How Not To Respond To a Review by Ted Savas and Stephen Hood

Full Disclosure: I am a Digital History Adviser for The Civil War Monitor magazine.

You may remember that both publisher Ted Savas and author Stephen “Sam” Hood took issue with a couple of posts of mine [and here] that targeted the way the latter’s new study of John Bell Hood was being marketed. At the time Savas suggested we wait for the reviews to appear. They have appeared and one in particular written by historian Carole Emberton for The Civil War Monitor has unleashed a very nasty response from the two.

First, let me be clear that I have no problem with authors responding to reviews. Approached in the right way it might even lead to some meaningful dialogue. Unfortunately, Savas and Hood chose to take a different approach by questioning the integrity of Emberton herself.

From Ted Savas:

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. One surely must wonder why she would do such a thing. And if she did read it, and then wrote with a straight face what I quoted above (the review is full of such nonsense), one must ask how she teaches history–or any subject. This book is replete with explanations addressing these very things–on the jacket, on the publisher’s website, in the Introduction, and scattered throughout. Was it too much to grasp?

From Stephen Hood:

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.

Thankfully Matt Hulbert, who is the Civil War Monitor’s Book Review Editor has stepped in:

The Monitor is dedicated to publishing the honest opinions and perspectives, positive *or* negative, of the most qualified scholars in the field of Civil War history. As the Book Review Editor, I have the utmost confidence that Dr. Emberton performed her duties responsibly and simply urge readers to form *their own* opinions of the title in question before utilizing supposition to question her character or credentials.

There is absolutely no reason to challenge Emberton’s integrity in this way. To say that Savas and Hood lack class would be an understatement.

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43 comments… add one
  • Patrick Young Dec 8, 2013 @ 8:52

    Adam Badeau wrote:

    “In contrast, Pat’s sarcasm might be questioned as indicating a bias against Hood owing to the verifiable evidence that he has written 43 reviews at Amazon giving three stars or less to any title that reflects favorable on a Confederate or the Confederacy and four stars or more on any book that reflects favorably upon the North.”

    First, let us be clear, several of those 43 reviews were of my autistic son’s music uploads. I am biased, they probably don’t deserve the same number of stars as The White Album, but I have to live with him.

    Two of the reviews are of movies. I gave Lincoln 5 stars for its depiction of late middle-aged sexuality and statesmanship, and 5 to Django for recognizing the importance of immigrants in Civil War Era America.

    Here are all of my other reviews. I’ve put in the titles and authors, the headline I picked for each review, the number of stars I gave, and in three cases brief excerpts to show my general style:

