History Buzz April 26, 2010: Orlando Figes & Stephen Ambrose Embroiled in Controversy



    This Week’s Political Highlights

  • Bush memoir: 43’s ‘most critical and historic decisions’: It’s official: George W. Bush’s entry into the ranks of presidential memoirs will be released Nov. 9.
    Decision Points “will be centered on the 14 most critical and historic decisions in the life and public service of the 43rd president of the United States,” says the release from Crown Publishers.
    Among those topics: The disputed 2000 election, 9/11, the Iraq war, the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan and Iran. Bush also discusses his decision to quit drinking, his faith and his celebrated and politically active family…. – USA Today, 4-27-10
  • The Unthinkable: A Democratic Challenge To Obama: OK, OK. Of course it’s not going to happen. No Democrat in his or her right mind would contemplate challenging President Obama in 2012. In fact, when the Democratic National Committee issued a press release this month announcing the date for the party’s national convention, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine emphasized — twice — that the Democrats fully intend to renominate President Obama and Vice President Biden. But despite the obvious long odds, anything is possible in American politics. There are historical examples of tough intraparty challenges to incumbent presidents… – NPR, 4-22-10


    On This Day in History….

    This Week in History….

  • First Earth Day in U.S. had feel of ’60s, says historian: It was part protest, part celebration, and an estimated 20 million Americans took part. On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, millions of people across the U.S. went to large public rallies, listened to political speeches, took part in teach-ins, went to concerts and educational fairs, and helped to clean up their communities. Air and water pollution, nuclear testing and loss of wilderness were major concerns…. – CBC News (4-22-10)


  • Martin Barillas: Wikipedia Struggles with Holocaust Disinformation; Ravensfire Deletes Jewish Content: Wikipedia posters continued to struggle with the campaign to delete information about IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust as contributors posted and reposted conflicting theories of what should and should not be allowed to appear in the Internet encyclopedia…. – Cutting Edge News (4-26-10)
  • Orlando Figes: Phoney reviewer Figes has history of litigious quarrels: …The professor of Russian history at Birkbeck, University of London, who has previously been engaged in at least two legal disputes with other historians, has been accused and cleared of plagiarism, and received hate mail while an academic at Cambridge. One colleague who did not want to be named described the most recent episode as “the tip of the iceberg”…. – Independent (UK) (4-25-10)
  • Oliver Kamm: Figes’ Furies – Times Online (UK) (4-25-10)
  • Orlando Figes admits: ‘It was me’: For a week now, an extraordinary row has had Britain’s academe in turmoil with threats of libel writs and the bloodying of distinguished reputations.
    But now, in an astonishing twist to the saga, I can reveal that the offending reviews on Amazon were not, after all, written by Figes’s wife, Stephanie, herself a Cambridge University law lecturer…. The Daily Mail (UK) (4-23-10)
  • Poison pen reviews were mine, confesses historian Orlando FigesGuardian (UK) (4-23-10)
  • Another Blow to the Reputation of Stephen Ambrose: In 2002, Ambrose was accused of lifting passages for The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany from the work of the historian Thomas Childers. Citing faulty citations, Ambrose apologized, and his publisher promised to put the sentences in question in quotes in future editions. But shortly after, other accusations arose: about passages in books like his Crazy Horse and Custer, Citizen Soldiers, and a volume of his three-volume biography Nixon. Ambrose responded that the relevant material was cited in his footnotes…. – Chronicle of Higher Education (4-23-10)
  • Richard Rayner: Stephen Ambrose exaggerated his relationship with EisenhowerThe New Yorker (4-26-10)
  • Harlem Center’s Director to Retire in Early 2011: Howard Dodson, whose wide-ranging acquisitions and major exhibitions have raised the profile of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and burnished its reputation as the premier institution of its kind, plans to retire as its director in 2011. Howard Dodson turned a research library known mostly to scholars into an institution open to anyone interested in black culture…. – NYT, 4-19-10
  • Historians Call on Texas State Board of Education to Delay Vote: Historians from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at El Paso have written an Open Letter to the Texas State Board of Education. The letter identifies specific problems with the proposed changes to the state’s social studies standards and recommends that the board delay adoption of the standards in order to solicit additional feedback from “qualified, credentialed content experts from the state’s colleges and universities” and the general public…. – Keith Erekson (4-14-10)


  • HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr.: Ending the Slavery Blame-Game: THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage…. – NYT, 4-22-10
  • Jon Wiener: Stephen Ambrose, Another Historian in Trouble: In his first and biggest Ike book, “The Supreme Commander,” published in 1970, Ambrose listed nine interviews with the former president. But according to Richard Rayner of The New Yorker, that’s not true. The deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, Tim Rives, told Rayer that Ike saw Ambrose only three times, for a total of less than five hours, and that the two men were never alone together. The Nation (4-20-10)


  • Laura Bush Opens Up About Fatal Crash: Spoken From the Heart Laura Bush has finally opened up publicly about the mysterious car accident she had when she was 17, a crash that claimed the life of a high school friend on a dark country road in Midland, Tex. In her new book, “Spoken From the Heart,” Ms. Bush describes in vivid detail the circumstances surrounding the crash, which has haunted her for most of her adult life and which became the subject of questions and speculation when it was revealed during her husband’s first presidential run. A copy of the book, scheduled for release in early May, was obtained by The New York Times at a bookstore… – NYT, 4-28-10
  • Graham Robb: A Pointillist Tour, Revolution to Riots: PARISIANS An Adventure History of Paris “Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris” arrives with an odd subtitle (adventure history?) that makes it sound as if it were written on a skateboard and sponsored by Mountain Dew. Here’s what this book really is: a pointillist and defiantly nonlinear history of Paris from the dawn of the French Revolution through the 2005 riots in Clichy-sous- Bois, told from a variety of unlikely perspectives and focusing on lesser-known but reverberating moments in the city’s history…. – NYT, 4-28-10 Excerpt
  • Assessing Jewish Identity of Author Killed by Nazis: Némirovsky’s personal story contains plenty of drama, including the desperate, heart-rending attempts by her husband, Michel Epstein, to save her. He too died at Auschwitz. But along with the belated publication came charges from a handful of critics that Némirovsky, killed because she was a Jew, was herself an anti-Semite who courted extreme right-wing friends and wrote ugly caricatured portraits of Jews. Next month a new biography, “The Life of Irène Némirovsky: Author of Suite Française,” and a collection of her short stories are being published for the first time in English in the United States, giving Americans another opportunity to assess Némirovsky’s life and work…. NYT, 4-26-10
  • Book review of “Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978” by Kai Bird: “Crossing Mandelbaum Gate” is a fascinating book about a crucial period in the Middle East, but as a memoir it fails on the promise of its subtitle. Bird turns a beacon on the exhilarating places in which he grew up. If only he had shone the same beacon on himself…. – WaPo, 4-25-10
  • Rove and Romney on the Republican Party After Bush: Karl Rove, COURAGE AND CONSEQUENCE My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, Mitt Romney, NO APOLOGY The Case for American GreatnessNYT, 4-22-10
  • Alan Brinkley “A Magazine Master Builder”: THE PUBLISHER Henry Luce and His American Century …Luce’s success story would be sheer romance if it could surmount one basic problem: Luce himself. On the evidence of “The Publisher,” Alan Brinkley’s graceful and judicious biography, Luce began as an arrogant, awkward boy and did not grow any more beguiling as his fortunes rose. He made up in pretension what he lacked in personal charm, and he was “able to attract the respect but not usually the genuine affection of those around him.” … – NYT, 4-19-10
  • Jonathan Yardley reviews ‘The Publisher,’ by Alan Brinkley: THE PUBLISHER Henry Luce and His American Century …Luce was a complicated, difficult man, by no stretch of the imagination a nice guy. Brinkley is very good on his tangled relationships with women — especially his equally famous and equally difficult second wife, Clare Boothe Luce — as well as with the men who worked with, which is to say under, him. My only qualm about this otherwise superb book is that it does not convey much sense of what life was like in his empire… – WaPo, 4-18-10
