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Sep 19, 2004 5:53 am

Booking Our Shame ...

History News Network's recent"Grapevine" featured one of two books with October publication dates that concentrate on recent scandals among historians: Peter Hoffer's Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions and Frauds -- American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin (PublicAffairs, 2004). From the Grapevine's preliminary look at galleys, it appears that Hoffer finds larger patterns of plagiarism in the work of Ambrose and Goodwin than they were initially charged with. He does apparently find Bellesiles guilty of having committed fraud. And he does, apparently, find the personal deceptions of Joseph Ellis having crept into his otherwise distinguished published work. A more ominous note, suggesting that Hoffer has spread his net far beyond Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin, makes me think that historians will treat Hoffer's book much like our mentors treated David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. We will glance at the packaging, take it to our offices, close the door behind us, and check to see if our names appear in the index.

"Grapevine" doesn't mention the other book scheduled for publication in October and it is actually already on sale. It is Ron Robin's Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases That Shook the Academy (University of California Press, 2004). An American historian at the University of Haifa, Robin has previously published at the intersections of twentieth century intellectual, political, and military history. His book overlaps with Hoffer's in treating the Ambrose, Bellesiles, and Ellis cases, but otherwise he spreads his net differently. They meet Derek Freeman's attack on Margaret Mead's work, Napoleon Chagnon's fantasy"Stone Age People," and Rigoberta Menchu's fictional account of the Maya holocaust. Robin sees academic disciplines losing their jurisdiction over professional standards to a popular media that prefers scandal mongering and law suits. Why would customers who viewed Robin's book at Amazon also be likely to view Jenna Jamison's and Neil Strauss's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (Regan Books, 2004)? The honor wasn't reciprocated.

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