    -John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General by Stephen Hood “Interesting Examination of Some Misleading Historical Writing” 3
    -A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books by Alex Beam “A funny look at boring books” 4
    -Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand “Worst Novel Ever” 1
    -Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel “Totally Engrossing” 5
    -Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan “Fire in his pen” 4
    -Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns “Who wouldn’t want to spend the night with Ayn?” 4
    -Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era) by Charles B. Dew “Want to Know What Caused the Civil War? Southerners laid it all out” 5
    -Abraham Lincoln: Speeches & Writings 1832-1858: Library of America #45 by Abraham Lincoln “When you get discouraged, read Lincoln” 5
    -American Jezebel: Anne Hutchinson by Eve LaPlante “A nice book on a true American character” 4
    -Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson “Deserves to be a best-seller even today” 5
    -Night by Elie Wiesel “I was surprised by this book. You will be too. Read it.” 5
    -Champlain’s Dream David Hackett Fischer “Too Bad We’ve forgotten Champlain’s Dream” 5
    -In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton “An Excellent and thought-provoking work” 5
    -Roger Williams: The Church and the State by Edmund S. Morgan “A Man You Need to Learn About from an Author You Need to Read” 5
    -The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick “Not Quite the Great Book on Custer” 3
    -American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato “Great Topic, but this is a book that is only half-full” 4
    -John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father Paperback by Francis J. Bremer “Moves at the Speed of a Ship Heading West” 4
    -Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer by Michael A. Elliott “How we remember Custer” 4
    -Jews and the Civil War: A Reader Paperback by Jonathan D. Sarna (Editor) , Adam Mendelsohn “Essays on The Jewish Experience of the War” 4
    -Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Veronique Mottier Human Sexuality? “Not so much” 3 To give you a sense of how I write the reviews, here is a bit of this one “Apparently human sexuality ended with the Greeks only to resume in the 1960s. While the book is nicely written, its preoccupation with certain post modern themes and its distorting focus on man-boy sex in a section on homosexuality leave the reader wondering where the editor was.”
    -Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict Paperback by Susannah J. Ural “Interesting essays on the Civil War immigrant experience” 4
    -Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David W. Blight “A Modern Classic on the Memory of the Civil War” 5
    -Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 17th President, 1865-1869 (American Presidents (Times) by Annette Gordon-Reed (Author) “Nice quick overview of a disgraced politician” 4
    -The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865” by Susannah J. Ural “The Irish in the Civil War” 4
    -Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home (Civil War America) Hardcover by Walter D. Kamphoefner “Most Useful Book on Germans in the Civil War” 5
    -Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It by William Garrett Piston “War in the West told with verve.” 5
    -Three Months in the Southern States: April-June 1863 by Arthur J. F. Fremantle Lt. Col. “Queens English in Virginia” 3
    A bit from my review of this book shows what my focus is: “Arthur Freemantle was an upper class English military officer. He arrived in America in May, 1863, to watch the Civil War. A Confederate sympathizer, he came in through Texas at a time when that rebel state was itself suffering a rebellion. Freemantle found that Texas troops were “employed in quelling a counter-revolution of Unionists in Texas…who were principally Germans.” The British officer dismissed the German Unionists as “renegados”, without trying to understand why families that immigrated to the United States might resent Texas’ decision to immigrate out of the U.S. Instead he saw the Germans as malcontents disrupting the lives of the romantic cavaliers who owned the state and its slaves.
    While the Englishman says he deplored slavery, he was amused by the Southern slave trader who sailed to New England, recruited a black “crew” for his ship, and then sold the crew as slaves when he reached the South.”
    -For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson “Inside the Head of the Civil War Soldier” 4
    -Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe “Read It Now” 5
    -Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States) by James M. McPherson “A Must-Read for Those Trying to Understand the War” 4
    -Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts “Irish Immigrant History in One Man’s Letters to His Wife” 5
    -The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: Volume I Jefferson Davis “The Worst Memoir of the Civil War Era” 1
    A bit from this review “When Davis isn’t defending slavery, he’s attacking his generals. With the exception of Robert E. Lee, he essentially sees his subordinates as self-aggrandizing incompetents. Davis claims all the successes for himself and lays off the blame on underlings.This might fit him well as a modern corporate CEO, but it hardly enhances his historical standing.
    In his cause of settling scores with other Confederates, Davis often inserts whole letters intended to show his opponents up as liars. These letters run for pages and appear to be unedited in many cases. Accordingly, they include salutations, passages irrelevant to Davis’s argument, and valedictory remarks. Poor Davis appears to have been bereft of an editor himself! I press on to read Volume 2, but only because I have to. “
    -Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder by Kevin M. Levin Battlefield, “Tourist Attraction, Golf Course, National Park” 4
    -The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem by John M. Coski “A fascinating look at the history of the Confederate Battle Flag” 3
    -Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo “Beautifully Written Account of Gettysburg” 4
    -“Truth is mighty & will eventually prevail”: Political Correctness, Neo-Confederates, and Robert E. Lee (an article from Southern Cultures 17:3, by Ed Ayers “Brief look at the politics of Civil War historiography” 4
    -The Golden State in the Civil War by Glenna Matthews “Left Flank of the Civil War Gets Full Treatment” 4
    -The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman “Not nearly as good as I’d been led to believe” 2
    -My Life In The Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs Of Private William Mccarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry William McCarter “A soldier’s view of an iconic brigade” 4

    I’ll be back in a bit to comment on this.

