Rick Perlstein, who I think wrote perhaps the best history book I have ever read, Nixonland, has a new book out about the rise of Reagan called The Invisible Bridge. Nixonland is essential reading, and I am reasonably sure that Invisible Bridge will be as well. However, since the topic is Saint Ronnie of Simi Valley, the usual suspects are very upset that some facts are being brought into the debate and chipping away at the carefully manufactured image Republicans have created, and the media is dancing to the tune of the wurlitzer:
Rick Perlstein always hoped his book on the rise of Ronald Reagan would set off serious debate among scholars and historians. Just not this debate.
Mr. Perlstein’s new 856-page book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” which comes out Tuesday, is proving to be almost as divisive as Reagan himself. It has drawn both strong reviews from prominent book critics, and sharp criticism from some scholars and commentators who accuse Mr. Perlstein of sloppy scholarship, improper attribution and plagiarism.
The most serious accusations come from a fellow Reagan historian, Craig Shirley, who said that Mr. Perlstein plagiarized several passages from Mr. Shirley’s 2004 book, “Reagan’s Revolution,” and used Mr. Shirley’s research numerous times without proper attribution.
In two letters to Mr. Perlstein’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, Mr. Shirley’s lawyer, Chris Ashby, cited 19 instances of duplicated language and inadequate attribution, and demanded $25 million in damages, a public apology, revised digital editions and the destruction of all physical copies of the book. Mr. Shirley said he has since tallied close to 50 instances where his work was used without credit.
Mr. Perlstein and his publisher said the charges are unfounded and noted that Mr. Perlstein cited Mr. Shirley’s book 125 times on his website, rickperlstein.net, where he posted his endnotes, which include thousands of citations and links to sources.
“The claim of plagiarism doesn’t fly; these are paraphrases,” Mr. Perlstein said in a phone interview. “I’m reverent toward my sources. History is a team sport, and references are how you support your teammates.”
Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, called the plagiarism charges “ludicrous” and said the book was ”a meticulously researched work of scholarship.”
Mr. Perlstein, 44, suggested that the attack on his book is partly motivated by conservatives’ discomfort with his portrayal of Reagan. Mr. Shirley is president and chief executive of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, which represents conservative clients like Citizens United and Ann Coulter.
It’s just shameless smears. Personally, I would have put footnotes in both the book and online, but I haven’t written an 856 paged anything, so if you don’t mind, I’ll suggest that my opinion is worth about as much as it usually is. At any rate, Scott Lemieux edifies us on this ginned-up nontroversy:
Paraphrase with attribution is not plagiarism, and facts cannot be copyrighted. These are not complicated questions.
There are reasonable questions to be asked about the online-only endnotes of The Invisible Bridge, something that I’m guessing is going to be more common. My take is that the online source notes with links are, in themselves, an invaluable resource. Recognizing that resources are scarce, publishing serious works of history is generally a low-margin enterprise at best, etc., I would prefer all things being equal that they be supplements to traditional endnotes rather that replacements. As I’ve been working my way through the book there have been multiple times where I’ve wanted to look up a reference but haven’t been around a laptop. This is a question, however, that has nothing to do with scholarly integrity; online references are still references. And the specific campaign against Perlstein is plainly a political hit job.
Exactamundo. The puke funnel never stops.