March 18, 2012

Richard Evans strikes again

The New Statesman carries a scathing review of A.N. Wilson's latest biography of Hitler by Richard Evans. Evans notes a number of errors that Wilson makes- I'll leave you to discover them in the review- and scornfully remarks that Wilson knows no more than the casual reader of popular biographies. The Professor sniffily comments that the journalist knows no German. Evans's critique is no doubt accurate: he increasingly sees his role as guarding the preserve of the second world war from charlatans and miscreants and has performed a vital role in doing this.

It is important because the work of charlatans can remain in the public mind- can become a version of truth out there in the real world. Someone out there in the real world will read Wilson's book and believe that this is what there is to say about Hitler. There are uncountable books which have had that kind of effect: every Waterstones for years was festooned with a book called 1421- read a review here and see what you think of that particular marketting decision! Historical untruths have distorting effects politically (is that necessary to even mention now?) and there is an important utility in citizens within a democratic state knowing the truth about the past. Reviews like Evans's though are good things because they show how one can debunk lazy work: they are examples of good reasoning for us to follow in making our own arguments.