What Is Knopf Waiting For?


Mr. Sternstein is Professor Emeritus of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of American Biography.

Early in 2002, Jane Garrett, Michael Bellesiles's editor at Alfred A. Knopf, told Danny Postel of the Chronicle of Higher Education that the publisher "stands behind" Arming America despite everything the book's critics had to say about its scholarly failings. "I realize that he made some errors," Garrett admitted, "but they certainly were not made intentionally. They were the result of some over-quick research," she said, adding that Knopf was "satisfied" with what Bellesiles "has done to explain things," and particularly his attempt at "getting his mistakes corrected." This was quite a concession for Garrett to make because months earlier, in a statement to Melissa Seckora of the National Review, she refused to acknowledge that there was any reason to be concerned about the growing chorus of criticism being leveled at Arming America. "Hosts of reputable scholars continue to defend [Bellesiles's] methods and his conclusions," she wrote. "Controversies of this nature are not uncommon in the historical profession. That's what makes history so interesting."

Today, however, what is almost as "interesting" is how Knopf is going to handle Arming America now that it has been judged to be seriously flawed and deceptive, perhaps even fraudulent, by Emory University's independent investigative panel and the trustees of Columbia University, who on Dec. 7, 2002 rescinded the Bancroft Prize the school awarded the book in April 2001. Last Spring, when I spoke to a representative of Knopf at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, D.C., he said that a new edition of Arming America was in the works and they were only awaiting the report promised by Emory University before they went ahead with it. But since the issuance of the Emory Report and Columbia's announcement revoking the Bancroft Prize, little has been heard from Knopf other than a statement that despite Columbia's decision, the Vintage paperback edition of Arming America, "which already includes corrections, will remain in print."

But should historians or the reading public be satisfied with Knopf's decision to keep the presses rolling with the paperback edition or should Knopf do what many critics of Arming America have urged and, like other producers of clearly defective products, recall the book? Some months ago, even before the Emory Report and the decision of Columbia's trustees, Alexander Cockburn of the Nation magazine, implied they should, and many people agree with him. As Cockburn observed with the biting wit he is known for, Knopf, which was home to Julia Child, has long been celebrated for its best selling cookbooks. "Suppose," he wondered, "Bellesiles had suggested putting dried Amanita phalloides into the risotto. I don't think Garrett would be so forgiving." And nor would such a cookbook or the cook and the guests who tried the risotto remain in circulation for long.

Alfred A. Knopf, the founder of the firm which bears his name, was legendary for his loyalty and commitment to his authors, and many Knopf editors who've succeeded him have carried on famously in that tradition. It is thus completely understandable why Garrett and others at Knopf would want to go slowly before they abandoned one of their authors. Yet with Emory University's independent Investigative Committee and Columbia University's trustees both concluding that Bellesiles "violated basic norms of scholarship" and engaged in "falsification" of evidence, among many other scholarly sins, it is difficult to justify Knopf's decision to keep Arming America in print and not recall books already in circulation. Apparently, Knopf's editors must still believe that Bellesiles only made some insignificant, unintentional "mistakes," minor errors that he has already "corrected" in the Vintage paperback and others that he might "correct" in a future edition.

But Knopf's present contention that the paperback it intends to keep in print "already contains corrections" is puzzling. In an interview with John Lofton, a reporter who writes for various conservative publications and organizations, Megan Hustad, an assistant in the editorial department at Vintage, said that the so-called "corrections" only amounted to fixing "a few typographical errors and cleaning things up." According to Hustad, although there were internal discussions at Knopf about addressing Arming America's scholarly criticism, "In my discussions with Michael we decided we did not want to do that. He might want to address some of those questions in articles and other forms."

Similarly, Eric Martinez, also of Vintage, told Lofton that the idea of making substantial changes in the paperback edition was rejected; it "didn't go through," he said. It is not clear, however, who in authority at the publishing house blocked it. According to a reliable source, an editor at Random House, which is Knopf's corporate big brother, provided people at its subsidiary with specific detailed lists of Arming America's misrepresentations and falsifications. But senior editors at either Knopf or Vintage decided against making the substantial, even massive corrections those lists would have required before releasing the paperback edition over a year ago. Now, as the reputation of Arming America has completely collapsed, Knopf and Vintage appear to be attempting to promote the impression that they included substantive "corrections" and responded to specific scholarly criticisms in bringing out the paperback edition. Yet the book being sold today appears to be the same paperback edition introduced in Sept. 2001, the edition for which Hustad said the "corrections" consisted only of straightening out "a few typographical errors and cleaning things up."

And, indeed, a comparison of the hardback edition of Arming America with the Vintage paperback reveals how disingenuous Knopf's assertion of "corrections" really is. When weighed against the multitude of falsifications and errors that plague the book, the supposed "corrections" are so minor as to be almost nonexistent. For example, Bellesiles misquoted the 1792 Militia Act in the first edition but replaced it in the paperback version with false statements about the relationship between the 1792 and 1803 Militia Acts. Similarly, Bellesiles removed from the Vintage version some of the "errors" -- though not all of them -- he made concerning the Providence probates (pp. 109-10) but included one new error in their stead. He added the probably false claim that he read 11,170 probate inventories and replaced his false claim about probate inventories, that "they all reported each and every object. . . belonging to the deceased," with a less extreme, but still false, claim. Similarly, the paperback edition changed the false claim that 53 percent of the guns in frontier inventories, 1765-90, were reported as dysfunctional to a still spectacularly false claim that "[r]oughly half" were dysfunctional (pp. 266-67).

And these were the only significant changes that critics have noticed in the paperback edition that Knopf hopes to keep in print. Moreover, as further evidence of how dubious Knopf's contention that the paperback version has repaired the flaws of the original is the fact that virtually everything the Emory Report found wrong, deceitful, and "evidence of falsification" in Bellesiles's work remains for all to read in the Vintage paperback.

But how would Knopf even know what parts of Arming America needed correcting? Garrett asserted in her interview with the Chronicle that in editing the book she relied entirely on the integrity of the author and seemingly never questioned his use of sources or his evidence. "There's nothing we could do," she said. "We can't go and re-research the book -- and neither can the people who review manuscripts for us. So we simply have to trust the author. It's a difficult thing." And, of course, she's mostly correct. Nobody should expect editors or outside readers to rummage through the archives checking hundreds and thousands of footnotes for accuracy. Such a task is beyond the scope of any publishing house, and those who think otherwise are living in an unreal world. If books are expensive now, think of how expensive they would become under a regime where squads of fact checkers were dispatched to archives near and far on a regular basis to compare an author's footnotes with the actual sources.

But today, after the findings of such scholars as James Lindgren, Randolph Roth, Clayton Cramer, Gloria Main, Ira Gruber and many others have exposed and brought to light the many errors, misrepresentations, misquotations, falsifications, and other abuses of scholarly norms embedded in Arming America, it is hard to imagine how any editor at Knopf anxious to put out a paperback edition can simply "trust the author," Bellesiles in this case, to correct the "errors" he is accused of manufacturing for his original version. That's analogous to trusting the insiders at Enron and Worldcom who deliberately hid millions if not billions of dollars in company losses and dishonest personal gains from analysts and regulators to willingly come clean and reveal every dubious transaction they engaged in to those seeking to uncover and repair the damage they caused.

