The facts and fictions of Hiroshima

The Last Train from Hiroshima was recently published to strong reviews, until the hiccups of truth started to show up, and we realized parts of the title were fictionalized. Motoko Rich asks: where does this leave good faith in publishing?
Publishers say that responsibility for errors and fabrications ultimately must lie with the author. “It would not be humanly possible to fact-check books the way magazine articles can be fact-checked, just because of length,” said Robert A. Gottlieb, the renowned editor who worked at the publisher Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker magazine, which has a celebrated fact-checking department.

But in many recent cases publishers did not seem to ask basic questions of authors, accepting their versions on almost blind faith.
Ouch. But a fair point! We tend to take as fact anything published, in a way we don't necessarily believe, say, Wikipedia (which is the greatest invention of our time), when binding up someone's suppositions doesn't in fact make them true, even before blind faith gets involved.

And, to be realistic, is it really worth the expense to have an expert fact check every non-fiction book that comes out, when only a fraction of those titles will be commercially successful and actually have an informed readership? From a publisher's standpoint, I really doubt it, as it would eat into some probably already pretty slim profit margins. And, as was the case of Jayson Blair, for many titles that rely on interviews, most of what you have to fact check with are the notes of the writer, which, if fabricated, are completely useless (without re-doing an interview).

Life's hard, reader types.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't the point of non-fiction is that it is a true story? What is the editor doing? Making sure the lies are grammatically correct?

    Reference books, autobiographies, biographies and historical books are often flawed, But this was not a minor fact. This was a major part of the book. I understand minor mistakes slipping by but when the entire book collapses because of one liar shouldn't someone had check out the major sources?

    Doesn't the reader who paid money for a true story deserve to read a book that has the basic facts correct?