The rest of the story…

In his book, Historians Fallacies, David Hackett Fischer uses Leonard Levy’s book on Jefferson as an example of the fallacy of anachronism. When I was reading it last summer it occurred to me that at the time it Fisher’s book was published they were both members of the Brandeis Department of History. Fischer was a fairly new faculty member while Leonard Levy was the Dean of Faculty. A young faculty member publicly pointing out the professional “fallacies” of the Dean could be a risky proposition, so I assumed that Levy must have know about it ahead of time and had a sense of humor about it. There had to be a story behind this and when I ran into Fischer and his wife at the Harvard Bookstore I made sure to ask him about it.

The question made him grin and laugh. Yes, Leonard Levy knew about the project and was very supportive. He had no objections to his “participation.” In fact most historians mentioned in the book had no objections. There were a couple of exceptions, however, and one in particular was so angered by the book that the publisher had to add this short note at the beginning that stated that all the examples in the book were from “established historians with good reputations” and that no disrespect is implied or intended.

But the story does not end here. The most interesting part came after the book was published, Fischer said with an ironic smile. The feedback on the book was generally good. There were some good reviews and he received supportive letters from several colleagues. But then there were the expected letters of complaint. A few objected to how they were represented, but by far the majority were from “established historians with good reputations” who were complaining that they had not been included in the book.


~ by severalfourmany on December 2, 2008.

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