Yet this is precisely what Knopf did with the Vintage version of Arming America. No editor ever invited Lindgren or Cramer or Roth or any other critic whose criticisms, by and large, formed the basis of the Emory Report and Columbia's revocation of the Bancroft Prize, to review the manuscript. On the contrary, in turning out its "new," supposedly "corrected" paperback edition of Arming America Knopf relied not on those critics who could have pointed out where the bodies were buried but on the presumed honesty of the very person who hid those bodies and whose scholarly integrity his own institution's investigative panel subsequently found to be seriously wanting.

And if the editors at Knopf think that all of the concerns about Arming America's questionable scholarship which can be raised have been raised, they are in for a nasty surprise. More articles and studies about its stunning evidentiary flaws and problems are in the pipeline with others in the early stages of development. Justin L. Heather, for example, who co-authored with James Lindgren, "Counting Guns in Early America" in the William and Mary Law Review, the study which first exposed Bellesiles's misrepresentation of probate records, will soon publish in the Journal of Law and Politics a devastating analysis of how Bellesiles misrepresented the use of bladed weapons, knives, and axes in his sources. Clayton Cramer has a book-length manuscript, "Armed America: Firearms Ownership and Hunting in the United States," detailing Bellesiles's many fabrications about that subject ready for publication and he is still compiling lists of gunsmiths which give the lie to much of what Bellesiles says about their scarcity in Early America.

It is clear that the impact of this scandal on Knopf's reputation as the premier publisher of history trade books is likely to be considerable. If Knopf continues to stand "behind" Arming America and fails to confront the fact that it is not simply a slightly flawed book that can be tinkered with and fixed with a few "corrections" here and there but it is rather a deeply dishonest book, one that is racked by invented, falsified, and grossly distorted renderings of the historical record, then Knopf will be doing itself and its great publishing tradition a monumental disservice. More importantly, however, by keeping Arming America in print and not recalling it Knopf will be doing an even greater disservice to the reading public. It will be saying to those who care about history that even America's leading publisher is more concerned with profits than integrity, and is more interested in selling deceitful, though politically correct books than works of enduring merit. The editors at Knopf need to rethink their position, just as Emory University and Columbia University reconsidered their positions. And they need to do so quickly. They should cease printing the Vintage paperback of Arming America and recall all remaining copies from the bookstores. They can do no less and live up to the example of the firm's founder who, though he valued loyalty to his authors, valued scholarly integrity and intellectual honesty even more.


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jeff robertson - 7/1/2003

Mr Yeatman:

I live in Huntsville, Alabama, and am writng a play on the Frank James Trial for production by our local community theatre. I am a big fan of your book, and wish to contact you regarding the transcript of said trial, which no longer seems to exist here in Huntsville. Before I go to Nashville to hunt up a copy, I'd like to speak with you first. Please contact me at godsendfarm@knology.net


Jeff Robertson

Richard Newby - 1/30/2003

Jerome Sternstein's essay (12-16-02), "What Is Knopf Waiting For?", supports the contention that editors--as well as authors of history textbooks--are the gatekeepers of history. In fact, Professor Sternstein's complaint is the implicit complaint in my book--Kill Now, Talk Forever: Debating Sacco and Vanzetti. It goes like this--: To set the record straight, I suggest University XYZ purchase this book-- "Kill Now, Talk Forever: Debating Sacco and Vanzetti" is a 662-page book listed in the Recent Scholarship section (March 2002 issue) of the Journal of American History, p. 1657. (See Newby's letter on Judge Wyzanski in JAH June 2000, p. 321. See Wyzanski below.) WorldCat lists 32 libraries holding a copy of this book, among them these: Columbia University, Cornell University, University of Pittsburgh, Ohio State University, University of California at Irvine, Depauw, Illinois State, Emporia State, Mills College, Ohio Wesleyan , Florida Atlantic University, UMKC School of Law, George Washington University Law Library, Wesleyan University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York Public Library, Cleveland Public Library, Boston Public Library, Pasadena, Los Angeles Public Library, Denver Public Library. "Kill Now, Talk Forever" excerpts key testimony from the Dedham trial transcript and critical opinions from books and articles on Sacco and Vanzetti from 1920 to 2000. Editor Newby has 52 research topics, each one of which adds sizzle to an enduring debate. Topic #5 documents Newby's epistolary quarrel with, and small triumph over, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1988-1991. Newby has corresponded with leading scholars on Sacco and Vanzetti: Francis Russell, Nunzio Pernicone, David Felix, David Kaiser, and Paul Avrich. This book has an annotated bibliography, maps, photos, and index. "Kill Now, Talk Forever" helps readers discover factual errors [not typos] in the American National Biography (vol. 19, p. 174, column 2, lines 50-53) and The Oxford Companion to United States History (p. 681). This Newby detailed to Mark C. Carnes, General Editor. The Oxford Companion has 3 factual errors, each by a Ph. D. from Berkeley. The historical truth about Sacco and Vanzetti is NOT to be found in encyclopedias, in reference books on U. S. history, or in U. S. history textbooks. "Kill Now, Talk Forever" fits objective of Queens College History Department, namely, "[It] provides tools to do historical research, ways to analyze events from a historical perspective, and access to the rich body of information . . ," on Sacco and Vanzetti. "Kill Now, Talk Forever" is being REVIEWED in Bimonthly Review of Law Books. All is documented. Second revision of this book (10/30/2002) has seven more research topics in Addenda. One new item focuses on a book by Alan M. Dershowitz. Readers of "Kill Now, Talk Forever" become 21st-century jurors. Seventh-graders can tell whether Vanzetti's alibi witnesses were telling the truth. 16-year-olds can tell which gun Vanzetti was carrying when he was arrested: (1) Berardelli's gun or (2) the Mogridge gun. These teenagers can also find the factual error (blunder) on Sacco and Vanzetti in Kaiser's 1985 book "Postmortem." They can even find the factual error a Dean at the New York Law School, James F. Simon, put on page 55 of "The Antagonists." Perceptive readers will be able to identify the PLAGIARIST among the putative Sacco-Vanzetti scholars. Librarians and teachers may wish to add this book published by 1stBooks Library. Google has items that show Newby challenging Richard Polenberg of Cornell University. (See Customer review, Amazon.com: Letters of S & V; and see Newby's review of Harold Evans's The American Century at bn.com: His Spin on S & V.) Hugh Brogan, Univ. of Essex, gets attention in this book. Did Brogan, in correspondence with Newby, reverse the position he took on S & V in the TLS in 1985? How did Eric Foner of Columbia University blunder on Sacco and Vanzetti? What is Newby's quarrel with historian Robert A. Divine, Univ. of Texas Emeritus, co-author of America Past and Present, 2002? FACTS: Wyzanski told Francis Russell he received his diploma from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1923. He took a seminar conducted by Professor Frankfurter in 1930. Later, Justice Frankfurter campaigned to get Wyzanski appointed to the federal bench. NY Times obituary quotes Frankfurter's tribute to Wyzanski's brilliant mind {See summary in B. A. Murphy's book, The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection.) MORE FACTS: In 1986 Judge Wyzanski wrote to Russell: "I myself am persuaded by your writings that Sacco was guilty." Wyzanski defends integrity of Williams. the assistant district attorney attacked by Frankfurter (1927) and Kaiser(1985). Judge Wyzanski praises two books by Russell, who declared Sacco and Vanzetti guilty; and he DOES NOT mention the Young/Kaiser book, which declares S & V innocent. [This is the Kaiser book--published by The University of Massachusetts Press--cited in encyclopedias.] Wyzanski DOES mention his friend from boyhood, Herbert "Brute" Ehrmann, who wrote two books (1933 and 1969) in attempts to exonerate Sacco and Vanzetti.
Authors of U.S history textbooks ignore Wyzanski. Or they may not know of his letter, a topic in Newby's letter to JAH in June 2000, p. 321. Wyzanski testified at both the trials of U.S. v. Hiss. "Kill Now, Talk Forever" lets readers look beyond the myth. If Frankfurter was wrong--by an inferential reading of Wyzanski--can Dr. Divine be right? How many authors of U. S. history textbooks have misrepresented the Dedham and Plymouth trials--(1) very few, or (2) most, if not all? How many fail to mention Vanzetti's Plymouth trial? Here is what history professor Mary Beth Norton says about Sacco and Vanzetti in the 6th edition of "A People and A Nation," p. 682: "The prosecution failed to prove their guilt." Using slightly different words, Dr. Divine draws the same conclusion. Richard Newby is deferential to truth but not to flawed professors. So: historian Richard Current, once on the University of Illinois faculty, is more evenhanded on S & V than historians Tindall/Shi. See Dr. Current's excellent 99-word summary of S & V (1980). The target" audience is people who want to know more about one of the most controversial murder trials in the 20th century. Book is self-published. It is more factual, more accurate, and better balanced than Kaiser's book by The University of Massachusetts Press. Why does National Public Radio misrepresent the Sacco-Vanzetti case? Why has NPR refused to interview David Felix, who twice rebuked Brogan in the TLS? NPR has interviewed S-V partisans. Useful #-- 1 888 280 7715 (1stBooks Library)-- or http://www.1stbooks.com The Distinguished retired history professor (Indiana University) has praised this book. Great book for research and debate topics. Will the Lee-and-Labriola book [Famous Crimes Revisited] bear scrutiny? Can you find Lee/Labriola blunders on S & V?
Plain-spoken and down-to-earth, Newby omits no item that inculpates Sacco and Vanzetti. But Encyclopaedia Britannica omits inculpatory items. So does NPR. Why does S-V entry in the Kennedy/Cohen/Bailey book (American Pageant, 12th ed.) virtually duplicate S-V entry in the 1st edition of 1956? Stephen Jay Gould answers: "Once ensconced in a textbook, misinformation becomes effectively permanent, because textbooks copy from previous texts." (Natural History 3/00, p. 46) Surely, University XYZ honors Holmes's concept of "the competition of the market." "Kill Now, Talk Forever" has earned the right to be on the shelf alongside the flawed Young/Kaiser book. Note Dr. Starrs' rebuke of Dr. Kaiser in the Journal of Forensic Sciences (April 1986, p. 650).
Meticulously researched, this book takes up historical items not mentioned in Dr. Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me." How does historian P. S. Boyer upstage historians Tindall/Shi?