  • DAVID S. REYNOLDS on Leo Damrosch “Tocqueville: The Life”: TOCQUEVILLE’S DISCOVERY OF AMERICA In “Tocqueville’s Discovery of America,” Leo Damrosch, the Ernest Bernbaum professor of literature at Harvard, reveals the man behind the sage. Damrosch shows us that “Democracy in America” was the outcome of a nine-month tour of the United States that Tocqueville, a temperamental, randy 25-year-old French apprentice magistrate of aristocratic background, took in 1831-32 with his friend Gustave de Beaumont…. – NYT, 4-18-10
  • Book review: Aaron Leitko reviews “The Poker Bride,” by Christopher Corbett: THE POKER BRIDE The First Chinese in the Wild West In his exhaustively researched “The Poker Bride,” Christopher Corbett tells how Bemis — a Chinese woman who probably arrived in the United States as a concubine — wound up living on a remote patch of Idaho wilderness for more than 50 years with a Connecticut-born gambler who had won her in a poker game. By the time she finally descended from the mountains in 1923, she had become a relic of a different era, a kind of modern Rip Van Winkle…. – WaPo, 4-18-10
  • Roger Ekrich makes history more interesting in telling true story of “Kidnapped”: According to my research, every 11-year-old has read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. What I didn’t know when I was 11—and, in fact, didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago—is that Kidnapped was based on a true story…. That true story is told in a new book, Birthright: The True Story That Inspired Kidnapped, by Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech. Mr. Ekirch spoke about the book yesterday at the Library of Congress…. – Chronicle of Higher Education (4-16-10)
  • Schlesinger Interviews With Jacqueline Kennedy to Be Published: Nearly seven hours of unreleased interviews with Jacqueline Kennedy, recorded just months after the death of President John F. Kennedy and intended for deposit in a future presidential library, will be released as a book, the publisher Hyperion said on Tuesday…. – NYT (4-13-10)
  • GARRY WILLS on David Remnick: “Behind Obama’s Cool”: THE BRIDGE The Life and Rise of Barack Obama David Remnick, in this exhaustively researched life of Obama before he became president, quotes many interviews in which Obama made the same or similar points. Accused of not being black enough, he could show that he has more direct ties to Africa than most ­African-Americans have. Suspected of not being American enough, he appealed to his mother’s Midwest origins and accent. Touring conservative little towns in southern Illinois, he could speak the language of the Kansan grandparents who raised him. He is a bit of a chameleon or shape-shifter, but he does not come across as insincere — that is the importance of his famous “cool.” He does not have the hot eagerness of the con man. Though his own background is out of the ordinary, he has the skill to submerge it in other people’s narratives, even those that seem distant from his own…. – NYT, 4-11-10 Excerpt


  • TCNJ profs say they’ve solved Civil War mystery: A literary mystery that has lingered since the Civil War has apparently been solved by a pair of professors from The College of New Jersey. Their findings ended up as a new book, “A Secession Crisis Enigma,” by Daniel Crofts, a professor of history who turned to David Holmes, professor of statistics, while looking for an answer to a longstanding question. They wanted to determine who was the author of “The Diary of a Public Man,” which was published anonymously in four installments in the 1879 “North American Review.”… NJ.com (4-24-10)
  • It’s war: Anzac Day dissenters create bitter split between historians: A furore has erupted over Australia’s Anzac Day legacy, with the authors of a new book which questions the day’s origins accused by a rival historian of failing to acknowledge the preeminent scholar in the field. Crikey (AU) (4-19-10)
  • Smithsonian exhibit brings the Apollo Theater to D.C: About 100 items are on view at the National Museum of American History, representing big names from entertainment today and from decades past.
    Michael Jackson’s fedora, Ella Fitzgerald’s yellow dress and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet are together in a Smithsonian exhibit celebrating the famed Apollo Theater that helped these stars to shine. The not-yet-built National Museum of African American History and Culture is bringing New York’s Harlem to the nation’s capital with the first-ever exhibit focused on the Apollo, where many musical careers were launched. It opens Friday at the National Museum of American History. About 100 items are on view, representing big names from entertainment today and from decades past…. – USA Today, 4-25-10


