AUTHORS! Why do you write?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Did Professor Carole Emberton Read the Book She Just Reviewed?

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Some book reviews are positive, some are mixed, and some are negative. This is true for nearly all books, and that's the nature
of the beast and goes along with the territory.

All any publisher and author ask is that a reviewer actually read the book before reviewing it, and then assess it honestly for what it is, and what it is not.

John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, by Stephen Hood, raises the hackles a lot of people because it calls out many academicians and general students of the war by name and produces one example after another of sloppy scholarship, reliance on secondary sources that are themselves incorrect in matters of fact, mistakes, misrepresentations--and in some cases, even worse.

Readers will decide whether the author makes his case or not. It is interesting to note that of the 60 or so reviews floating around thus far, not a single one alleges or points out that the author was wrong in how he cited a historian, or that a footnote (of which there are about 1,000) was wrong, or that a quote was wrong, etc. Not a single one.

Carole Emberton, an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo (SUNY), recently reviewed John Bell Hood for The Civil War Monitor (an outstanding publication, by the way). Read her review here. It is a strange review brought to my attention by many readers. It made me wonder, "Did this reviewer even bother to read the book--or even the dust jacker?--before going out of her way to slam it?"

Is that a fair question? Here are two very troubling indicator:

1) She thinks it is a biography (all of you who have read this know it is clearly not a biography in any sense of the word), and she thinks the author is a biographer (ditto). 

2) More telling, however, is this little revealing gem:

"In his effort to resuscitate General Hood's reputation as a competent if not talented commander who did his best in impossible situations, the author spends far more time and energy skewering those historians than he does giving the reader a new or at least more nuanced interpretation of General Hood."

Why yes, Dr. Emberton, he does "spend far more time and energy" (note the italics above) on what others have written about Hood. As my teenage son might say, professor . . . DUH! In fact, that is the purpose of the entire book. and the book has absolutely NOTHING to do with the part that is in bold-italics above. Nothing. At. All. If she had read the Introduction, the author explains all this there in deep detail, and he mentions it again and again throughout the book.

She even criticizes the way the book is organized, when it fact, it is organized by topic to present how others have covered the topic in question. Again, discussed throughout.

Even the dust jacket explains it.

Now, I don't really give a damn if someone slams one of our books, so long as they have read it, and have legitimate complaints. Cites are wrong? Major collections not included? Too many typos and other mistakes? Incorrect maps? That is fair, and that is how it should be.

But I question whether this professor read this book, because she went out of her way to produce a hatchet job on a book that does not exist. Did she read it? I don't know with certainty either way. Why did she she write what she did (and I urge you to read the entire review) if she read the book. This book is replete with explanations addressing these very things--on the jacket, on the publisher's website, in the Introduction, and scattered throughout.

The author wrote his own rebuttal, which you can find in the same location below her "review." You will have to be the judge whether or not she read the book and whether or not this is fair review.

--tps

25 comments:

mitchell werksman said...

I read the book at it definetaly raises alot of questions.i feel that you are right in your assement that she did not read the but just looked at the chapter index.i do wonder if Mr. Wiley Sword has made any comments about this well written book.

TPS said...

Hello Mitchell, Thanks for this. Mr. Sword (whom I have met and like), has not replied.

--tps

Nick said...

I write reviews for a publication and my onw blog as well. To me its part of an implied contract with the author and the readers that I've read what I'm commenting on. If I get sent a book and don't end up reading it, or finsihing it, I'm not going to post a review. Troubling that not all reviewers tackle it the same way.

Harry Smeltzer said...

I read every book I review. But I read relatively few books cover to cover any more. That being said, I comment on lots and lots of books. And that's why I always carefully label those comments as previews. I try to give the reader a feel for whether or not they should be interested in reading the book. I have a set of criteria that I use when considering a purchase, and try to convey to the reader how the book in question measures up to those criteria. This does require having the product in hand. A review is another animal, and a critical review yet another.

Andy Walters said...

I find it common, unfortuately, that reviers "review" without having read the book. I have just read her review in the Monitor, and having actually read this book, one can immediately recognize that she had not. This is a travesty as some people may be dissuaded from reading the book because of this review. That would be a huge mistake for that reader. I found Mr. Hoods arguments compelling and gave me pause about my perceptions of the General. Andy Walters

SM Hood said...

To say that I am disappointed that a reviewer would review my book without reading it is an understatement. Like all authors, I invested hundreds, if not thousands of hours (and dollars) into writing my book, yet this woman couldn't spend a day or two reading it before trashing it. I hope the CW Monitor book review editor gets involved.

totalitat said...

than he does giving the reader a new or at least more nuanced interpretation of General Hood."