    • Pat Young Dec 8, 2013 @ 9:27

      When Adam Badeau wrote that my opinion should be “questioned as indicating a bias against Hood owing to the verifiable evidence that he has written 43 reviews at Amazon giving three stars or less to any title that reflects favorable on a Confederate or the Confederacy and four stars or more on any book that reflects favorably upon the North” he gives the impression that I’ve written 43 reviews of Civil War related materials. Simply not true. Including the film Lincoln, only half of my reviews cover the Civil War. It moves to slightly over half when you add in the two Custer books, which I read and reviewed as books about white/native relations, not books about the Civil War.

      The only two books that were about Confederate figures were the Jeff Davis memoir (1 star) and the Hood book (3 stars). So Adam’s sample is limited to two books on the Confederate bio or bio debunking front. One of the other book I reviewed is Apostles of Disunion, a book which rescues the long forgotten words of the Confederate secession commissioners. While this book is clearly an anti-Lost Cause work, it respects the early Deep South Confederates enough to let them speak in their own words. Finally, there is Three Months in the Southern States: April-June 1863 by Arthur J. F. Fremantle which got three stars. Not a terrible book, but the bias in it leads to delusions. Okay to be biased, but not blind. The book on the Confederate Battle Flag is really a work on memory and the use of the flag in the 1940s through the present day. I liked it, but it was a bit short and had a pretty poor last chapter.

      I also note that many of the books I reviewed deal with both sides in the Civil War. For example “Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home” (Civil War America) Hardcover by Walter D. Kamphoefner got 5 stars. It had letters from both sides. “Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It” by William Garrett Piston got 5 stars.

      Finally, while I don’t claim to be unbiased, I disdain the implication that I am somehow biased against the Hood book. I’ll address this in a bit.

      As I tell my students on the first day of class, I served seven terms as the chairperson of the largest state immigration coalition, I founded two other immigrant networks and I have worked on behalf of immigrants for a quarter of a century. I am not unbiased, I like immigrants.

      • Patrick Young Dec 8, 2013 @ 9:47

        In terms of bias in reviewing this book, I addressed it in my amazon post:
        “When I purchased this book, I was worried that it would be little more than an exercise in hagiography by a relative of a Civil War general. Hagiography originally meant a life of a saint. The title enhanced my fears. Subtitling a book “The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of a Confederate General” gives it a messianic feel. Don’t worry, though, Sam Hood does not “resurrect” his cousin, he just dusts off the corpse a little. The book functions as brief against several historians, led by Wiley Sword, and not as a counter-biography.”

        While Sam Hood posted comments to my review that disagreed with me in part on aspects of his work and agreed in part he also wrote:

        “Thanks for taking the time to read my book, and for feeling it worthy of a review.”
        concluded “Thanks again for the respectful review.”

        When Brett R. Schulte left this comment on my review:
        “As someone who has reviewed dozens of Civil War books, I found Mr. Young’s review of the book to be an excellent example of how to respectfully criticize portions of a book he did not agree with, and then to respectfully and patiently discuss that review with the book’s author. The specific examples given also helped me understand what specifically Mr. Young did not like.”

        I replied: “Thank you Mr. Schulte”

        Sam Hood added: “Ditto’s to Pat’s comment from me Brett.”

        Let me just conclude by saying that I did not give the Hood book a bad review, I gave it a mixed review. As for the 3 stars I gave it, three stars is in the middle between great and terrible. I read 15-50 books every year. Only a few are worth 5 stars. I don’t see how people can give interesting but flawed books the same number of stars they give War and Peace or 100 Years of Solitude. Mr. Hood’s book was an interesting book, as I have said a number of times to partisans of the book. If you want to identify bias, go after reviewers who gave it the same number of stars as I would give the Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats.

  • Pat Young Dec 6, 2013 @ 18:32

    What once was lost, now is found; the missing comments on the Civil War Monitor’s review page have been restored. There is peace in the valley.

  • J. L. Bell Dec 2, 2013 @ 8:17

    Having read Emberton’s review, I think Savas’s response was not only ill-tempered but ill-founded. It’s obvious that Emberton did read the book since she described its argument and methods in detail. She just didn’t think that argument was necessary (given another recent book) or those methods were as solid as the author believed.

