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MannyRayner

Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
The Destruction of Dresden (Morley war classics) - David Irving Why I Refuse to Read David Irving

Over the last few days, there have been extensive protests concerning the new Goodreads policy, which is widely interpreted to mean that people who post reviews criticizing authors are liable to have them deleted. The most visible of these protests is Mike's review of Mein Kampf, where Mike calls Adolf Hitler a dick and says he refuses to read his book. The review has already attracted more than 300 votes and 150 comments.

We all know that Hitler was a monster and that Mein Kampf is one of the most hateful and dangerous books ever written. Mike's warning is funny because it is so obviously superfluous. But there are other cases where the truth is not quite as generally known, and this is one of them. David Irving was famously found guilty of being a Holocaust denier in a high-profile trial which bankrupted him. He was later sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court on charges of "trivialising, grossly playing down and denying the Holocaust". If you look at the Wikipedia article on Irving, you will find the following quote from Christopher Browning, a historian who is an expert on the Holocaust:
Not one of [Irving's] books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject. All of them are completely worthless as history, because Irving cannot be trusted anywhere, in any of them, to give a reliable account of what he is talking or writing about. ... if we mean by historian someone who is concerned to discover the truth about the past, and to give as accurate a representation of it as possible, then Irving is not a historian.
The same article contains interesting material about this book, The Destruction of Dresden, which was written before Irving's views on the Holocaust became widely known and became a bestseller. Again, I quote:
In the first edition, Irving's estimates for deaths in Dresden were between 100,000 and 250,000 -- notably higher than most previously published figures. These figures became authoritative and widely accepted in many standard reference works. In later editions of the book over the next three decades, he gradually adjusted the figure downwards to 50,000-100,000. According to the evidence introduced by Richard J. Evans at the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt in 2000, Irving based his estimates of the dead of Dresden on the word of one individual who provided no supporting documentation, used forged documents, and described one witness who was a urologist as Dresden's Deputy Chief Medical Officer. The doctor has since complained about being misidentified by Irving, and further, was only reporting rumours about the death toll. Today, casualties at Dresden are estimated as 22,700-25,000 dead.
Yet looking at the five reviews here on Goodreads, I see that four of them uncritically accept Irving's account and praise the book.

If I were willing to spend several months or years of my life on the task, I could do my own digging around and try to come to an independent conclusion. I am unlikely to do this; it seems to me, just on the basis of the few articles I have read, that the facts are pretty clear. Irving has been repeatedly unmasked as a Nazi sympathizer and a serial liar. He has tried to defend himself against these charges in court, and he has failed miserably. Yet, somehow, people are not as aware of his true nature as they should be.

I do not see anything unethical about posting this negative review of Irving, and it may conceivably have some value in making unsuspecting people more critical of his book. I am concerned about Goodreads policies which may lead to reviews of this kind being deleted without warning. They strike me as utterly wrong, and moreover as yet another example of how modern technology distances us from the consequences of our actions. If people wrote their reviews on paper and put them into a real, physical library, I am sure that the Goodreads administrators would be very reluctant to pull them down from shelves and burn them. When you can get rid of a piece of writing just by clicking on a few links, there's a temptation to believe that it's less serious. But it isn't. It's just less clear what you've done.

I am absolutely against book-burning in all its forms. I do not want David Irving's books burned, or even Mein Kampf. But I do want people to know that the authors of these books are racist liars, and I, at least, refuse to read them.
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I would appreciate it if AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE flagged this review, which is a crystal-clear violation of the Terms of Use. More background here.