If you want to see a tough book review, check out David Frum’s short essay in today’s New York Times on Laura Kalman’s new book.

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    I’m aghast at Frum’s suggestion that its pointless to write books on subjects addressing information available in various sites on the internet. In that general assertion, he’s wildly wrong, irresponsible and should be embarrassed. Though he offers additional criticism of Kelman’s book, that rebuke applied to it is grossly unfair and destroys the review’s credibility.

  2. Frank Pasquale says:

    I’m with Lawrence on this one. I loved her work on “legal liberalism” (discussing it here: http://jurisdynamics.blogspot.com/2006/08/kalmans-historians-eye-view.html), and I find it implausible that she would just churn out some pedestrian tome on “one darn thing after another.”

  3. Ken Rhodes says:

    “I’m aghast at Frum’s suggestion that its pointless to write books on subjects addressing information available in various sites on the internet.”

    I would have been aghast were that his suggestion, but I didn’t read that in the review. Rather, I read this: >>If I am to tell the story of the recent past, I must tell more than is instantly accessible to any moderately motivated citizen. … I should help my reader to understand its subtle, far-reaching and perverse effects. Otherwise, who needs me?

    Like many books of modern history, “Right Star Rising” neglects that self-­interrogation. The result is a diligent recapitulation of well-known events, perfectly competent and more or less ­unnecessary.>>

    I haven’t read the subject book by Kalman, so I would have to withhold my judgment of the book, but I don’t think Frum’s critical premise is what Lawrence characterized in his reply.

  4. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Ken: Please consider from Frum’s review the following quote and surrounding context:

    “Once upon a time, such a book might have been useful to somebody. But the question it raises–and it’s not a question about this book alone–is: What’s the point of this kind of history in the age of the Internet?”

    The surrounding context notes how, if you want to find something out that can be found out using the internet, go to the internet; no need for books when all the information that might be in them is on line.

    My guess is this is a point Frum wanted to make to a wide audience and he used the opportunity the Times gave him to review a book to make it. Not only do I still think Frum ought to be embarrassed, I think the editors at the Times Book Review should be embarrassed too.

  5. Ken Rhodes says:

    Lawrence, I did consider the immediate context when I wrote my prior comment. The following is the next sentence after the short paragraph you quoted:

    >>Although Kalman’s footnotes suggest some labor in the archives, “Right Star Rising” offers little or nothing in the way of previously undiscovered information about the half-decade under survey, few if any original perceptions.>>

    I haven’t read Kalman’s book, so I don’t know whether Frum’s criticism is valid. However, I believe his critical perspective is valid — after the passage of this much time, a serious historian should be giving us the benefit of hindsight and insight, not simply rehashing the facts. If Kalman does, in fact, give us something we wouldn’t find in the recital of already-known data, then Frum is merely positing a phony strawman to poke his pitchfork into. However, what he says is that Kalman’s book offers neither new information nor new insights. Is he wrong about that?