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When the "expert" gets it wrong...

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fljustice
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When the "expert" gets it wrong...

Post by fljustice » Tue February 8th, 2011, 9:53 pm

...what do you do?

I'm in research mode for a blog post and decided to skim read a reference book I've had on my shelf for a couple of years (bought it after my novel was done.) This is a modern book written by a scholar who read the original sources in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (I don't read ancient languages, so depend on secondary sources.) I open the book and the first map of Alexandria is wrong (shows the Gate of the Sun and the Gate of Moon on the Soma Avenue rather than the Canopic.) In the first chapter he says, "In 38 B.C., during the tumultuous reign of Caligula..." Later he says Anthony and Cleopatra had two children, then talks about all three.

ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! These are just the ones I caught skimming. Most of the rest of the material looks accurate. These seem to be small, sloppy mistakes, but I've completely lost faith in this author. My inclination is to discount the entire book and pass it on to a charity book sale. Anyone else run into this problem? Do you forgive and forget? Pick and choose?

BTW, wasn't sure this belonged here or in the rant section. :rolleyes:
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SonjaMarie
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Post by SonjaMarie » Tue February 8th, 2011, 9:56 pm

Yeah, it really annoys me when I come across a stupid mistake or more then one in a book, it makes me wonder how many others there are that I don't know about! I've wall banged at least two that were the most offensive in that aspect in the past.

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Tue February 8th, 2011, 10:09 pm

I always have to chuckle when I see these posts and think back on all the slaps I've seen readers get when complaining about accuracy in a historical novel. "If you want accuracy you should be reading non fiction."

OK... :confused: :o :)
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Wed February 9th, 2011, 1:47 am

Probably you should take what you can from it, but I'd be wary of it as an original source. Like if it said X, and other sources you've read says it's true, then yes. But difficult, eh?

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed February 9th, 2011, 2:31 am

I had the same problem here. I decided to keep the series for the info that was correct, and never take a source for granted. I suppose almost every reference book has some things wrong.

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Post by boswellbaxter » Wed February 9th, 2011, 2:49 am

I'd hang on to it, but not trust anything you read in it unless it can be verified through a more reliable source.

I have quite a few nonfiction books in the house that I don't trust, but that can be useful for tracking down more reliable sources (or, on occasion, for charting the progress of a historical misconception).
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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Wed February 9th, 2011, 3:10 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]I always have to chuckle when I see these posts and think back on all the slaps I've seen readers get when complaining about accuracy in a historical novel. "If you want accuracy you should be reading non fiction."

OK... :confused: :o :) [/quote]

I just came across a quote: "...historical truth is always tentative, contested, and ever-changing..." - which seems to fit this discussion.

My elderly father decided a few years ago to give up on historical fiction and focus on non-fiction, saying that in his few remaining years he may as well read the real thing. From my discussions with him, I find that he overly relies on what he reads in non-fiction and takes it as gospel. I try to explain my view that each historian has his own axe to grind and is inherently subjective in his interpretations and in his inclusions and omissions of material. Not to say non-fiction isn't generally more factual than fiction - just that non-fiction isn't necessarily 'accurate' as you say...

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Post by Russ Whitfield » Thu February 10th, 2011, 8:33 am

Douglas Jackson wrote a piece on this sort of thing for his blog:

http://dougsbookblog.blogspot.com/

which is an interesting perspective - I find myself in agreement.

In Faith's case - yeah - that's pretty bad, but on the stuff that really is shrouded by the mists of time, I think some levity/interpretation can be applied.

After all, we don't really know, do we. We have a lot of documents and of all of that, but much of what we know can be overturned by a new find...I dunno...finding a legionary eagle in China or something like that would re-write the history books.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Thu February 10th, 2011, 5:43 pm

[quote=""Russ Whitfield""]Douglas Jackson wrote a piece on this sort of thing for his blog: http://dougsbookblog.blogspot.com/ which is an interesting perspective - I find myself in agreement. [/quote]

Thanks for the link, Russ. I agree, as well, that authors have latitude when looking at primary sources and contradictory "evidence." I recently read a very well-done non-fiction called The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss which started off by saying we know squat about Spartacus, then filled 212 pages with well-reasoned speculation.

What had me throwing my book against the wall were the silly errors of well-known facts...which were frequently contradicted in later text. The wrong location of well-known landmarks on the map, but the right location in the narrative, Caligula's reign in BC, etc. They seemed like minor editing errors, but surely the author looked at the proofs! And if these things slipped by, what else was wrong? I've always used the journalistic "two reliable sources" rule, but this author moved his work out of the reliable category.
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Post by EC2 » Fri February 11th, 2011, 9:29 am

I think authors of fiction need an in-built crap detector to tell them when they are writing such. I think this crap detector has to be trained to extend to non fiction, so you get an instinctive sense of whether a flawed work is worth the perseverence. I do SO know what you mean. I have been reading Ralph Turner's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I don't always agree with some of his interpretations, but that's down to opinion. However, when he says that Geoffrey le Bel, Empress Matilda's husband was one of the heroes of the second crusade (he never went near the Holy Land) and drowned (went for a swim and died of a fever shortly after), I begin to feel uneasy. Professor Crouch's biography of William Marshal is very wobbly on the age of William's wife - he makes her older than she could possibly be. But the general research is sound, so I'm okay with that.
I guess to err is human, but if it happens time and again, there comes a stage where a reader loses alll confidence. But then you have to be a reader in the know. I wouldn't have a clue that the map of Alexandria was wrong. Someone else would have no idea that Geoffrey le Bel didn't go anywhere near the Middle East in his lifetime. It's a minefield.
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