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May 26, 2004

I Swear It Wasn't Me

by Ron Hogan

David Mehegan of The Boston Globe reports on Alan Dershowitz's umbrage at the Publishers Weekly review of his latest, America On Trial.

Skewering Dershowitz for "self-aggrandizement" and "his love for the cliche masked as insight," the reviewer wrote: "The whole enterprise has more than a little scent of student research about it, supplemented by observations that those familiar with the author's various hobbyhorses will recognize..."

It was the "self-aggrandizement" crack that really got Dershowitz mad, and upon reflection, PW agreed it was a cheap shot, taking the largely unprecedented step of reassigning the book for a new review stating, in part, "Although the book has a cursory feel at times (each case runs only about six pages), Dershowitz displays a keen sense of history to go along with his knowledge of the law: he features cases that highlight changes in American history, and he misses little."

As I indicated in the headline, and have mentioned quite a few times here, I review for PW, but I didn't handle either version of this. I can, however, attest to the rigor with which my editors scour reviews for anything smacking of a personal rap. In reviewing Dick Morris' 2003 screed Off With Their Heads, I had written, "There is, however, the irony of Morris attacking a celebrity-driven media culture without which he himself would be an obscure marketing consultant instead of a syndicated columnist and television commentator." Cooler heads prevailed, and that line never made it to the published version. Yet the harshness of my critical take remained, so basically I'm saying hats off to the review editors there for doing a great job of reining in the rhetorical excesses of us reviewers without stifling our critical expression.


The book is over 500 pages with 14 chapters containing half a dozen or more cases per chapter! I can understand why a reviewer might get a little snippy about this kind of tome from a man who seems to crank out a book on practically every topic du jour. Why write all of this if you have no deep insights to offer? Do we think this book would have been published if the author wasn't Dershowitz?

Both the PW quotes and your quotes seem fair to me but I don't like Dershowitz or Dick Morris so perhaps I am biased . . .

Posted by: kevin holtsberry at May 26, 2004 08:21 PM

I think in many other forums, my crack about Morris--which was itself toned down from something like "Let's face it, if it weren't for Rupert Murdoch's largesse and the fact that he got caught sucking on a hooker's toes, who would give a shit what Dick Morris has to say about anything?"--wouldn't have been out of place. And the fact that too many of my formative years as a writer were spent on USENET makes me prone to that sort of acidic critical jab. Learning to work my way up to the PW standard has been a very worthwhile process.

The other thing to remember is that PW reviews aren't aimed solely at telling readers whether a book is "good" or not; it's of equal if not greater importance to convey to booksellers what sort of demand they can expect for various titles--and jabs at the author are particularly out of place in that context.

Posted by: editor at May 26, 2004 11:01 PM
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