changes within history between the late 60's and mid 00's, it seems to be buried within much of his text.