Richard Newby, Ph.D.
Associate Professor Emeritus

Charles V. Mutschler - 1/7/2003

Apparently Knopf decided to cease selling the book last month, but word has not gotten out until now. Perhaps this was one reason behind the decision by some of the would be participants to cancel the discussion at the AHA.


Josh Greenland - 1/6/2003

One of the last things I'd like to see is Michael Bellesiles "teaching" at the high school level. High school students simply don't deserve to be taught history by a proven pathological liar, and if I was a high school teacher, I wouldn't want him teaching at my school.

What kind of community would want Michael Bellesiles to teach at their high schools? Probably one full of upper-middle class people who feel its "so important to do something about guns" that the truth doesn't matter.

A community full of the same kind of people who will make sure Arming America remains lucrative for Knopf if it chooses to continue publishing it. I'd like to believe communities with sufficiently large concentrations of such people don't exist, but I'd look for them around LA, perhaps in the SF Bay Area, on the North Shore above Chicago, in isolated universitytowns in the midwest, and all over the northeast.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/30/2002

Actually, he resigned rather than be demoted. According to Bellesiles, that is.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/30/2002

It isn't Bellesiles's interpretation that's the problem: it is the falsification of data; alteration of quotes to make his point; changing dates; misrepresenting documents. These are not matters of opinion, but of fraud.

G.B. Scott - 12/26/2002

"Once upon a time ... currently Dr. Bellesiles is a consultant to the AHA on firearms policy, and working as Sarah Brady's houseboy."

It seems he is also the 9th Circutit's 2nd Amendment consultant, along with Parade Magazine.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/25/2002

That is an interesting comparison -- comparing the maximum effective range of one weapon to the maximun range of another. Like at Crecy, the longbow was generally used en masse, at distance, against massed targets (like a battle line). Now if you can just talk the enemy into standing shoulder to shoulder to the tune of 100 square yards, then a single longbow can be an effective weapon, employed singly, at up to three hundred yards.

Josh Greenland - 12/25/2002

I sent an email to the editor of HNN asking why Garry Wills' book A Necessary Evil is still an HNN Book of the Month pick. Here is his reply:

Wills's book is not the December selection. It was a selection from a long time ago, before I learned that his book was based on Bellesiles's research (as noted in a History Grapevine edition a few months back).

I would not select the book today.

We've added a headline (that mysteriously had dropped off the page) indicating that only the first book listed is the December book of the month. The rest are PAST WINNERS.


Rick Shenkman

fRANK a. bALDRIDGE - 12/24/2002

Mr. Scott's suggestion might yield a valuable contribution to historiography, which is why Knopf will not do it. But don't books have an "About the Author"? Bellesile's might start out - Once upon a time ... currently Dr. Bellesiles is a consultant to the AHA on firearms policy, and working as Sarah Brady's houseboy.

B. Scott Crawford - 12/24/2002

AHHH- I had not heard that Bellesiles had made that comment! No offense taken; I just feel that at times teachers are coming under too much attack. Thank you for your response and clarification.

John G. Fought - 12/24/2002

You mistake my message: Bellesiles himself recently said he might want to take up high-school teaching now that he has left Emory. Putting Wills with him was my idea, in part because I found the idea so implausible, since they probably couldn't sustain the workload. And after all, they don't have the right credentials. I meant no disrespect toward high-school teachers as a group. I remember having good ones and bad ones. One was my godfather, my wrestling coach, and the source of my middle name. I do want to point out, though, that not all college teachers lead the life you describe. In my day I kept pretty busy, among other things running a funded research project on the side, employing more than 20 people for more than a decade. Nowadays I know one very well who works as hard as anyone could, preparing each class afresh, every year, and earning rave teaching reviews, the best I've ever seen. She also publishes quite a bit, including a book that just came out (something HS teachers aren't expected to do)and supervises the research of quite a few students. Of course, after a little probation, both HS and college teachers are pretty well protected, just in case they decide not to do more than a tap of work now and then. Either gig is what you make of it.

B. Scott Crawford - 12/24/2002

Actually, at least in the case of Bellesiles, I do not think he could handle teaching at a high school. Coming from the pampered life of higher learning, where the average professor grades 3-4 assignments (or should I say has his or her teaching assistant grade 3-4 assignments) per class each semester, only actually teaches 2-3 hours a day, actually works in the classroom about 6-7 months out of the year, and has a degree of respect from the general population unknown to high school teachers, I doubt Bellesiles, or for that matter 90% of professors, could survive in the modern high school setting. I appreciate your point, however I would ask that you not make it sound as if teaching at the high school level is some type of ignoble profession. By contrast, the average high school teacher must grade (with no assistance) 20-30 assignements each nine weeks per class, teaches 6 hours a day, works in the classroom 9 months of the year, and must continually be subjected to ridicule from the media, politicians, and individuals trying to criticize dihonest and even fraudulent professors on the Internet.