    Savas criticized Emberton for calling the book a biography (rather than, apparently, a study of how previous authors have treated Gen. Hood). Yet the Library of Congress’s cataloguing data printed on the book’s copyright page twice categorize it as “Biography.” The publisher didn’t choose that category himself, but he can hardly be surprised about it.

  • SM Hood Dec 1, 2013 @ 19:05

    (I just posted a comment similar to this on the Civil War Monitor book review web site.)

    To Dr. Emberton and the CW Monitor I apologize for this dustup, which began and then escalated in both scope and intensity with me at the helm. There is an old Dutch saying, “We grow too soon old, and too late smart.” In my case, I grew too soon emotional and too late smart.

    I assume Dr. Emberton read the book in its entirety, but just didn’t care for it, which is her prerogative.

    A friend advised me long ago when I was first considering writing such a book not to do so if I had a thin skin; that the work of all authors will receive criticism, whether the author feels it is or isn’t deserved. I’m heading out to the nearest tack shop tomorrow morning and buy some skin-toughener.

    I naturally stand by my research and revelations, but to those who may not care for the book, even for reasons with which I might not agree …indeed the customer is always right.

    SM Hood

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 19:21

      Mr. Hood,

      I think you made the right decision. From one author to another I certainly understand the emotional attachment that you claim of your work. A great deal of time and sacrifice goes into book projects and it never feels good to have that work challenged, but as you understand that is the nature of the business.

      I agree with Brooks Simpson that what ultimately matters is that you can stand behind what you produced. All the best on your future writing endeavors.

    • Adam Badeau Dec 6, 2013 @ 14:23

      Given that Mr. Levin is an advisor to Civil War Monitor, it is incumbent upon him to verify that Professor Emberton actually read your book.

      • Andy Hall Dec 6, 2013 @ 14:31

        No, it is not.

        • Adam Badeau Dec 8, 2013 @ 3:55

          That was the attitude of the New York Times when responsible observers questioned the veracity of Jayson Blair’s reporting which was later discovered to be plagiarized and fabricated.

      • Pat Young Dec 6, 2013 @ 15:16

        Exactly. He should quiz her on the contents of the book to see if she read it.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2013 @ 15:20

          I just assumed Adam was kidding.

          • Pat Young Dec 6, 2013 @ 17:27

            Me too. Amid all the talk of did she read the book, I always wondered what evidence could ever be given.

            • Ken Noe Dec 8, 2013 @ 6:20

              The real Adam Badeau, Grant’s staff member, supposedly died in 1895. If this poster claims to be the real Badeau, I think it’s incumbent on him to supply some verification.

              War Eagle.

              • Butler King Dec 8, 2013 @ 9:02

                Mr. King. Why do you and Adam Badeau have the same ISP address? Perhaps it’s time to take a break.

                Thank you.

                Kevin Levin/Civil War Memory

        • Adam Badeau Dec 8, 2013 @ 4:32

          Or, as a point of honor he can ask that she affirm that she read it because informed readers have questioned whether she has.

          In contrast, Pat’s sarcasm might be questioned as indicating a bias against Hood owing to the verifiable evidence that he has written 43 reviews at Amazon giving three stars or less to any title that reflects favorable on a Confederate or the Confederacy and four stars or more on any book that reflects favorably upon the North.

          • Pat Young Dec 8, 2013 @ 7:44

            Adam, you wrote “Pat’s sarcasm might be questioned “.

            You are questioning my sarcasm? Have no doubts, I was being sarcastic.

            • Adam Badeau Dec 8, 2013 @ 8:47

              The sarcasm is obvious.

              What was questioned – but can no longer be doubted – is the one-sided bias.

              • Patrick Young Dec 8, 2013 @ 8:54

                My sarcasm was directed at you. I have never seen you or spoken to you before. How could I have been biased against you before I knew you existed?

  • Matt Gallman Dec 1, 2013 @ 18:28

    This is an interesting, and largely encouraging, discussion

    Dr. Emberton wrote a nice review.

    In an interesting way, her review coupled with the responses from the author and the publisher essentially pull the curtain back, revealing our own little Land of Oz.

