2011-05-10

Why Book Reviewers Sometimes Lie

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by Neil Godfrey

Book burning
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After posting my last discussion of a book review I found myself reading a completely different topic on Aljazeera’s English site: an article about the hostile reception of a book myth-busting the Bangladesh war of 1971. The author, Sarmila Bose, asks and answers the question why some reviewers published outright lies about what was written in the book even though the lies will be easily found out as soon as people start reading for themselves. She writes (my emphasis):

Second, detractors of the book claim that it exonerates the military from atrocities committed in East Pakistan in 1971. In reality the book details over several chapters many cases of atrocities committed by the regime’s forces, so anyone who says it excuses the military’s brutalities is clearly lying. The question is – why are they lying about something that will easily be found out as soon as people start reading the book? The answer to this question is more complex than it might seem. Of course the detractors hope that by making such claims they will stop people from reading the book.

I am reminded — again of a completely unrelated topic — of Niels Peter Lemche’s discussion of the tactics scholars use to divert others from reading the works of “minimalists” such as Davies, Thompson and Lemche. Denounce them as incompetent, never engage in a serious discussion with them, denounce their lack of expertise (e.g. they are not archaeologists), and, of course, outright name-calling. The actual words of Lemche are worth reading, and I have quoted him at length in The Tactics of Conservative Scholarship, which is also linked to the original article. But I quote one section here which has a disturbing connection with the reception of the work of Sarmila Bose:

Critical scholars should be critical enough to realize the tactics of the conservative scholars: never engage in a serious discussion with the minimalists. Don’t read Davies, Thompson, and Lemche; read books about them!

These tactics are a more socially acceptable form of book-burning.

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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “Why Book Reviewers Sometimes Lie”

  1. And they aren’t even subtle about it. I can recall when the minimalists were first starting to put forth the notion that not just the tabernacle was pious fiction, but perhaps Solomon’s Temple, too. Immediately, the defenders of the status quo started hurling accusations of antisemitism. Doesn’t take much for them to go nuclear.

    But regarding that certain reviewer over on Exploding Our Cake Mix, you have to realize he’s doing as best as he can. Today McWrath was bemoaning his fate:

    “But that is the problem with creationists and mythicists. One cannot win, most of the time. If you ignore them, they complain that they are being ignored. If you take the time to explain why the best of their claims are unpersuasive and the worst nonsensical, they claim that your taking the time to do so shows that their ideas have merit.”

    Poor, poor Jimmy. Yes, and if you read the mythicists’ works and misrepresent them, they’ll ask if you’re truly serious or if this is just theater for your fanboys. You just can’t win, can you?

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