G. B. Scott - 12/24/2002

Fredrik Nyman asks: "Is there any sensible way to warn readers about the dangers of using Arming America as an authority?"

Rather than stopping the paperback edition, why not include in any future editions an extended forward by several critics, such as Cramer, giving the history of the controversy and an analysis of the deep flaws (and outright fraud) present in the book? Perhaps each chapter itself could be followed by a critical examination by a historian with background in the material contained? The book can then become something new: a tool for examining the self-correcting nature of historical analysis.

John G. Fought - 12/23/2002

That's a really good question. Wills deserves closer attention, and will soon be getting it. I notice that the cozy relationship between the two was mutual, and accompanied by the usual reciprocal back-scratching. I've just begun working on Bellesiles' 1996 prize-winning paper in JAH, whose conclusion praises Wills for his version of the 'collective right' interpretation of the Second Amendment, which he rests on the purpose clause. Wills in turn wrote the ecstatic, almost reverent review of Arming America that he now seems to regret, without having changed his mind about the issues.
In the last paragraph of the article, Bellesiles (1996.435) makes these astonishing claims: "It took seventy years of government and industrial efforts to produce sufficient firearms for the American market and twenty years of promotion to convince even a proportion of the public that private gun ownership was a necessity. The Civil War finally presented the federal government with the opportunity to fashion a well-regulated militia." Maybe they'll wind up teaching history in the same high school.

Andrew Frechtling - 12/23/2002

Unfortunately, Bellesiles did not just offer his own view of events. He made up events that didn't happen and facts that arent' true. Moreover, he is intellectually dishonest.

For instance, he claims that early firearms were "largely useless" beyond "a range of eight to ten yards" but that longbows "could fire their shafts two to thee hundred yards." As an experienced archer and marksman, I can say from first hand experience that one can indeed shoot a longbow at a target 200 yards away, but hitting a man-sized target out there is problematic, especially with any wind. Even modern archers, using compound bows and aluminum arrows, consider a 40 yard shot on big game to be a long one.

This sort of deceptive argument permeats the whole book. You can't debate why a certain historical event happened with someone who doesn't believe it happened at all.

Josh Greenland - 12/23/2002

I'm wondering why Garry Wills' book A Necessary Evil: a History of American Distrust of Government is still listed as a Book of the Month on HNN? http://hnn.us/articles/407.html

If you burrow far enough down into the book's MORE link, you will see an excerpt from the book's first chapter http://www.simonsays.com/excerpt.cfm?isbn=0684870266
Wills attacks the performance of our Revolution War period militias in order to attack the modern U.S. militia movement. But the "facts" for this chapter seem to come from one place: Bellesiles' book Arming America.

I've read that A Necessary Evil relies heavily on Arming America for facts. Thus the facts in A Necessary Evil are substantially wrong. So should such a grossly untruthful book still be a History News Network Book of the Month pick?

T.J. Stiles - 12/22/2002

Dear Mr. Yeatman:
The bulk of your posting is exactly the sort of debate that I think is entirely appropriate. It is not my purpose to debate point by point with you here, but I think that your questions about my book are serious ones regarding a topic that, as you say, involves fragmentary evidence. I have made my interpretations and have drawn conclusions from that evidence, and realize that it is quite possible to disagree on some of them--indeed, I often point out other possibilities in my endnotes. My book already offers answers to your questions--answers I know you don't always agree with. (On the other hand, I think the importance you place on Chelsea House's children's book, and my long-past relationship with the publisher, is off the mark, and simply not relevant to a debate over my book. There's no scandal in the difficulty I had in getting the publisher to remove my name from a book I'm not responsible for.)

In my book, I have tried to expand the attention given to Jesse James, to argue that the historical community should take him seriously as a historical figure. I think your concerns about accuracy on the details are pertinent and that these issues should be debated, but I wish to note that I think such a debate should be couched within a larger scholarly understanding of the bandit as a type and social and political violence in post-Civil War America. I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Ted P. Yeatman - 12/22/2002

Mr. Stiles,
Personally, I would NEVER let ANY book go out with my name on it as author that I disageed with. Was this very professional of all concerned? The various reviews list you as author. Is this undeserved praise you were given? Why is it not mentioned in your current book that you were not the author? You have to understand here that the historical community has been rocked with some rather major scandals and credibility of same has suffered in consequence. As you will note from some of the threads here, one of the matters at issue is peer review. That's all well and good that these people looked at your book.
We may have to agree to disagree on a number of points. As you and I are aware, there are numerous gaps in the primary source data. Just were did you find an account that positively identified Jesse James as the killer of Sheets in the Gallatin robbery of Dec. 1869? Also, have you ever seen the manuscript copies of the letters Jesse sent to the various newspapers? I sure haven't, and no one that I know has. I have transcribed some of Jesse's letters and know that he had only a modest education. It seemed to me that the letters published, with some exception, were at the very least edited, and at the most fabrications of John N. Edwards [who also authored Gen. Joe Shelby's Civil War battle reports]. Before I could accept your thesis that Jesse was writing any letters with political content for the press, I would have to see the actual manuscripts, and see them authenticated by an independent forensic expert. You have indeed uncovered a number of interesting new sources in Missouri. If you have found something new here please enlighten us.

T.J. Stiles - 12/22/2002

I am delighted that Ted Yeatman has spent so much time researching my writing career. I feel no bitterness against him; indeed, I have repeatedly, publicly praised his work, most visibly in my talk at the Southern Festival of Books, televised on C-SPAN. I realize that he may see my book as injuring his status as a leading historian of the James brothers (which it does not do). However, he gives the unfortunate impression of wanting to discredit my book, "Jesse James," rather than simply engaging in healthy, respectful debate. This desire is misplaced, and does nothing to advance our understanding of the subject.

For example, most of Mr. Yeatman's complaints concern the way my book contradicts a young-adult biography published by Chelsea House Publishers in 1994. However, I am not the author of that children's book. When I was a graduate student, I was paid a small fee to conduct research for it (essentially a summary of what had been published about Jesse James up to that point), which was then written up by the Chelsea House staff. It was published under my name against my wishes. Chelsea House has long since agreed to remove my name from it. Does anyone really care that I now contradict statements published in a book for children eight years earlier, a book that the publisher agrees is not mine?

Regarding the content of my actual book, Mr. Yeatman's arguments are the sort of standard-fare disagreements that one might expect on any historical subject. But I will respond briefly, because it illustrates my point. For example, regarding the James-Younger gang's Northfield raid, he makes much of the fact that I disagree with claims that the gang intended to rob a bank in Mankato. First, my chapter on that event is based on primary sources that Mr. Yeatman did not consult for his book. Second, unlike Mr. Yeatman, I note that Cole Younger specifically stated, in his first written account of these events, that the gang did not intend to rob a bank in Mankato (though he says they thought about it). And reports of the gang's movements suggest, I argue, that they did not unite in Mankato at all. This is an ordinary interpretive dispute; I respect Mr. Yeatman's position, but I disagree for reasons spelled out in my book. Regarding the Lawrence massacre, I'm not sure what Mr. Yeatman's point is. I note that it was "the abolitionist capital of Kansas and home to Senator Jim Lane," but yes, I do think it was a "senseless terror raid," as Mr. Yeatman disparagingly summarizes my presentation. Does Mr. Yeatman think the murder of 200 unarmed men and boys, and the burning of a town, was justified? If so, well, we disagree.