  • Roots of Islamic fundamentalism lie in Nazi propaganda for Arab world, Jeffrey Herf claims: “Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World” “The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would have been over long ago were it not for the uncompromising, religiously inspired hatred of the Jews that was articulated and given assistance by Nazi propagandists and continued after the war by Islamists of various sorts,” said Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at the University of Maryland. – Telegraph (UK) (4-21-10)
  • JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: An accomplished author himself, President Obama appears irresistible to his fellow literati.
    JAY WINKIK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: And he captivates the imagination. And I think it’s safe to say that the White House Press Corps has been galvanized by him. And perhaps one could also add to that. There’s a touch of bias where he may reflect the sentiments of many in the White House Press Corps…. – Fox News, 4-10
  • Historians weigh in on the Tea Party in the NYT: “The story they’re telling is that somehow the authentic, real America is being polluted,” said Rick Perlstein, the author of books about the Goldwater and Nixon years…. – NYT (4-16-10)
  • Gary Cross: For some 20-somethings, growing up is hard to do, says Penn State historian: Gary Cross is a professor of history at Penn State University whose most recent book, “Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity,” addresses just that.
    “This trend has been building up over the last 50 years to where today it really is hard to see [role] models, to recognize these models of maturity,” he said. “Men have, in effect, slowly and not always steadily rebelled against the role of being providers and being sacrificers.”
    Now, “Men who are in their mid-20s are more independent for a longer period than before because of the rise in the age of marriage. In 1970, when I was 24, men married at 22. Now they’re married at 28; that’s a big difference,” Dr. Cross said. “Part of it is the way boys have always been indulged more than girls in the typical family,” Dr. Cross said. “One thing that has struck me is, early in the 20th century, how indulgent they were of openly naughty boys. Not so much with the girls.”… – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (4-14-10)


  • A Primer on China from Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, just published by Oxford University Press, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom provides answers to a wide range of commonly asked questions about the world’s most populous country. The excerpt below describes two of the topics the book addresses: nationalism and the web…. – Forbes (4-21-10)
  • Award-wining historian Natalie Zemon Davis talks to American Prospect: Natalie Zemon Davis will be awarded the 2010 Holberg International Memorial Prize on June 9 for the way in which her work “shows how particular events can be narrated and analyzed so as to reveal deeper historical tendencies and underlying patterns of thought and action.” Davis describes her work as anthropological in nature. Rather than tell the political story of a time and place, concentrating on an elite narrative, Davis’ work is often from the point of view of those less likely to keep records of their lives. TAP spoke with Davis, an 81-year-old professor emerita of history at Princeton University and current adjunct professor of history at the University of Toronto, about her innovative approach to history…. – The American Prospect (4-9-10)