    Emberton is a trained academic (who has written some excellent pieces). Her review is – as I read it – written from the perspective of a trained professional historian. That means, among other things, that she reads a particular book through an interpretive lens that is shaped by the study of history and perhaps a broader study of how we interpret our past. In that sense, historic memory and biography are significantly shaped by a host of other interesting variables. What do we really know? How does our perspective shape our understanding of the past? What sorts of evidence should we value, and when should we be skeptical? And so on.

    This highly professional and skilled review, coupled with the angry and misogynist responses by the author and editor, illustrate several fundamental truths.
    One of those truths is that professional historians who write for Civil War Monitor really must be bilingual. We really cant write reviews for audience X that we might write for audience Y. In the Civil War business there really are different audiences. if Dr Emberton misstepped at all, it was in bringing her “broadly educated” game to a review that perhaps called for her “deeply knowledgable about the CW” game.

    The other fundamental truth, that is perhaps the real story here, is that your blog and folks like K Noe have her back, and understand that this is what happens when professionals review books like this. Petulant authors and editors aside, the review stands and is defended.

    All in all, good news I’d say

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 18:40

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. As you know the CWM has been publishing reviews for some time and as far as I can remember this is the first instance of such a response from an author and his publisher. So, I don’t see this as an instance of an academic not knowing or appreciating the Monitor’s audience. Since I’ve interacted with both more than once I tend to see this more in terms of an author who simply cannot fathom that not everyone is going to judge his work as he sees it. It’s an extension of the problem of how close the author is to his subject. The other problem is that he is being ill-served by his publisher, who has led the way in challenging the integrity of the reviewer.

      What I find strange is that Emberton’s review is not entirely dismissive. She does acknowledge some redeeming qualities in the book. Nice to hear from you, Matt.

      • Matt Gallman Dec 1, 2013 @ 19:11

        You are absolutely correct (I think) in putting the focus on the book’s author and publisher Their comments are disturbing and not representative of the important and substantial world of Civil War publishing.

        My point, which is secondary to that core point, is that most folks who work and publish in the Civil War Era adopt a very different authorial voice when writing for CIVIL WAR MONITOR as opposed to when we are writing for the AHR or the JAH or other professional journals read by historians. These are simply entirely different audiences of readers, who approach the review with very different backgrounds and trainings and understanding of what it means to do history. The audiences simply know different things and are interested in different things.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 19:16

          Thanks for the follow up. Yes, I definitely agree that reviews play a different role in academic journals as opposed to popular magazines.

  • Al Mackey Dec 1, 2013 @ 18:04

    I agree the comments of both Ted Savas and Stephen Hood are beyond the pale. I liked Hood’s book and I also stand by my reaction to Dr. Emberton’s review
    but it’s evident to the most casual observer that she read the book and that she wrote a responsible review based on her reaction to the book. It’s very disappointing they had to take such an unprofessional approach to a review of the book.

  • Evan Kutzler Dec 1, 2013 @ 16:07

    It’s also worth noting that hating Hood (like hating Davis) is almost a requirement within neo-Confederate and Civil War roundtable circles. As a foil to an over-idealized Cleburne, Hood provides an easy explanation for defeat in the western theater. He literally embodies imperfectness, being physically and, in popular memory, chemically disabled. This puts someone like Sam Hood (not necessarily a neo-Confederate I should add) in an odd position. I believe I met Sam at Franklin’s Descendent’s Reunion more than a decade ago when I worked at the Carter House Museum as a staff member. So much of the popular memory of the Civil War is ancestor worship in one way or another. It must be odd to participate in those rituals as a descendent of someone who, rightfully or misleadingly, is considered to be an important “flaw” in explaining defeat. That, of course, doesn’t excuse his or the publisher’s unprofessional conduct, but it might explain the theme and style of the book.

    As always, thank you for posting.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 16:11

      So much of the popular memory of the Civil War is ancestor worship in one way or another.

      I think this helps to explain the way that Stephen Hood has gone about interacting with various reviewers. He seems to expect reviewers to read and assess the book as something written by a descendant.

