Thu, 19 Feb 2015 17:05:27 -0600
On February 18, the _New York Times_ featured a positive book review by
Brenda Wineapple of Harry Katz's _Mark Twain's America_. The link to that
One might question Wineapple's objectivity in light of the fact she is or
was on the advisory board of _Lapham's Quarterly_ and Lapham did provide
the Foreword for the Katz book. However, praising the work of close
colleagues is not uncommon in book reviews, and one always hopes that
objectivity is achievable.
Aside from questionable objectivity, what is most troubling about
Wineapple's review is her suggestion that facts are no longer important
when errors are presented alongside pretty pictures that make up an
attractive coffee table book. She writes, "But the book is more notable
for its many visual documents than the facts of Twain's life, which are
readily available elsewhere." "Facts ... readily available elsewhere" is a
strange pardon coming from a book reviewer -- perhaps the most
compassionate case of literary forgiveness I have ever read anywhere.
Moreover, how valuable are illustrations that are incorrectly identified or
captioned? Wineapple mentions a picture of Susan B. Anthony but fails to
notice that the picture's caption alludes to Anthony's having run for
president of the United States.
Wineapple calls the massive amount of copyright infringement and plagiarism
in the book "missing attributions." However, it is unlikely that she had
the privilege of comparing side-by-side the source material from Kent
Rasmussen's _Mark Twain A to Z_ and James Trager's _The People's
Chronology_ (Henry Holt, 1994). Until the Library of Congress revealed the
latter source, the literary executor of Trager's book had asked to remain
unidentified for the time being. Well over 200 entries from Trager were
In spite of Wineapple's issuing the Library of Congress a "get out of jail
free" card, the legacy of plagiarism and errors this book leaves behind is
not a pretty one.