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29 September 2009


CR, I think trusting the book depends on the error. If the error undermines or invalidates the overall thesis, then yes I think I don't trust the book. If it is one of descriptive detail, then I chalk it up to insufficient review and editing.

World War 2 books, with a bottomless potential for detail, are a good example. If a book is about, say, why the US Navy won in the Pacific and argues that strategy and production determined who won, does it matter if the author calls a particular battleship a cruiser by accident? It does to many Amazon reviewers who fixate on minutia, but it shouldn't detract from the value of the book.

Tripp, you make an interesting distinction. I'm inclined to think the errors about Iowa/geography are simply sloppy, and do not detract from the overall thesis, but lots of people might argue with me on that.

For one thing, I always keep in mind that the book "Freakonomics" had some big mistakes in it, too, and that was a huge bestseller, and nobody seemed to care. So I guess I'm left thinking two things:
1. Most nonfiction books probably have errors, especially these days, when there are no copyeditors left and publishers just publish everything as fast as they can;
2. At least I like this Reding guy, who I know is not going to profit hugely from his book, better than the Freakonomics authors, who profited hugely from sloppy reporting.

Does that mean I have a double standard? Yes. Can I live with that? I think so.

Tee hee. Like your point about Amazon reviews, too.

Whatever happened to the days when books were lovingly and carefully edited?

Even though errors bug me, I would totally read this book because my hometown is basically a factory town and this problem is abundant.

I would guess those days ended when publishers started being taken over by big companies that expected to make tons of money.

Yes, I think I'd still recommend this book. It provides a whole new take on the American "heartland," I'll tell you that.

Yes, when Reding basically wonders why anyone lives in the "heartland" at all, and suggests abandoning it-- that's the part of the book that will stick with me.

Well, plus the scene where the guy cooks himself when he sets his meth lab on fire.


Geography is less important to the story other than selling the small town desparation that Reding accomplishes. The fact that the small town could be almost anywhere America makes it scary.

The "vocational" vs. "recreational" made a huge impression on my understanding of why. This stuff is rampant in the trucking industry that is filled with hard workers who want to keep going and stay awake.

Isn't it interesting how certain parts of books always resonate? I'm STILL remembering John Bowe's assertion (from his book "Nobodies") that the system isn't broken--it's working exactly the way it was set up to work. Ditto with the abandonment of the Midwest scenario.

And the scene with the guy cooking himself--oh my God. I thought I'd let readers discover that one for themselves. Disturbing, to say the least.

I tend rather to agree with you on this one, but the geography errors, which should be easy enough to check and correct, do not make one inclined to accept easily the rest of what Reding is saying, and that's a tragedy.

What an idea, to take this drug to keep working. That is a sign that Americans are working TOO much--and something is fundamentally hinky with our system. (Well, I think anyway.)

While reading the book, I also felt I was reading a modern day "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, especially, Jarvis and his American dream lost. The more he worked the more he spent on Meth and the less he had for his budding family like Jurgis and his drinking. The endless loop continued.

The writer has to take full responsibility for mistakes in a text. Publishers do little to no fact checking.
I just finished co-writing a true crime book for a major publisher and it was 100% my and my co-writer's responsibility to fact check everything in the book. In magazines or newspapers, they have fact checkers, but even then it is still the responsibility of the writer to get things right.
P.S. I haven't read this book so I have no comment on the significance of these alleged errors.

Well, that is interesting to have confirmed. I should have known; I guess I was thinking of the case when William Langewiesche's publisher backed him up on the content of his book "American Ground" (when he related anecdotes of workers onsite at the fallen WTC looting jeans and other merchandise from the wreckage), but I guess they were just backing up Langewiesche's fact-checking. Or maybe he had help from the Atlantic magazine (where I think the piece first was published).

I understand it is the author's responsibility; I'm always just hoping for some kind of editorial input to catch or query things like that, but that's a lot to ask in our age of too many books, not enough editors.

Good luck with your crime book! What's it going to be titled?

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