Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Idiocy Alert: Defending the Mentor Edition

This infuriated me this morning. No, not that Robert Dallek is writing a short biography of Harry Truman, but rather publisher Henry Holt's assertion that Dallek's book will mark the "first critical re-evaluation" of Truman since David McCullough's Truman. Not to put too fine a point on it, but are you fucking kidding me? Forgetting for just a moment how "critical" McCullough was, Holt is overlooking the best critical -- certainly the best scholarly -- biography ever written about Harry Truman, Alonzo Hamby's Man of the People. (Yes, Hamby was my Ph.D. advisor, is my mentor and now, I hope I can say, my friend. But let's be clear: He is all of those things because of the quality of his work.)

It is inexcusable for a major publisher to make this sort of assertion. I always tell my students, and especially my graduate students not to make assertions about historiography if they are not well versed in that historiography. Do not say in a book review that book X is the greatest topic on topic Y unless you have read enough of the books on topic Y to be able to make that case.

Obviously it is not Dallek's fault that Henry Holt is an idiot. But as much as I like Dallek's work, I probably will wait until I get a free copy before reading it. Fight the power.

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