Dominic Sandbrook accused of "recycling" the work of other historians in latest book





[Michael C. Moynihan is senior editor of Reason magazine.]

...[H]erein lies the most troubling flaw of [Dominic Sandbrook's "Mad As Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right" one that won't be apparent to the casual reader. It's only by consulting the book's footnotes that one discovers, by looking inside the books he cites, that Mr. Sandbrook shamelessly and repeatedly cannibalizes the work of others, offering what could be generously called a 400-page mash-up of previous histories of the 1970s.

Take this passage, where Mr. Sandbrook, in vivid prose, describes the 1976 bicentennial celebration in Boston: "As the orchestra reached the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, the church bells pealed, howitzers thundered, fireworks sent shards of color wheeling through the sky, and red, white, and blue geysers burst from a fireboat behind the Hatch shell."

These aren't Mr. Sandbrook's words but two sentences grafted together—one from a 1976 Time magazine article ("As the orchestra reached the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, howitzers boomed, church bells pealed"), the other from J. Anthony Lukas's "Common Ground" ("geysers of red, white, and blue water burst from a fireboat behind the band shell")—with a bit of strategic re-editing. Both sources are named in the book's footnotes, but in the text the sentence is passed off as the author's own....

Mr. Sandbrook, an Oxford-trained historian, knows better. After all, it wasn't long ago that, reviewing Jon Wiener's "Historians in Trouble," a book on academic misconduct, he upbraided a historian for "ignor[ing] the codes and courtesies of historical scholarship."

Writing a tedious and unoriginal book is excusable. Recycling the phrasing, the descriptive adjectives, the reportorial detail of other historians—in other words, ignoring the codes and courtesies of historical scholarship—isn't.


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