The sound of no hands clapping

What is the best sort of critical reception to give a newly-published book of revisionist history that exonerates Hitler, minimizes the evil of the Holocaust, and knowingly perpetrates other intellectual frauds?

For Michael R. Marrus, the author and professor of European history at the University of Toronto, the answer is simple: no critical reception at all. That is why Marrus recently declined a request from the prestigious New York Times Book Review to review Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich, the controversial biography of master Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels by British pseudo-historian David Irving.

“I found the book an extraordinary experience and a compelling read, but it is so repellent in other respects, I would not like to see it (reviewed) under my own imprint,” Marrus explained to essayist Tina Rosenberg, who ultimately wrote about the book and the ethical issues it raises in the June 2nd edition of the New York Times Book Review.

Rosenberg gave what is perhaps the second-best critical reception to such a book: she clearly exposed its author as a knowing fraud and a purposeful falsifier of facts. For instance: Irving boasts that he was the discoverer of and the first to use Goebbels’ complete diaries. Rosenberg showed that he uncovered only about a dozen glass microfiche plates containing previously undiscovered material, a small fraction of the diaries.

“There is little disagreement about Mr. Irving’s character,” she wrote. “The discussion centers on whether to publish him despite it.”

Calling his book a “sophisticated blood libel,” Rosenberg compared Irving to another author, Robert W. Thurston, whose recent book, Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941, reportedly whitewashes the excesses of Stalinism just as neo-Nazi revisionists attempt to do with the Holocaust. But Rosenberg pointed out a crucial difference between the two authors: “Mr. Thurston may be a bad historian, but at least he is an honest one. David Irving, by contrast, is not just wrong, he appears to be engaging in deliberate distortion.”

Irving self-published the book in his native Britain and contracted St. Martin’s Press to publish it in the United States. After receiving word of the true nature of Irving and his opus, a senior editor at St. Martin’s at first defended both before ultimately deciding not to publish.

Noting that St. Martin’s had purchased and was ready to reprint the book without a critical examination of its contents, Rosenberg accused the publishing house of “double negligence.”

“Of all the lessons in this story for the American publishing world, the fact that no critic has yet found this behaviour remarkable enough to mention should be the most sobering,” she concluded. ♦

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