  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences Announces 2010 Class of Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members: Ervand Abrahamian, City University of New York
    Robert P. Brenner, University of California, Los Angeles
    Paul H. Freedman, Yale University
    Jan E. Goldstein, University of Chicago
    Greg Grandin, New York University
    Carla Hesse, University of California, Berkeley
    Daniel Walker Howe, University of California, Los Angeles
    Donald W. Meinig, Syracuse University
    Heinrich von Staden, Institute for Advanced Study – AAAS Press Release (4-19-10)
  • University of Glasgow creates first Chair of Gaelic in Scotland: Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh has been named as the first ever established Chair of Gaelic in Scotland by the University of Glasgow. The Chair has been created to recognise the University as a centre of excellence for the study of Celtic and Gaelic…. – Medieval News (4-16-10)
  • Historians on the 2010 List of Guggenheim Fellows: Andrew Apter, Joshua Brown, Antoinette Burton, William Caferro, Hasia R. Diner, Caroline Elkins, Walter Johnson, Pieter M. Judson, Jeffrey C. Kinkley, Thomas Kühne, Ms. Maggie Nelson, Susan Schulten, John Fabian Witt – Tenured Radical (4-15-10)
  • Pulitzer Prize in History awarded to Liaquat Ahamed: HISTORY: “Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World” by Liaquat Ahamed – A Harvard graduate [who] was born in Kenya, Ahamed dreamed of being a writer while he worked as an investment manager. “Lords of Finance” is a compelling account of how the actions of four bankers triggered the Depression and ultimately turned the United States into the world’s financial leader, the Pulitzer board said…. – AP (4-12-10)
  • Ernest Freeberg named winner of the 2010 Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award: Ernest Freeberg will receive the 2010 Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award, presented by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) of the American Library Association (ALA). Freeberg was selected for his book,“Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent” (Harvard University Press, 2008). Press Release (4-6-10)


  • History Doctoral Programs Site Updated at AHA Website: The AHA’s History Doctoral Programs web site has now been updated to include current information on students, faculty, and departments as a whole. In addition to department-level fixes, the site has also been updated to include links to a wealth of additional information about universities in the United States… Robert Townsend at AHA Blog (4-6-10)AHA


  • 12-hour ‘America’ series gives ‘an aerial view of history’: History Channel has enjoyed bountiful ratings of late focusing on contemporary topics. But it returns to more traditional roots with its biggest project yet, America The Story of Us. Through dramatic re-creations and computer-generated imagery, the six-night, 12-hour series (premiering Sunday, 9 ET/PT, and continuing through May 30) covers 400 years of U.S. settlement and growth. But an American history series — the first comprehensive TV effort since Alistair Cooke’s America for PBS in 1972 — had been contemplated for about 18 months. The Story of Us crystallized during Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.
    “Watching that was an historic moment. But so was the economic crisis, the wars the nation was fighting,” says History Channel general manager Nancy Dubuc. “Ideas came up about where are we going in America and how we got there, and how to hit all the touch-points in a way that entertains and inspires.” Obama filmed a 90-second spot to launch the series, which is narrated by actor Liev Schreiber. Observations by historians, politicians, actors and cultural observers are interspersed, including former secretary of State Colin Powell, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates Jr…. – USA Today, 4-22-10
  • C-SPAN2: BOOK TV Weekend Schedule
  • PBS American Experience: Mondays at 9pm
  • History Channel: Weekly Schedule



  • Hampton Sides: Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, (Hardcover) April 27, 2010
  • Max Hastings: Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, (Hardcover) April 27, 2010
  • Bradley Gottfried: The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863, (Hardcover) April 19, 2010
  • Kelly Hart: The Mistresses of Henry VIII, (Paperback) May 1, 2010
  • David S. Heidler: Henry Clay: The Essential American, (Hardcover), May 4, 2010
  • Nathaniel Philbrick: The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, May 4, 2010
  • Mark Puls: Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution, (Paperback) May 11, 2010
  • T. H. Breen: American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, (Hardcover), May 11, 2010
  • Alexandra Popoff: Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography, (Hardcover) May 11, 2010
  • John D. Lukacs: Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War, (Hardcover), May 11, 2010
  • S. C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, (Hardcover) May 25, 2010
  • Steven E. Woodworth: The Chickamauga Campaign (1st Edition), (Hardcover), May 28, 2010
  • Larry Schweikart: 7 Events that Made America America: And Proved that the Founding Fathers Were Right All Along, (Hardcover) June 1, 2010


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