29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Book Marred By Some Flaws, Like a Scatched Ruby
, October 24, 2005
This review is from: Historians In Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, And Politics In The Ivory Tower (Hardcover)
It seems, according to Wiener, that the most famous historians of all, Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, were actually the worst offenders. Goodwin, a former associate of Lyndon Johnson, used passages from another woman's book, a woman who had made a specialty of the life of Kathleen Kennedy (JFK's sister who died young and beautiful). When she has nabbed (by the other woman), instead of coinfessing all she made a secret pact with the author, telling her, keep this quiet and I will give you lots of money, and do whatever else you like. The cover-up was worse than the original offense! As far as Ambrose goes, well, poor guy was probably sick when he began his career of mass plagiarizing, but Wiener suggests that the sheer number of books he signed contracts to write left him with little time to do the research himself, so he just began copying books like crazy and ladling on whatever pages he needed, thinking no one would notice. However, FORBES magazine had his number and called him on it, whereupon he said he would write no more books. Death took him away from us, he who did so much for the "Greatest Generation." I hope his "D-Day Museum" in New Orleans is okay. It stood as a tribute to Ambrose's genius and, to a lesser degree, as a reminder that if you're famous enough, you can get away with things for which a lesser historian would have had his ass handed to him.
You can see that happening again and again in Wiener's book. I like the book quite a bit, but I did notice that when a right-wing historian makes a mistake, and pays for it with his career and/or obloquy from the press, Wiener finds this right and just, but when it happens to someone like Michael Bellesiles, author of ARMING AMERICA, or to Mike Davis, author of ECOLOGY OF FEAR, he calls it a witch hunt pure and simple. I say, you can't have it both ways. And please, whatever Dino Cinel did or didn't do, how do his sexual offenses measure up to the sorts of trickery the other historians profiled in the book pull? If Cinel, the professor at CUNY who had been a priest and got booted out because he made sex tapes of himself with young men (some who looked underage, though none of this was ever proven) has committed some intellectual fraud that would be one thing, but the way Wiener cuts him up one side and down the other, not even trying to interview him as though he were such scum it would contaminate you to talk with him, well, to me it just rings of professional homophobia. After all, the only other sexual references in the book are to the sexual harassment charges brought against Elizabeth Fox-Genovese by another woman. And Wiener despises Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, I wonder why.
Happily, the book reaches a higher plateau when Wiener begins to speculate-after reviewing case after case of horrifying greed and stupidity-that perhaps something in the discipline of history itself encourages fraud-or that perhaps historians as a breed have something wrong with their moral fiber. I don't know, could be!
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