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Lying about Hitler: History, the Holocaust and the David Irving Trial
Synopses & Reviews
Last year, in the most famous Holocaust court case since the Adolf Eichmann trial, controversial author David Irving brought a libel suit against Penguin Books UK and author Deborah Lipstadt, who had denounced Irving in print as one of the most dangerous Holocaust deniers at work today. As the chief historical adviser to Penguin Books in its successful defense of Lipstadt, Richard J. Evans spent two years of research in preparation for this case. In Lying About Hitler, Evans uses the trial as a lens for exploring a range of vital questions such as who was responsible for violence and genocide against the Jews in Nazi Germany, what Hitler knew and when, and how far his henchmen Himmler and Goebbels and Nazi officials in the SS acted on their own initiative in organizing the violence and mass murder perpetrated by the Nazi regime against the Jews.
In ruling against David Irving in April 2000, the High Court in London labeled him a falsifier of history. No objective historian, declared the Judge, would manipulate the documentary record in the way that Irving did. Yet, one could ask, is a court of law the appropriate place to debate history? Can it really settle issues of objectivity and bias in the study of the past? Don't all historians in the end bring a subjective agenda to bear on their reading of the evidence? The judgement branded Irving a racist, an anti-Semite, and an active supporter of neo-fascism. Is it possible, though, that he lost his case not because of his biased history but because his agenda was unacceptable? Evans answers these questions and more in ways that may surprise many of the commentators and pundits on the trial. While most people would share the court's views of Irving's work, some commentators have feared that the verdict will make it all but impossible to question the accepted version of the Holocaust. One commentator said, "Now even the most honest Holocaust scholar risks being smeared." Others have said that the court's notion of objectivity displays a naively empirical view of the way historians go about their business. Not so, argues Evans. The central issue in the trial — as in this book — was not the past itself, but the way in which historians find out about it through the critical examination of the evidence. Here Evans found the court to be a surprisingly good forum for exploring these issues.
In a series of very sharp chapters, Evans takes the specific issues that the trial addressed and shows exactly how Irving's writings distort the historical record to serve his own revisionist agenda to exonerate Hitler and to diminish the Holocaust. In the process of dissecting Irving, Evans gives us an extremely cogent and deeply informed book that sheds light not only on history, but on the methods of historians. Lying About Hitler is a brave, unflinching commentary for both historian and reader alike. Emerging from the incendiary Irving trial, this book triumphantly demonstrates the ability of historical scholarship to reach reasoned conclusions about the Holocaust.
"A classic example of historical research as detective story, Evans' book must be one of the most thorough and devastating exposés every written about any writer. The tingle of intellectual discovery runs through Evans' methodical demolition of Irving's work. He writes as if he were suspended between his excitement at catching Irving in each lie and his astonishment that the lies are so pervasive, unrelenting and bald."
-- Charles Taylor, Salon.com
Book News Annotation:
To those who argue that the London court's 2000 ruling against Holocaust denier Irving threatens to silence legitimate historians' questions on the Nazi extermination of Jews, the Cambridge U. specialist on modern German history who was the principal expert witness for the defense (of Deborah Lipstadt for libel) says, in effect, rubbish. Evans explains how Irving's "analysis" distorts the historical record to serve his revisionist agenda.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In ruling against the controversial historian David Irving in his libel suit against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, last April 2000, the High Court in London labeled him a falsifier of history. No objective historian, declared the judge, would manipulate the documentary record in the way that Irving did. Richard J. Evans, a Cambridge historian and the chief advisor for the defense, uses this pivotal trial as a lens for exploring a range of difficult questions about the nature of the historian’s enterprise. For instance, don’t all historians in the end bring a subjective agenda to bear on their reading of the evidence? Is it possible that Irving lost his case not because of his biased history but because his agenda was unacceptable? The central issue in the trial—as for Evans in this book—was not the past itself, but the way in which historians study the past. In a series of short, sharp chapters, Richard Evans sets David Irving’s methods alongside the historical record in order to illuminate the difference between responsible and irresponsible history. The result is a cogent and deeply informed study in the nature of historical interpretation.
About the Author
RICHARD J. EVANS is Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University and a noted specialist on modern German history. He is the author of several books, including In Defense of History, In Hitler's Shadow, and Death In Hamburg. He was the principal expert witness for the defense in the David Irving trial.
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