My disagreements with Mr. Yeatman are respectful ones; my treatment of his book, both in my text and in open forums, are of admiration and deep respect. I certainly understand that he has built his career as a writer around his expertise on the James brothers, while I (despite an enormous amount of work on my book on Jesse James) think of myself more broadly as a historian of nineteenth-century America. But his points are either ordinary disagreements, or non-issues. (Such as my few citations of Bellesiles's work, which I base no conclusions on, and did indeed change almost a year ago after articles in the William & Mary Quarterly proved how deep the problems ran with his work. My citation of Bellesiles's writing is an ordinary academic reference to well-known work on the subject, not an embrace of it. This is history, not theology, though I would certainly handle his work even more critically were I to write the book again, if I cited it at all.)

Before publication, my manuscript was reviewed by five academic historians, including William Parrish (far and away the leading authority on Civil War and Reconstruction Missouri), Christopher Phillips, and Richard Maxwell Brown. In the press, my book was favorably reviewed by not just by journalists, but also Eric Foner, John Mack Faragher, William C. Davis, Allen Barra, and Larry McMurtry, and was praised by James McPherson. Mr. Yeatman and I disagree on some specifics, and I take a very different approach than he does. (I take a much wider look at the context, offer new interpretations of many aspects of that context, and present a critical discussion of the historical theory of social banditry.) However, I would like to assure Mr. Yeatman that my mannuscript was as conscientiously prepared, and as carefully reviewed, as I'm sure his own was. I have no desire to undercut his deserved standing as an authority on the Missouri outlaws, and I hope he realizes that he need not agree with my book to debate it courteously and respectfully.

Randall N. Herrst - 12/22/2002

Don't you get it? Robert Harbison is making a big joke about "Arming America"! He knows what a fraud the book is, and he is totally opposed to Bellesiles so he posted a message with a play on words. He must have a great sense of humor to say, "this book is now a historical fact"! Harbison knows that hardly anything in the book is a fact, so he is plying us with his dry wit. Way to go, Bob!

We're glad you are on board for a Knopf recall!

Frank A. Baldridge - 12/21/2002

Seems to me I read on this site that he was demoted and quit. Main thing is that he was discredited and split. But obviousily I have become engaged in a battle of wits with two unarmed individuals. Its boring, quess I'll go hunting.

E.T. Strobridge - 12/21/2002

The "Bellesiles Incident" is only one example of the real issue in what has been going on with the challenges to many of our most prominent authors work and the publishers who accomodate them. What happened to the truth of history? Isn't that really the issue in this debate. Regardless if a respondent is for or against a particular authors work it seems to me that what is really at the bottom of all the argument is what is the truth of the matter.

Finally, with the advent of HNN, who has made this forum available to everyone, a wide expression of opinion is being expressed. There is no doubt in my mind that the common thread through most of these challenges is that the authors have been fraudulent, have lied and made up historical facts and pursued the current efforts of political correctness which the supporters have passed of as careless errors, a matter of interpretation and charges that the critics ought to be more broadminded. These books have not been written and published just for academics as some have implied. I would imagine that publishers would soon go broke publishing for such a limited audience. They publish for those that can read and who will purchase a copy of their books. Simon & Schuster is a good example of what can be done with popular historians, like Stephen Ambrose for example, whose stories are an easy read no matter what the truth. The most important result of this unholy marriage was the pursuit of money no matter what damage was done to the truth of history and to those who believed in him. However inadvertant Ambroses's errors may have been in didn't matter and neither the author nor his publisher would admit to any wrongs and refused to correct the false history produced even though a large number of WWll veterans were dishonored by

Keep in mind just what has happened in America, the result of authors and publishers pursuing political correctness and especially the dollar at the expense of the truth. The public school system is a casualty with the dumbing down of our children, veterans of WWII have been dishonored and the truth of history has been rewritten. The public has come to believe all the garbage being written in the name of historical truth and those in the academic community have used their influance as teachers to contribute to this national failing. Those who have stood up to the truth have paid dearly in their professional careers. Like the high school teacher in Kansas who resigned her position rather than, as ordered by the School Board, pass a number of her students who she failed for plagiarism. She, at least felt her honor was worth more than being dishonest. Few others have had that kind of courage.

Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02

Ted P. Yeatman - 12/21/2002

The statements about following the money have more truth than I'd like to think. A good academic press would withdraw a title, as was done in the case of Arizona and the works of one Glenn Boyer, who like B. fabricated sources in his books about Wyatt Earp. Norton withdrew from the shelves a book about the Atlanta campaign which appeared in the late 1980's. At least one of the authors was suspended for a year for plaigerism, to boot. Comments about the History Book Club and Knopf: The bottom line appears to be the bottom line. Another, less examined example is the book JESSE JAMES: LAST REBEL OF THE CIVIL WAR by T.J. Stiles, which appeared to great media hoopla this fall. Most of the so-called "reviews" were by journalists and writers who were dazzled by the writing, but had little background to judge the research. They were not aware that the author had contradicted himself in an earlier book, JESSE JAMES [NY: Chelsea House, 1994], just a few years earlier, which stated that newspaper editor John N. Edwards was probably the author of the "Jesse James" letters published in his paper [see pp. 68-69 of above].
In his new book, Mr. Stiles fails to explain this abrupt about face, which is central to his thesis that Jesse James was a political "terrorist". Did anyone here read the cover review for the NY TIMES for Oct. 30? Read both books and you'll notice something funny about all this. Furthermore, Stiles fails to mention his earlier book in his biblio. and his reasons for the change. He also slants his narrative, ommiting information he mentioned earlier about the gang casing the Mankato bank prior to the Northfield robbery, which appears to have never happened in his later book. His new premis is that Northfield was directly targeted because Adelbert Ames, former reconstruction gov. of Miss. had money there. Leaving out Mankato provides more
"proof" of this and adding it would have weakend the argument. Similarly, he fails to mention that Lawrence, Kansas was the "center of Jayhawker life" [as on pp. 38-39 of the first book] in Kansas, in discussing the 1863 raid, making it appear to be a senseless terror raid in his new book. Read both books, don't take my word for it. Knopf reportedly bought the rights at auction for six figures, competing against seven other publishers, based on a sample chapter on the Northfield raid and a proposal outline. That may explain the major marketing for this work. Somebody has to make a profit. I may as well mention that the Bellesiles book and article are cited as sources six times in the notes. The original proof text was far more strongly worded on guns, but as B. neared censure at Emory the text was changed. It's still cited and individuals like Clayton Cramer might want to examine this for their own research. I won't comment further on B's work, as it's pretty well been done to death on the threads. This book is being offered by History Book Club, but I wonder if they are aware of the differences I mentioned. For my own part, I've done almost 25 years of research and have my own book that came out in 2000. I know some will claim I'm biased, but the material is there for those who care to look. Further research into the primary source materials
used is ongoing. It would be nice if these publishers took the care they take with contemporary biography. A friend wrote a bio. of a well known entertainer and the publisher had someone double check certain sources of quotations, etc..

