Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Cabot punch-up

Reviewer-author exchanges have a long history, but nowaways they go on virtually in real time.  On Saturday the Spanish historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in a Wall Street Journal review, lit into a quartet of books on Christopher Columbus and other early explorers, including one by the Canadian writer Douglas Hunter, whose recent God's Mercies and Half Moon were widely noted and honoured.  Within a few hours Hunter had responded with a riposte on his website, defending his credentials and the research behind his new work on Columbus and Cabot.

Readers could decide for themselves about the errors in each other's work alleged by Fernandez-Armesto and Hunter -- except that Hunter's book The Race to the New World is not yet published in Canada.  It's coming from Douglas & McIntyre next spring, although it is out elsewhere this fall.  The exchange has preceded the book itself.  Is this a metaphor for the disconnect between the print speed of books and the electronic speed of commentary?

One of Fernandez-Armesto's claims certainly rang false to me:
Academic historians tend to welcome recruits from other ranks, like owls nurturing cuckoos, and applaud the intrusions of neophytes with a glee that physicians, say, would never show for faith-healers or snake-oil salesmen. 
Physicians and snake-oil salesmen have nothing on the toxic brew of condescension and envy with which trade historians and academic historians tend to regard each other.
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