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Authors in Trouble

Jimmy Carter’s new book about Israel is provoking criticism on two fronts.

The first issue is that he’s accusing Israel of practicing “apartheid” against the Palestinians, a charge that is hardly new but which doesn’t usually come from a former U.S. president. (Carter’s position is hardly subtle; the book’s title is Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.) This has prompted criticism from the likes of Alan Dershowitz, who called Carter’s book “ahistorical.”

The book is also being attacked for a variety of authorial misbehaviors. Dennis Ross, the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, says that Carter used maps that Ross created without Ross’s permission or acknowledgment. Much harsher, however, are the charges detailed in this article. It describes why Kenneth Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern history and political science at Emory University and a longtime Carter advisor, recently resigned from the Carter Center. Carter’s new book, Stein explained, is “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.”


I haven’t read Carter’s book, and probably won’t get around to it. But I must say that I was surprised when I saw that he’d published a book on such a weighty topic so soon after his last book, which came out last November. That’s pretty fast work.

So far, the controversy seems to be either not hurting Carter much — or, in the magical manner that controversy sometimes performs, it may be helping: the book is currently at No. 7 on the N.Y. Times non-fiction list.

Augusten Burroughs is another author in trouble. According to Buzz Bissinger’s long article in Vanity Fair, Burroughs is the new James Frey. Bissinger recently told the Boston Globe that Burroughs’s signature memoir Running With Scissors “contains little strands of fact that were wildly embellished, and if you take those away, you don’t have much of a book.”

Double ouch. Of course none of this criticism would have seen the light of day if the books in question weren’t so successful. If we had to hear about the shortcomings of every single book that’s published, we’d all drown in bile within about 20 minutes.