Scraping the boots of history

If you don’t know already, Powell’s puts a new review each day from a magazines and online sites. It’s great because they put up Atlantic pieces, which generally aren’t available to non-subscribers. Today’s review is especially worth reading. Charles Taylor reviews Deborah Lipstadt’s History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving. Irving is the “historian” who brought a libel suit against Lipstadt when she published a book accusing him of falsifying his work to favor his thesis, mainly that the Holocaust never happened. Taylor provides an insightful review not only of the book, but of the dangers of dismissing the whole story as a case of a disagreement of two historians. The story is larger than that and more important. Anti-semitism should never be dismissed lightly and that Lipstadt’s charges weren’t taken seriously by other prominent historians says something about how far we’ve come (which is not far enough). Giving Irving credit as a good “researcher” says that he has a valid point in his crackpot argument. It validates his point of view. Read Taylor’s article and you will see what I mean. Plus it has one of the best endings ever.

4 thoughts on “Scraping the boots of history

  1. V-bunny

    Wow, that was an amazing review. I read a much shorter article recently about the trial and Lipstadt’s book and really wanted to read it. History is a lot like science, I think. You take s theory that is true by default and you keep at it until someone proves it otherwise. But you just can’t know for sure. The thing about the Holocaust is that it’s not one of those theorums that are built up on the results. There is definite evidence that no matter how many sides and points of view you hold, it can not be spooked away with lies. It’s incredible to think that something with so much substanital evidence can be twisted and manipulated in the name of intellectual idealism. It really hurts my head to think about historical accuracy. I was having this discussion with Anne the other day over that huge Peloponnesian Wars book, how one decides to write such a tome in the first place and how accurate it can even be. I could never be a historian.


  2. birnbaum

    I was worried that the Atlantic had gone down the shitter —as my feelings about Taylor are, shall we say, ungenerous. But as it turns out his piece is from Whew!

    Now Taylor doesn’t do a half bad job on Lipstadt’s book and its genesis (the odiferous David Irving saga) but his melding in an attack on Chris Hitchens is just plain ridiculous and (I’m going take the same liberties Taylor takes in ascribing motives and what various people should have known) and maliciously misleading.

    One, by now, does well not to take snippets of Hitchens’ remarks, arguments and bon mots to make one’s own case.

    Anyway, what kind of self-indulgent crap is this that we are given a treatise on Hitchens in a “review” on Deb Lipstadt’s very important work?

    She and the book deserve better.


  3. bookdwarf

    True, Taylor does lapse into that spiel on Hitchens. He’s the guy everyone loves to hate now. I find both the Atlantic and Salon to be not quite so good these days, but I thought this review thought-provoking at least.

    Lipstadt will actually be speaking at Harvard this month about her book. I don’t know if it is open to the public, but if it is, I want to go.


  4. birnbaum

    Lipstadt will be appearing with Alan Dershowitz at Harvard Hillel and it is open to the public.

    The thought provocation is mostly due to the subject matter, methinks. The only thing Taylor’s hubris provokes is my gag reflex.


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