Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem
, an examination of a trial in which the very meaning of the Holocaust was put on the stand.
To his admirers, the flamboyant British author David Irving was one of the world's preeminent military historians. His biographies of Hitler, Rommel, Goering, and Goebbels have been described as essential reading by scholars of World War II. But there is a dark side to these best-selling books as well, starting with the author's denial of Hitler's responsibility for the extermination of European Jewry and ending with his claim that the Holocaust as we know it never happened at all.
Deborah Lipstadt, an American academic, blew the whistle on Irving. Her book, Denying the Holocaust, describes him as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." In response, Irving sued for libel; but he sued in England, where there is no First Amendment and where libel laws are famously biased in favor of the plaintiff. It would now be up to Lipstadt to prove not only the truth of what she wrote -- to show, for example, that Irving perverted historical evidence to suit his ideological ends -- but also to show the falsehood of Irving's views, to prove, in other words, that hundreds of thousands of Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.
D. D. Guttenplan's brilliant coverage of this high-stakes duel makes compelling reading. On one side were Lipstadt and Penguin Books, as well as the iconoclastic lawyer and scholar Anthony Julius, the deft barrister Richard Rampton, and a panel of expert witnesses that included some of the world's most respected historians. On the other was Irving, a figure at once querulous and insouciant, representing himself. At issue was the meaning of the Holocaust and our understanding of history. The trial would cost millions of pounds. More to the point, it would cost someone his, or her, reputation.
This was not the first great Holocaust trial, but it was, in Guttenplan's words, "something new: a Holocaust trial without victims and without perpetrators, a trial in which history is judged, as well as made."
"[A] a thorough account of a landmark trial....[Guttenplan] makes the complex case navigable....Although we know the trial's outcome, the book creates delicious courtroom-thriller tension. Most important, it expertly introduces a crucial trial of our time." Publishers Weekly
To his admirers, British author David Irving is a preeminent military historian, but his denial of Hitler's responsibility for the Holocaust got him labeled as a right-wing extremist. He sued for libel, and it was up to the dependents to prove the truth of what they wrote. Guttenplan's coverage of this high-stakes duel, based on access to many of the participants, makes compelling reading and raises surprising questions about what we know, or can know, about history.
About the Author
D. D. GUTTENPLAN, a journalist and essayist, lives in London. His work has appeared in Granta, Harper's, The Nation, the Village Voice, Vanity Fair, and the London Review of Books. He has written on the Irving trial for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and The Guardian.