Oooh, this is just too delicious.
29 April 2010
Note: No new post today (Friday) as I am in the middle of a couple of books, but I just wanted to add to the below that if you have any interest whatsoever in how historians sometimes fudge their research, a great book on the subject is Peter Hoffer's Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud--American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin. It's way more scintillating than the title makes it sound.
I have never been a Stephen Ambrose fan.
Or, to put it another way, I have always felt that Stephen Ambrose is one of the most overrated authors (and a plagiarizer to boot) of the twentieth century. This has puzzled at least one of my reading friends, who sighed when she first heard my anti-Ambrose rants and said, "Oh, honestly, how can you like nonfiction and not like Stephen Ambrose?" It's very simple, really. Ambrose writes about subjects that are not at the top of my interests list, and he writes about them with a tone I don't care for : male adventure (yay!), World War II (double yay!), camaraderie under pressure* (the biggest yay of all!). And what was his defense of his plagiarism, particularly in the book The Wild Blue? Well, he just forgot to put quotes around passages that he lifted wholesale from other books.**
I also have memories of what seemed like a double standard for male and female historians from when I worked at a public library; I could never get older male readers to try Doris Kearns Goodwin ("She's a plagiarizer!") they all said, but they would happily read each new Ambrose title as it came along. (How they heard the news story about Goodwin plagiarizing, but not Ambrose, I'll never know.) Recently I was also annoyed to stumble across yet another history of World War II, titled The Pacific, and written by--you guessed it--none other than Ambrose's son Hugh Ambrose. Oh brother. Lots of authors have now profited off the perennial popularity of the "Good War," but the Ambrose family appears to be turning the profiteering into a family dynasty.
So, yes, I'll admit it: I was rather titillated to visit EarlyWord.com yesterday and find this little news snippet: "In this week’s New Yorker, writer Richard Rayner reports that the late historian Stephen Ambrose fabricated interviews with former President Eisenhower for the books that brought Ambrose to fame. The information is based on discoveries by Tim Rives, the deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library."
But enough of my invective. Go read Rayner's article--it's short and very, very interesting. And it gives one even more food for thought on the nature of "truth" and nonfiction.
*I fully admit that I have never been impressed by the war platitude that every guy is just doing it for the guy next to them. That's the way everybody in war feels, so who's to tell who's right? Also, camaraderie under pressure is easy to have; solidarity is easy when everyone's in the shit. Camaraderie when there's no pressure would be a lot more impressive.
**Um, Stephen? That is the definition of plagiarism.