A Tale of Two Authors

Compare how two authors deal with book reviews that they believe to be defamatory.

First, Chris McGrath, author of “The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know” took blogger Vaughan Jones to the High Court over a review that Jones posted on the Amazon website, of all places.  The judgement on whether this case can proceed is expected today.

Historian Niall Ferguson was similarly upset by a negative review.  His book Civilisation was eviscerated by Pankaj Mishra in the London Review of Books (a much more credible and prominent platform than Amazon’s product review pages).  Ferguson felt he had been defamed as a racist.  However, in contrast to Chris McGrath, Ferguson chose a different forum to express his grievance and demand satisfaction – the letters page.

This approach – fighting words with more words – is precisely the kind of counter-speech I advocated in my ‘Way of The Blogs‘ piece for the Guardian a couple of years ago.  It offers a form of redress to the aggrieved person, while avoiding censorship, and it is also much cheaper.  I think it is a much classier way of dealing with critics, than hauling them down to the Royal Courts of Justice.

One Reply to “A Tale of Two Authors”

  1. I’ve been expecting someone to have a go at Niall Ferguson. He is just a tiny bit bumptious at times.

    While he rightly bigs up the miracle of the Protestant work ethic, he also tends to collect the flashes of bright light from European history and convert them into an all encompassing super nova.

    There was a picture of him in the Evening Standard, with his black wife, above a summary piece describing the spat. The ES of course, would happily back him all the way. Extending your argument, a writer shouldn’t need to fight words with media protection.

    I think Mr Ferguson has half an eye on Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation”, and half an eye on his profile, and this leaves him open to slightly personal attacks. There is no evidence that he is some kind of white supremacist, but if he he spent a little more time rounding off his work, and a little less time tickling his conservative fans, the issue wouldn’t arise.

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