Michael N. Ingrisano, Jr - 12/21/2002

I have to agree with Randy Hils who cited the stance taken by Simon & Schuster re: the Sins of Stephen Ambrose and his WWII histories and other works. Even with the controversies about Ambrose and his plagiarism, S&S refused to honor the research by WWII veterans and others who reported the gross errors in Ambrose's material not only in his "war stories" but also in his railroad book "Nothing Like It,etc." Obviously, as Hils points out publishers do follow the money while squandering the truth and the legacy of honor and service of us who made WWII history.

Robert Harbison - 12/21/2002

I think you maight just need to read a bit more on the subject before you start running you mouth (keyboard?)

Bellesiles had been at Emory for years before AA was published.
He was not demoted, he resigned. BIG DIFFERENCE.

Frank A. Baldridge - 12/21/2002

I suggest you read Kipper above. Most of us live in the real world, and have real responsibilities. According to your recent post a historian should not be held accountable for yelling FIRE in a theater if there was none because he was "only offer[ing] his view of events."

Personally, I consider the yellow pad caper rather trite, except for the fact that "Michel" cooked his data. The major question in my mind is, in respect to firearms, how well does probate data represent reality. So I conducted an experiment and found that within my sample it didn't. "Michel," by his own statement came to a similar conclusion about the time his JAH article was published. So why did he leave probate data in AA?

There are sub-thesises in Bellesiles that are indisbutable, such as the growth in shooting sports during the 1830s. But that was primarily due to the shotgun reaching full development and the Transportation Revolution. And it has absolutly nothing to do with firearm's use in the colonial period, or the NRA. If no one was using firearms, why were shot towers erected during the 1807 Embargo.

Let me make this absolutely clear Mr. Arkin, your buddy "Michel" was not confining discussion of his "thesis" to the classroom. He was obtaining public money to do "research" and parlayed his thesis into a chair at a major institution where he attempted to influence public opinion. And his work was fraudulent.I personally feel that the major reason he was demoted at Emory because his ability to obtain grants was seriously impared. As a graduate student I have been exposed to numerous misstatements of fact, but life is too short to argue them all. "Michel" choose to take a "high profile" position on a "hot button" issue, built a brief academic carear on it, and went down in flames when he could not substantuate his claims. Truely, he was a "product of his environment." GET A GRIP!

P. S. How well do you know this "Michel" dude, you sound kind of close?

John Kipper - 12/21/2002

Mr Arkin:

I think that we have a basic problem of definition here. Although I am not a historian, with either a captital H or a small one, I am a relatively well-educated man, with Masters'degrees in history and literature, along with a MBA and studies in computer Sscience

I was taught, in the antediluvean classrooms of the '60's, that a theory (or a thesis) is the result of a rigorous, multi-faceted intellectual, scientific and logical process. It starts by identifying an event or phenomenon, carefully observing, analysizing and quantifing all of its aspects, attributes, causes and results and then, tentatively, developing a hypothesis that explains all of the observable data. This hypothesis is then tested against all possible variables, as ascertained by peer-review and replicable tests before it is accepted as a theory. As a theory, it is still open to retesting and reinterpretation. Such is science and logic in a classical sense. And it is good (After all, it did get us to the moon).
To suggest that "Arming America" presents a starting point for reasoned discussion is disingenuous at best. Independent and reputable Historians (capital "H") has been proven the statistical data to be both flawed and mathmatecally impossible; records supposedly studied have been proven to be non-existent and quotations from contemporary observers have been exposed as absolute distortions from the original. There are several ways to disprove a theory (thesis): one of the most logically powerful is a refutation of the underlying data. Two oficial academic peer investigations (not to mention the many investigations by independent scholars) have discredited B's data. It was obviously made of "whole cloth," for reasons known only by the author, who must be held responsible for his own words, as both Emory University and the Bancroft Award Committee at Columbia have announced. Without the precedence of supporting evidence, there are no arguements, no facts, no theses that are logically supportable, or even eligible for serious debate.
Therefore, there is no starting point for discussion of a non-existent thesis. Flawed, or manufactured, data does not constitute an thesis or even provide a basis for reasonable discussion. Even well-meaning falsehood is not fact. One might as well discuss the philosophical basis of the "Flat Earth Society," which organization has, at least, a sense of humor and is not seriously trying to influence national policy.
I am sorry, but I cannot understand how anyone concerned with what Plato characterized as "the good, the true and the beautiful," could possibly advocate that this collection of misleading "scholarship" could possibly be of any value beyond propaganda

Henry Scott Arkin - 12/20/2002

The point of my response was not the pulp or platitudes. The fact that certain data may have been destroyed or even misinterpreted, only digresses from the paramount issue as to whether the different interpretation of American History is valid or not.

If one were consider the interpretation to be incorrect, one is certainly free and possibly compelled to undertake a critical response to support another view by either writing an article or a book. A Marxist Historian may indeed have a convoluted view of the French Revolution or America during the period in which Manifest Destiny was tantamount, but the Historian does not deserve to be crucified.

Michael only offered his view of events. If others view the interpretation differently, why assault the author with malice? Perhaps a bit more forethought or thought would enable an open and free debate on the subject versus silencing any opposing voice. I am shocked and dismayed that conservative historians would stoop so low! Are they no better than those on the Left that clearly want to stop Freedom of Speech?

Frank A. Baldridge - 12/20/2002

Unfortunately Mr Arkin, many Americans, including those that write, enact, and interprete laws, or even just vote, are under the illusion that historians are honest and deal in FACTS. Have you ever seen a disclaimer below the talking heads on the history channel? Probably not. Should each paper, artical, or dissertation state on the cover that the author is merely engaging in mental masterbation while he advances a thesis, theory, or political agenda? That would probably do much to protect society. Your statement in regards to Bellesiles thesis reminds me of the bozo who "didn't know it was loaded," and was "just playing." Well it went off, and the responsibility rests with historical academia, especially the JAH.

B. Scott Crawford - 12/20/2002

While it is true that Bellesiles is simply putting forth a thesis, he still must maintain a high degree of academic integrity and abide by certain established rules that allow for and facilitate the propagation of works that add to our understanding of the past; it is here that Bellesiles has apparently gotten himself into trouble. Yet this alleged misrepresentation of the “facts” is not all that weakens his work as a whole. As I point out on the review I posted for Arming America on BarnesandNoble.com, “Bellesiles’ work is plagued with contradictions and obvious political bias which undermines many of his observations and conclusions. For example, after arguing for several pages that 17th century guns were almost entirely ineffective in combat and that axes and
bows many times proved more effective than guns, Bellesiles identifies the Amerindians’ running out of gunpowder as the first of three factors that brought about Metacom's defeat
during King Philip's War (pg. 120). However, possibly the most damaging evidence against Bellesiles’ thesis concerning the development of a gun culture is that, as Bellesiles points out on pages 170 and 182, the myth about Americans' ability to handle firearms and near universal gun ownership among Americans emerged following the Seven Years' War and was firmly in place by the American Revolution; the myth of an armed citizenry is as old as, in fact older than, the nation itself. With this being the case, the myth of gun ownership and gun aptitude in America was in place just as an American identity was about to take shape. Also, even if Bellesiles’ assertion that America’s gun culture is rooted in the 1840's and 1850's, firmly being in place by the American Civil War, it does not mean that a gun culture was not a part of an American identity early on in America’s history; in fact, if Joyce Appleby’s conclusions in her work Inheriting the Revolution about the creation of an American identity are correct, the creation of a
gun culture around the 1840's makes guns a central part of the American identity that Appleby's first generation Americans were creating. In short, just as an American identity was taking
shape, a gun subculture was beginning to emerge in the United States, thus calling into question Bellisiles' conclusions about the relationship between guns and American culture.”

