Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Reviews of History on Trial [Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist]

History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving

Publishers Weekly

[Starred] In a much-publicized case, David Irving, the author of numerous books about WWII, sued Emory University historian Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin, for libel. Lipstadt had called Irving a Holocaust denier in a book about the Holocaust denial movement, and Britain's libel laws put the burden of proof on her to show that the charge was true. Did that mean proving the Holocaust had happened? Was Lipstadt, as Irving claimed, trying to restrict his freedom of speech, or was he restraining hers? Was the courtroom the proper place to examine historical truth? The press hotly debated these issues, but as Lipstadt relates in this powerful account, she and her adept lawyers felt they simply had to discredit a man who had said that "no documents whatsoever show that a Holocaust had ever happened." In 2000, Judge Charles Gray decided in Lipstadt's favor, finding it "incontrovertible" that Irving was a Holocaust denier. The drama of the book lies in the courtroom confrontations between an evasive and self-contradictory Irving (serving as his own lawyer) and Lipstadt's strategically brilliant barrister, Richard Rampton, and the scholars who testified in her defense. Lipstadt herself is a reluctant heroine, a feisty, outspoken woman forced to remain silent (she did not testify in court) and let her lawyers speak for her. No one who cares about historical truth, freedom of speech or the Holocaust will avoid a sense of triumph from Gray's decision-or a sense of dismay that British libel laws allowed such intimidation by Irving of a historian and a publisher in the first place. Agent, Gary Morris. (Feb. 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal
On her lawyer's instructions, Lipstadt (Judaic studies, Emory Univ.) did not publicly defend herself when Holocaust denier David Irving sued her for libel. Now Lipstadt breaks her silence, revealing her personal experiences while reflecting on the trial's relationship to questions of academic freedom and historical veracity. In recounting how she became interested in Holocaust studies and how the trial disrupted her life, Lipstadt effectively blends her story with the wider political worlds of academic publishing and politics. Although readers know that she was completely vindicated, Lipstadt manages to convey the tensions of the trial. She also gives a touching account of the outpouring of support she received from many quarters, not all of them Jewish. Although excessive detail sometimes slows the narrative, the book provides significant insight into how Holocaust deniers ply their trade. Three other books have been published so far on the Irving-Lipstadt trial (Richard Evans's Lying About Hitler, Robert Jan van Pelt's The Case for Auschwitz, and D.D. Gutenplan's History on Trial) and belong with this insider's account in all libraries.-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
[Starred] Absorbing account of the famed libel trial, in London, that brought the whole enterprise of Holocaust denial to the bench. In Denying the Holocaust (1993), Lipstadt (History/Emory Univ.) described British historian David Irving as "a Hitler partisan wearing blinkers," a man who "on some level seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler's legacy." Dangerous words, particularly since Irving had written books on the history of the Third Reich that had been well received; the eminent military historian John Keegan, for instance, praised Irving's Hitler's War as one of the best books ever written about WWII. Irving, who had earned enough money from the sales of his books to own a Rolls-Royce and keep a place in London's fashionable Mayfair district, was quick to sue. It took six years for the case to come to trial, but when it did, Lipstadt and her legal team were stunningly well prepared; among other documents, they had a 700-page dossier prepared by historian Richard J. Evans examining the sources Irving claims to have used in making his years-long argument that Hitler was innocent of having ordered the extermination of European Jews. Lipstadt's reconstruction of the trial as it played out day by day has its dry patches, but her account rises above the case itself to indict the demimonde of Holocaust deniers generally. Into the bargain, Lipstadt convincingly characterizes Irving as a litigious anti-Semite with a penchant for bending historical facts to suit repellent theories, as the court concluded. By the end, following a couple of cliffhanger moments, readers will sense that justice has been done, though plenty of puzzling aspects remain: Irving continues to speak and publish, and, inthe wake of the court's judgment, prominent historians, including Keegan, rose to his defense. This last word in the matter of DJC Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd and Deborah Lipstadt is a fascinating and meritorious work of legal-and moral-history.

One of the first attempts to systematically address Holocaust denial, Lipstadt's 1993 book Denying the Holocaust grabbed headlines when she was sued for libel by David Irving for calling the deeply controversial Hitler biographer a Holocaust denier and right-wing extremist. Lipstadt here narrates her lengthy legal battle with Irving, a London media frenzy that, though resulting in no executions, has been compared to the Eichmann trial and Nuremberg tribunals. As a courtroom blow-by-blow account, her story is fascinating and, for those unfamiliar with British civil procedure, even exotic. Lipstadt's barrister deploys enigmatic, roundabout strategies designed to entangle Irving with his own falsehoods; Irving, representing himself, weaves and dodges semantically but eventually crumbles under cross-examination and overwhelming evidence. Despite this book's title, only occasionally does Lipstadt contemplate in the abstract the bizarre gravity of historians cross-examining each other in court. Likewise, she addresses the obvious historiographic elephant in the courtroom--the inevitable twining of history and politics--only superficially. But most readers will be too busy being moved by Lipstadt's satisfying account of the convergence of legal and moral justice to care. Brendan Driscoll Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


David H Lippman said...

Ain't it wonderful to bask in good reviews? But seriously, they're well-deserved. It also proves that the best revenge is living well...David Irving hasn't published a book on his version of the trial...nor is he getting good reviews any more, except from people who have trouble with multi-syllabic words.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Thanks. It does feel good.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to reading your book. Having read the original trial transcripts, I will be interested to see what your own particular conclusions are.

If your first book is anything to go by, I am going to get some bandages for my sides when they start to split.