And what she is saying is that you don't do history by trying to be equally biased in the other direction. This is not a court of law, where everyone tries to build their evidence as favorably as possible. If you market it as history, then you are unexpected to be as balanced and objective as you can be. If you can't, then market it as something else.

TPS said...

@Totalitat. Thanks for commenting.

The issue raised is whether it is acceptable for a reviewer to not read a book, and then negatively review the book, slamming it for what it clearly is not. Perhaps you should address that issue.

Further, I do not believe you have read the book either, or you would not make statements that make my point--the jacket, marketing documents, detailed introduction, and the book itself, over and over, clearly state the point of the book.

As both an attorney and a trained historian, your second point made me laugh out loud. Of course this is not a court of law--but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Are you saying logic, reason, and facts have no purpose in a history book? That is nonsense, my friend. This book is a deep survey of what others have written, what their arguments and conclusions are based upon, and what those sources actually say. Readers can decide whether the scholarship is good, slipshod, honest, or misleading or outright lies. It is not a biography, a campaign study, or anything else. It is exactly what it is.

As for marketing--again, clearly you have no idea whatsoever what is inside the covers of this book. It IS BALANCE. And the author explains it, and why. But since you have not read it, you would not know that.

In the end, this professor did not read this book, and the fact that she did not and tried to pawn off a hit review is disgusting. If I was her dean, I would investigate and if I reached the same conclusion, I would fire her. She is unethical. This is the issue.

Totalitat said...

The issue raised is whether it is acceptable for a reviewer to not read a book

Do you have actual evidence that she didn't read the book? (not your interpretations of her review, thanks. That's not evidence; that's your opinion and note that you can say the book is whatever you want (i.e., not a biography) that doesn't mean the reviewer has to agree with you).

Are you saying logic, reason, and facts have no purpose in a history book?

No, I'm saying that you don't write history like you present a case in court (and I'm going off Hood's statements about how he wrote the book). Historians are not supposed to be advocates; they're supposed to analyze the history dispassionately. Hood himself says that's not what he's doing and that's for what Emberton is criticizing him.

TPS said...

What I wrote is evidence, and readers will decide. You are welcome to your own view.

I find it laughable that you are telling me what is or is not a history book. Readers will decide that, too.

SM hood said...

Totalit,

Did you read my book? If so, did you read the Introduction? It explains EXACTLY what the book is, and why, and what it isn't, and why.

I find this discussion so much psychobabble. We are discussing shortcomings in a book that the author never even attempted to write about.

I don't know if Emberton read my book or not, and I'm not sure which is worse--her reviewing a book she didn't read, or writing such a preposterous review if she did.

SM Hood

Dale Fishel said...

Shortly after your publication of Mr. Hood's book a combination of blogs and reviews brought forward some critical critiques that manage to avoid discussion of THE central issue. That is, have other authors (in the main relatively recent ones) given us an honest and factual representation of the life of General John Bell Hood? Stephen Hood has revealed falsehoods within these later publications and brought them to light. Point by point, an organizational challenge which I feel has been met, he has examined and revealed the source materials (or lack of same) that have managed to create an image of the general that cannot be substantiated.

Many of these critical discussions are replete with what I have come to call "red herrings". This is not about how the book might have otherwise been written, it is about revealing the inaccuracies of books that have been written and for years accepted as historically factual. If anyone interested in the history of this much maligned figure will seriously review the book in its entirety and grant it objective appraisal this discussion could quickly change into a constructive one.

Dale Fishel

totalitat said...

Did you read my book? If so, did you read the Introduction? It explains EXACTLY what the book is, and why, and what it isn't, and why.


Nope, I haven't read the book. That you explain what you're doing doesn't mean that Dr. Emberton can't criticize you for doing it, or for doing it badly.

What I wrote is evidence, and readers will decide. You are welcome to your own view.


So the answer to "do you have actual evidence" is "No." Fine.

I find it laughable that you are telling me what is or is not a history book.

I'm sure you do. That's the problem.

I don't know if Emberton read my book or not, and I'm not sure which is worse--her reviewing a book she didn't read, or writing such a preposterous review if she did.

There's a reason why most publishers tell their authors not to respond to reviews. You may now serve as an example of that.

TPS said...

Thank for continuing this thread. I appreciate it.

You haven't read the book. What a surprise.

