I have always thought that the profession of Historian would be an idyllic one. You get to wear a comfy hunting jacket (you knows, the ones with the leather patches on the elbows), and while smoking a meerschaum pipe and sipping from a glass of fine Cognac, peruse musty smelling old documents in a dimly lit library, looking for that key to unlock the events of long ago.

Jon Wiener’s new book Historians In Trouble completely destroys this illusion. It turns out that history is a very serious business, and it is as cut throat as selling used cars. The book details 12 cases of historians who have made errors, either factual or lifestyle, and depending on if they had important friends or important enemies the consequences were completely different.

Some of the infractions were major, and the miscreant walked away unscathed, or in some cases actually received awards for it, while other more minor problems became career ending events.

Good examples of this are the completely different situations that Michael Bellesiles and John Lott found themselves in. Both published books on the subject of guns. One was clearly anti gun control, and the other one, while not being particularly pro gun control did make some less than flattering references about Charlton Heston and the NRA in the forward.

A review of both books revealed problems. Michael Bellesiles book Arming America, opened to critical acclaim, however a minor flaw was discovered, not in his research, but in missing a couple of footnotes, footnotes that describe the size of a research sample used, and that two years of data were excluded because of a minor hiccup in US history known as the Civil War. This data would have skewed the numbers and was irrelevant to the subject at hand anyway!

John Lott’s academic work, More Guns, Less Crime, made the argument that the NRA love, ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. Unfortunately this lofty tome of learning was severely flawed, Jon Wiener explains that one of the key concepts in More Guns, Less Crime is the results of a ‘National Survey based on over 2400 respondents’. However there is absolutely no proof that the survey took place. Not one single piece of paper exists. The only proof offered was by one of the supposed sample, I am sure it is completely coincidental that this respondent was a functionary of the NRA.

Clearly these two stories represent two sides of the same coin, powerful enemy on one side, powerful friend on the other side. The egregiousness of the crime is not the issue, only who your friends are.

Bellesiles became a pariah, and was ousted from academia, while Lott has also moved on from academia his reputation is still relatively in tact.

That is just a taste of Historians in Trouble. There are 10 other tales of wild adventure in the book, there is a defrocked child molesting priest, a sexually harassing female professor, and there are plagiarists, this is better than fiction, this is a must read.

I really enjoyed this book and give it my highest endorsement. I also suspect that I should never run for public office, I am likely on the NRA’s hit list now.

Historians in Trouble is available through Amazon.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com
 

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