Arming America throughout has a feel to it as if it is attempting to further a political agenda. This of course is within Bellesile’s rights, and in fact all historical interpretations are ridden with bias and are in essence political in nature, but when an historian possibly manipulates evidence or forces evidence to fit his or her thesis, it is the responsibility of academia to in some way rectify the situation. At the very least historians must point out any methodological flaws or discrepancies that exist within an historical work. Then, if the debate continues, historians can
put forth alternative works that challenge a particular thesis; however, generally such works should focus on VALID theses that have not been supported with manipulated evidence, as appears to be the case with Arming America.

Randy Hils - 12/20/2002

Interesting article and very interesting comments. I would also like to ask the same question of first, Simon and Schuster and the HNN's own advertiser the History Book Club regarding the works of Stephen Ambrose. Many of Ambrose's works contain "misrepresentations and falsifications" as well as gross historical error by the pound, much of it documented on HNN's series on Ambrose under "Historians on the Hotseat." Excluding the plagiarism S&S and Ambrose apparently could never find the "undaunted courage" nor the time to undertake such a daunting task. An old WWII veteran advised me three years ago when I undertook my Ambrose research, "follow the money" I did, and he was right. When money talks and truth in history walks!

Henry Scott Arkin - 12/20/2002

Many of you at this website have been hypercritical regarding a somewhat radical idea on the theory of gun ownership in America.

Was Michael Bellesiles actually attempting to defraud his fellow historians and academia in general? I certainly do not believe that was the case because Michael Bellesiles other major work, for instance “Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier,” while garnering critical and professional claim, did not receive the scrutiny that permeated his rather unique theory on the utilization of firearms by the masses.

Michael certainly proved that historical probate records have not fully been explored nor have the records been cataloged or stored properly. Surely, inconsistencies exist.

While it appears that he may have misinterpreted the raw data, his theory has enabled a debate to be conducted regarding his theory. The virulent outbursts from his opposition have done a grand job besmirching his reputation and literally causing him to resign his position, when Emory caved into to Political Pressure. I thought that the left wing was trying to shut off the debate and had a monopoly on political correctness.

Clearly this website concludes that Michael’s theory to be worth no more than the remains of his destroyed legal pad containing his original data. However, the basic reason to issue the book remains that of his thesis. Was it 100% accurate? Apparently not. Is this adequate justification to ad hominem attack the author? I think not. The correct approach is to provide written documentation that counters the argument and publish a book with an opposing theory.

Are you truly Historians or hysterical miscreants?

Frank A. Baldridge - 12/19/2002

Fred: Hopefully they will be able to recognize that it is a biased source by the author's obvious political agenda. And we have been taught to look at more than one source. I would like to see someone plagerise Bellesiles, for about 20 pages, talk about STUPID. Most likely professors will make graduate students buy the book, and rap about it in class.

So why is Knopf considered an academic press, or put another way, why did the Bancroft Committee even consider a book that had not been referred by a committee. Because they liked its politics? Tell ya what Fred. If Knopf published it, watch out!

Which gets to the discussion Clayton, Charles, John and I have been having. The historical academic press, as proven by Bellesiles, considers political agenda first, and historical fact last.

I seem to recall that Charles A. Beard (I believe) said (I paraphase) that it was okay to lie about the past in order to advance an agrument, as long as it was in a good cause. (I'll try to find a quote and citation) Which is pretty subjective.

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/18/2002

This is a good idea. There is, presumably, an applet that lets you do this sort of gathering of data for display on a website. Can someone point me to it?

Rick Schwartz - 12/17/2002

"Guilt by association" is going to be a millstone hung around the neck of every Knoph author for a long while if they don't take immediate steps to rectify this. It may not be fair, but it's real. After a year or two of their published authors hearing, "Oh, you're published by ~them~? Aren't they ones that willing published that fraudalant book by whatshisname. I sure hope ~your~ book is better fact checked." they'll find their stable leaving for better parts real fast -- and no new authors coming their way.

John G. Fought - 12/17/2002

That's good news, Clayton. Let me know if there's any way I can
help get it published. Also I think RHM's idea of a web-based clearing-house for fact-checking, criticism, and review of AA and other relevant material, on all sides of the issue, is a good idea.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/17/2002

today, for a break, I read Knox's militia plan, and compared it to Bellesiles' version of same. Knox had an advanced corps of youngsters, 18 and 19, trained for 30 successive days a year in annual encampments, and 20 year-old trained the last 10 days of the encampment. This advanced corps would be the first to be called up, and would be first responsible for out-of-state missions. The main corps of 21 to 45 would meet four times a year, and as directed, and supplement the advanced corps as needed. The reserved corps of 46 to 60 would meet twice a year, and handle domestic disturbances (presumably when the rest were away). Knox envisaged a pipeline, with everybody serving in all three corps as they age. Bellesiles describes this as a select militia. I don't think so. He also says the universal militia thus becomes just a way of registering all those capable of arms in time of war. I disagree, again. I also disagree with his renditions of Lexington and Concord.

This is possibly all old hat to you. You no doubt have a fairly complete manuscript already. But would you (or have you already?) consider setting up a clearing house of sorts on your website that people can directly contribute small bits of refutation, or that contain links to such? That might be one way to fight the malign influence.

H Bramlet - 12/17/2002

Excuse me, but how is the continued sale of his books and payment of royalties any kind of "example" to set for a fraud?

I'm sorry, but this needs to be viewed outside the realm of the library and scholastic ivory towers. "Arming of America" is entering public consciousness through word of mouth and urban legend. Just as everyone "knows" that California's mass transit systems were bought-out and sabotaged by the car companies, one day everybody will know that the "gun culture" is a post civil war fabrication.

I see no reason to facilitate this spread by continuing to publish the man's works.


Clayton E. Cramer - 12/17/2002

The solution is to write a book about the subject correcting Arming America's errors. I have one written, and finally, publishers are beginning to show some interest.

htom - 12/17/2002

Perhap Knoph is a really angry innocent in this, taken in by Bellesiles (first the book, then the prevarications, then the explanations, then the corrections, then ...); they are unable to "unring the bell", and now they've set upon what could be considered their revenge -- not saving him from further examination.

They're hoping that for the next century, authors who send books to Knoph will remember what happened to Bellesiles, and that those future authors will be much more careful in their research.

Fredrik Nyman - 12/17/2002

No matter what Knopf eventually decides to do, a lot of copies of this book are going to be in circulation for many years to come.

It is a given that people doing research about guns in America in the future are going to find Arming America in the library, and, unaware of its many flaws, cheerfully cite it as an authority. In fact, the 9th Court of Appeals did that the other week when it decided a Second Amendment case.

This strikes me as a major problem. Is there any sensible way to warn readers about the dangers of using Arming America as an authority?

How has the history profession and the academic printing houses handled similar problems in the past?

John Gillette - 12/17/2002

is one possibility. That's what it is called when a group of engineers decide they know so much more about what the customer wants that they start ignoring the customer. Apple has been guilty of this several times, one example being the IMAC(?) of a few years ago that had no floppy drives (which was an idea several years too soon, still is darn inconvenient), IBM pushing it's views of the "perfect" FAA ATC system and then failing in execution.