Other publishers can do what they wish. I know what our bottom line looks like, I know the quality of what we publish, and I know bullshit reviews when I read one.

Why don't you post your real name so we can see what you have written since you are an expert on the law, publishing, and evidence?

TPS said...

PS. I stated in a comment above that Ms. Emberton did not read the book. If you read my blog post, you will see I qualified that. I should have qualified it in my comments as well.

I don't know whether she did or not.

Readers who have actually read it will have to decide for themselves.

Paul Taylor said...

I bought the book and read it from cover to cover. Having done so, I am flabbergasted that anyone who did likewise would consider it a biography or the author a biographer.

TPS said...

Hi Paul

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Precisely right--and that is but the first of so many issues.

I notice a master of red herrings alleges that my observations are merely because it was a negative review. As I clearly state elsewhere, negative reviews are part of the business, and you can't be in this business for two plus decades without a thick skin.

But I won't sit quietly and let a negative misleading (at best) review pass unremarked.

The issue is whether she read the book, and the review that was posted. She may have. If so, how could she possibly have written what she wrote? If she did not read it . . . ditto.

-- tps

SM Hood said...

I just posted a comment on CW Monitor and Kevin Levin's blog, apologizing for the burgeoning dustup that seemed to have been created by my objection to the Emberton review.

Seems the exchange was getting overly emotional, and I felt responsible.

Those who have read my book and the Emberton review can draw their own conclusions as to whether or not she read the book, or if she knew what the theme and subject of my book was intended to be.

As for me, I apologized to Dr. Emberton and CW Monitor for claiming she hadn't read the book. Admittedly, I cannot prove it, and thus shouldn't have said it.

My responsibility was to write the book. Although I stand 100% behind my research and revelations, as well as its tone and presentation, others should be the primary judges of its quality, and the quality of the reviews it receives.

As I apologized to the detractors, I should likewise sincerely thank my book's supporters, many who have commented here, and foremost, my friend Ted.

SM Hood

totalitat said...

Why don't you post your real name so we can see what you have written since you are an expert on the law, publishing, and evidence?


Oh, hey, what a great idea! I'm sure you'll treat me with all the respect that you did Dr. Emberton. No, thanks.

I do appreciate Hood's apology and quite reasoned statement.

Richard Williams said...

I've not read the book, however, I've been following the dust up at Civil War Memory and the CW Monitor over the "review". I think your criticism of the review is perfectly legitimate. The blow-back you're getting is little more than red herrings and straw men. The criticisms by Levin and others are quite revealing. I'll be posting my thoughts on the whole exchange soon.

TPS said...

Richard, thanks for commenting.

I think the criticism of the review is legitimate as well, but the words I used and/or tone was inappropriate and unsuited for this matter.

Dr. Emberton is entitled to write whatever she wishes, and readers will decide on their own whether her review is accurate and worthwhile. Such is the nature of the beast.

--tps

Sam Hood said...

Totalitat,

My email address is samhood52@aol.com. If you will contact me I would like to send you a complimentary copy of my book. I am sincere in this offer, and would be honored if you would accept my book, read it, and then review it. (And I promise I won't comment on your review.) If you are uncomfortable with accepting the book, you could read it and then donate it to your local library.

I've unintentionally stirred up this tempest, and am alone responsible. I would be much relieved if you would accept a copy of the book.

You do not have to respond to this publicly on this forum. Please do so privately via email. Whether you accept or not will be a private matter.

Thanks,

Sam

Anonymous said...

I have every intention of buying your book and wish you hadn't apologized. Based on reading Ms. E's review, your anger was justified, and sadly your apology seems to have simply emboldened many of your no-class critics to be even more abusive and insulting.

I'm not really that familiar with CW Monitor, but any CW magazine that Kevin Levin as its "Adviser" seems slightly dubious.

Anyway, hope your book does well.

Paul

Sam Hood said...

I had two choices: apologize, or not. Given the limited options, I chose the former, only for claiming the reviewer didn't read the book with only compelling evidence-not proof-that she didn't. Since in my book I criticize authors for making assertions about JB Hood without proof, I felt it was the appropriate thing to do. Plus, those like Ted came to my support and were ravaged, so for that as well I apologized for creating the controversy in the first place.

I will admit though, the way that one particular belligerent blogger and his sycophants responded to Ted's apology gives apologizing a bad name.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I will admit though, the way that one particular belligerent blogger and his sycophants responded to Ted's apology gives apologizing a bad name."

I don't think they were really interested in an apology. They're interested in advancing the agenda, this was simply one more opportunity to do so.