  • Evan Dec 1, 2013 @ 15:14

    What an unfounded attack on a review who could have been harsher. I wish I could say professional historians were immune to that sort of tantrum. Unfortunately, the (I won’t name names) response in *Reviews in American History*, Vol. 38, No. 1, (March 2010): 178-180, suggests otherwise.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 15:16

      I’ve said it already, but what I find interesting about this case is that the attack is being led by the publisher.

      • Evan Kutzler Dec 1, 2013 @ 16:11

        And yes, it very well may be marketing. After all, It got me to read a chapter when I should be reading other things tonight.

  • Ja Dec 1, 2013 @ 14:49

    If you are going to write or publish books, you will want them to be reviewed. That means you must be prepared for reviews that are critical, perhaps unfairly so. If you can’t deal with negative reviews professionally—and refusing to use the reviewer’s proper honorific is indeed unprofessional—then perhaps you should not be writing or publishing books.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 14:59

      Absolutely, but that his publisher is leading the charge takes this beyond the realm of the absurd.

  • Ken Noe Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:15

    In a quarter century of writing and reviewing, including a stint as a book review editor, I confess that I’ve never seen anything quite like this tag-team attempt to browbeat critics. It makes my head spin. Yet it’s not surprising at all, as these comments simply continue the theme and tone of a book that posits that authors write negative things about John Bell Hood because of professional incompetence at best and membership in some sort of Tennessee-based conspiracy at worst. The sad thing about it is that Stephen “Sam” Hood actually has done some very good historical detective work in undermining quite a few General Hood tropes and urban legends, and deserves praise for it, but instead of augmenting his findings, the decision to openly embrace a different bias, the aggrieved presentation, and the constant stream of personal slams simply undermine his own findings and all those dollars spent. Sure, we’re talking about the book all right, but aren’t we supposed to be talking about John Bell Hood?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:19

      It’s unfortunate that Sam’s publisher is not setting a better example. You are absolutely right that their approach does little more than advance what is essentially a flawed and irresponsible argument that authors have written negative things about Hood owing entirely to “professional incompetence.”

      Savas and Hood owe Professor Emberton a public apology.

      • Ken Noe Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:26

        Carole Emberton has a doctorate from Northwestern, at the very least they could stop calling her “Ms. Emberton.”

  • Pat Young Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:07

    Bob Garfield has a great takedown of BuzzFeed’s new policy of no bad book reviews:

    “THE estimable online publication BuzzFeed has changed the rules of critical engagement. All I can say is “Bravo!”. At least, if I were writing book reviews for BuzzFeed that’s all I could say, because at BuzzFeed there is no room in the literary criticism section for, you know, criticism.”

    The full NY Times OpEd is here:

    The fear of lawsuits is unfounded here in the US. However, since many reviews appear in online journal and since the reviews often link to amazon, good reviews encourage purchases which result in commissions to the publisher of the review. Bad reviews discourage click-throughs. Reviews are increasingly seen as commerce.

  • Donald R. Shaffer Dec 1, 2013 @ 12:54

    Hi Kevin. I agree with you here 100 percent, but I was reading the other day some commercial publications won’t accept “bad” reviews anymore for fear of being sued. Ridiculous, but I am personally aware some academic publications have book reviews vetted by a lawyer to help shield them lawsuits. I was once asked to make a change to a review because the journal’s lawyer flagged something that concern him. Since the change from my perspective didn’t change the review substantively from my perspective, I went along with their request.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:01

      Hi Don,

      I’ve heard the same thing.

      From what I can tell this is a case of an author not really understanding what goes into a critical review. That his publisher continues to stand by his claim that Emberton did not read the book is laughable and irresponsible. This guy has absolutely no credibility.

    • Ken Noe Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:20

      I was a book review editor for several years and never once consulted with a lawyer. We did discuss it once when the author of a negatively reviewed book mentioned lawyers in an unsuccessful attempt to stop publication.

      • Donald R. Shaffer Dec 1, 2013 @ 13:37

        No doubt a lot of publications don’t have lawyers scrutinize book reviews. It sounds a bit expensive, but evidently the Journal of American History does as I discovered when their lawyer contacted me. I guess it depends on the budget of the publication in question, whether they’ve been sued in the past, and the inclinations of the editor.