The other possibility is that Knopf is still pushing the anti-gun agenda of the book even if the book has been discredited. (HMM another instance of liberal paternalism? - We know what you want better than you do (because you are just a dirty prole and not an educated progressive like me) and you are going to get it whether you want it or not.)

Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

You are correct. No clemency is possible at this point, as the game went on far too long. But the pursuit of the truth would end sooner and cleaner with a withdrawal or admission of guilt (hopefully both), and that is my point. I personally welcome the downfall of an individual caught in many falsehoods on an issue I care about, as my earlier posts show.

Removing the book right now would help Bellesiles, but that is still okay by me. It is for this reason that I am shocked that Bellesiles and Knopf have refused to recall the book from circulation, especially with potentially devastating additional information coming out soon. And publishing a new paper version in 2003? What, a toilet paper edition?

If Knopf did recall the book, and Bellesiles claimed some weird, lame excuse for his many errors (or typically blamed someone else for it all), I would predict that another round or two of publishing would end this discussion for the vast majority of scholars and others. Nobody would pursue a thoroughly beaten Bellesiles to the ends of the earth and back under his rock after fault was admitted, even if lamely. No matter if he did call everyone else bad names. History would be restored, and a lesson learned by all.

Removing the book would remove much of the incentive for debate and rebuttal. So it should be Bellesiles, and now Knopf, to decide when to end this mess by pulling the book from the shelves.

The critics of Arming America have plenty of factual ammunition left, and this website has been a great resource in posting many of these key issues.

Eventually, either Bellesiles or Knopf will fold (probably Knopf). In fact, this might all be a trial balloon to test public reaction to continued publication.

John G. Fought - 12/16/2002

We disagree about clemency for Bellesiles. Even if he admitted what he did and apologized for it, I feel it would still be premature to let him off the hook. And he hasn't even come close to doing that. He presents himself as a victim. The real victims here, as I've said before, are the readers, past, present and future, of Arming America. Knopf is in a position to do something useful about this, and it should be reminded of its moral obligation to do it. If it continues to print trash, this should be widely and persistently reported so they will lose in reputation what they are trying to save in sales. As for Mr. Harbison's censorship claim, it's ridiculous. If you publish lies, you are responsible for the damage they do.

Steve Smith - 12/16/2002

Censorship is when a government forces a publishing house not to publish something.

Free speech is when one historian (Sternstein) tells a serious publishing house that they are acting irresponsibly by publishing a hoax.

Mr. Harbison disagreeing with Professor Sternstein's decision to write what he did is just as much censorship or free speech as Sternstein disagreeing with Knopf over their decision to continue to publish a hoax. Why is Mr. Harbison's action OK and Prof. Sternstein's not? Both are free speech, not censorship.

If you read what Jerome Sternstein, Randolph Roth, James Lindgren, Gloria Main, Clayton Cramer, and the Emory outside committee have written, you can see that there is strong evidence that Bellesiles never looked at most of the probate records he claimed to have read, never read the militia statutes he cited as restricting gun ownership to propertied white males, never read the full court records of Plymouth that he purported to have counted homicides in, never read over 100 nonexistent wills in Providence that he claimed to have read, never read “hundreds” of nonexistent inventories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, never read the Contra Costa records before this year, never read almost all of the 80 travel accounts he cited as supporting his thesis, never had his office door set on fire, never had his records pulped in a flood, never had his computer hacked, never had his emails misrepresented, etc. Even Bellesiles now admits that some of these things never happened.

As Sternstein revealed earlier on HNN, former Bellesiles booster Garry Wills now considers the book “a fraud” and Roger Lane now thinks that it is "100% certain" that Bellesiles made up some of the documents.

The Poulshock book was pulled by the publisher for reporting on fewer nonexistent documents than Bellesiles reported on. The Hitler diaries were pulled not because they had nothing plausible or true in them, but because they were a hoax. The Hitler diaries and Poulshock's book are now "part of history" too.

Would you have argued against people urging them to cease publication of the Poulshock and Hitler hoaxes because you were confused about the difference between free speech and censorship?

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/16/2002

As for battle analyses, check Bellesiles' account of Lexington and Concord versus David Hackett Fischer's account in Paul Revere's Ride. Tell me what you think.

Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

I agree the book should not be pulled for censorship. But at a minimum, we need to agree that any new printings should not trumpet Arming America as an "award-winning" book. Also, I would prefer that no new printings are made until OAH makes a final decision on Bellesiles' earlier journal article. Jury is still out on that one.

The real questions remaining to me are 1) was his 1996 journal article similarly flawed? This has received much less attention than Arming America, and 2) Has Bellesiles learned from this episode and will his next planned book on early gun control laws not have such glaring, visible errors?

Of course, by keeping Arming America selling, you are also keeping this issue alive. Gun ownership is not a tame subject, and a thorough review should have been expected. The fact that several appeals court cases either received or relied on Bellesiles and law reviews citing him made the stakes very high.

Based on the evidence at hand, many will want to retool Arming America as a fictional novel of wishful thinking and leave it at that. I am one of those people, and not afraid to admit it.

But that is not censorship. Just a confirmation that Bellesiles did sloppy, horrid work at best (in Arming America) that for some reason always erred on the side of his main thesis--that gun ownership was rare at the time of our nation's founding and that well-known quotes and travel journals of the time indicating otherwise were just to scare the British, sound manly, or were honestly just missed by him.

Whatever happens in the future, Arming America appears discredited. If more articles really are in the pipeline as alleged, it would be far better for Bellesiles and Knopf to stop the bleeding now. The probate record issue is done, thank God! Bellesiles lost that one, for those keeping count, and he now claims his study of over 11,000 probate records wasn’t a big part of his book, anyway, and that all those positive reviews shouldn’t have relied on such a small portion of his book. What a waste of time on his part, then.

But now we will see rebuttals on the number of gunsmiths, inaccurate journal citations, misleading New Orleans battle analysis, etc., etc. Not doing any favors to Bellesiles here by keeping this line going.

Many posters have noted that the Emory investigation helped Bellesiles when it limited its discussion to probate records and tried to divine his "intent". I agree.

New articles will only confirm the broad scope of his errors throughout the book and lend more credibility to a possible nefarious intent. From a debate standpoint, I say fine, if he dishes it out, he should take it, too.

For opponents of Bellesiles and his thesis, keeping his book on the shelf provides a need to respond. So far, they have been beating him up quite badly with factual errors. Eventually, every single mistake in this book will be uncovered, thus doing to Knopf what Bellesiles did to himself. The critics have already won a near knock-out on Arming America, and it is time to consider stopping this fight.

At some point, Bellesiles should be left in peace to think about his many mistakes.

Whether you hate or love this guy, please note that he has already had the NEH name removed from his Newberry fellowship, lost his tenured position, lost his Bancroft Award for Arming America, might be losing another award soon, and faces a broadening probe of the rest of his book and earlier article.

I guess it is up to Bellesiles and those in his corner to decide when to throw in the towel.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/16/2002

I'm not sure if you can say "this book is now a historical fact" when it is mutating before your very eyes. They trusted the author. They paid a price. Now they're trusting his "corrections". Call that stupidity or cupidity, but whatever you call it, you can't call it ignorance -- they've been informed.

Robert Harbison - 12/16/2002

Whether you are on the side that believes the Emory report was right, or that it was pressured into making its judgment, one thing anyone in the profession must see is that right or wrong, this book is now a historical fact, pulling it now would be nothing more than censorship.
Whether you think he was right or he intentionally deceived his readers is beside the point now.