  • Pat Young Dec 1, 2013 @ 11:45

    I wrote a short review on the Hood book for my own blog recently. I re-posted it on amazon here:
    [You need to scroll up the linked page to read my review, published under my real name]

    Sam Hood posted a generally genial initial response to my mixed review under the username “Kyguy”, which has a different meaning on Long Island from Kentucky apparently. He wrote graciously; “Thanks for taking the time to read my book, and for feeling it worthy of a review. I respect both your praise and criticism, and would like to reply to a few of your observations.” Over 9 comments, I explained my criticisms of the book and he responded. He kept insisting that I did not comprehend what the book was about. Finally, he wrote to me when I said that the excessively partisan tone of the book detracted from its effectiveness; “It seems to me that you should have stopped reading at that point [in the first pages of the book], since my Intro should have instantly revealed that my book, based upon your stated criticisms, is simply not your genre.” [brackets indicate my synopsis of his point]

    First, I understood his purpose in writing the book. Second, I don’t disregard advocacy writing, it is the bedrock of my profession (law). Third, good partisan writing does not go out of its way to constantly remind you that you are reading an advocate’s brief.

    Anyway, the exchange indicated to me that Mr. Hood’s tone in the Emberton review reply goes beyond mere marketing. I doubt more than a few hundred people have read my amazon review. His preoccupation with being misunderstood, when it is clear from both Emberton’s and my own review that we read him and understood him offer insights into his own personality. To disagree with someone does not necessarily mean to misunderstand him.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2013 @ 12:05

      Finally, he wrote to me when I said that the excessively partisan tone of the book detracted from its effectiveness; “It seems to me that you should have stopped reading at that point [in the first pages of the book], since my Intro should have instantly revealed that my book, based upon your stated criticisms, is simply not your genre.” [brackets indicate my synopsis of his point]

      First, this is an absurd statement for the author of a work of history to make. I’ve never seen an author undercut his own authority as an author. Second, if this is really the case than Ted Savas should never have sent this book for review at The Civil War Monitor.

    • Roger Higgins Jan 4, 2014 @ 22:06

      I have known Sam Hood for a few year’s now and can assure you that you have “misunderstood” quote, his personality. To be able to make a remark about a person that you have had no meaningful contact with, is to say the least, character profiling.
      May I say that had Sam wrote the way” you” thought it should have been written,your rhetoric would be different.As for his being “partisan” again you are making like you know the person. I think you should stick to what you know, rather than what you think you know.

      • Patrick Young Jan 5, 2014 @ 5:29

        If you have read the book, you are aware that Mr. Hood says straightforwardly in the opening pages that his purpose is not to present a balanced examination of the military career of John Bell Hood, but rather to rebut negative claims of historians about the general. The language he deploys in the text at times is the language of the partisan making his case. I should know. I am an attorney and I make my cases for my clients using similar language every day. I don’t begrudge him that approach since I use it myself.

        Roger, you wrote: “May I say that had Sam wrote the way” you” thought it should have been written,your rhetoric would be different.” I am not sure if this remark is addressed to me or Mr. Levin, but I’ll respond for myself.

        I have no particular interest in John Bell Hood. Apart from reading his own memoir and a number of works on the Atlanta campaign as well as touring virtually all of the sites of the campaign I don’t have much investment in him one way or another. I am not particularly knowledgeable about his 1864 campaign in Tennessee and I have never read the Wiley Sword book that is the principal target of Sam Hood’s book. Nor do I know Mr. Sword or the other authors Sam Hood critiques.

        I have no issue with Sam Hood functioning as an advocate for a position. I have been concerned that he has said that I misunderstood the purpose of his book. I did not.

        My criticism of the partisan tone of the book, which can seem relentless at times, is that it keeps reminding the reader that he or she is reading the words of an advocate. Effective advocacy does not remind the reader that it is a work of advocacy on every page.

        As I wrote in my review, Sam Hood’s book is interesting and lively. I wrote about what was good in it, and I explained some problems with it as well. I also note that Mr. Hood graciously thanked me for my review writing to me “I respect both your praise and criticism.” He did disagree with some of my own critique, which is understandable.

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