Verso Press, 2002
ISBN 1-85984-417-0 (pbk) [pounds sterling]14.00 pp 326
I devoured this book guiltily one weekend when I was a rather rude houseguest. Fortunately, my friends seem to have tolerated my bad behaviour in creeping off to read in secret. Perhaps I was not missed that much and therefore not found out. The Hitler devotee David Irving, however, definitely has been exposed in this book as a cheat, charlatan and indefatigable liar by the patient detective work of Richard J. Evans and his team. Irving would not be much missed either, although I doubt that he will easily go away. Guilt and shame are not part of his character.
Most people will believe that they know about the circumstances that occasioned this book. Evans chides those sections of the media that misunderstood the situation. It was Irving, contrary to many accounts, who instigated the libel action against the publishers of Deborah Lipstadt's (1994) Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and Memory. To their great credit, Penguin did not capitulate before his libel action threats. They engaged a legal team to defend Lipstadt's claims in her book that Irving was one of those, and a very prominent and poisonous one, who had falsified and manipulated the historical record about the Holocaust to serve his ideological commitment to fascism, antisemitism and Hitler's memory. It was not, therefore, Irving who was the victim of those out to get him--but this did not stop him constantly presenting the case publicly in that light. Evan's book is an account of the case. It includes his devastating investigations of Irving's work as a popularising ficto-historian and some comments on the nature of historical investigation.
Those claiming to have been libelled--that is defamed, lowered in the esteem in the eyes of that legal fiction, the reasonable man--are in a strong position in English law. To make defamatory statements in good faith is not a defence as everyone rich enough to use the law courts is deemed to have a good reputation until proven otherwise. At the end of the book, Evans calls for a long overdue change in the English libel laws. The only defence open to Penguin Books was to prove the overall accuracy of Lipstadt's claim and thereby discredit Irving as a historian. Lipstadt was not asked to appear in court by the defence and Irving did not subpoena her. The central issue was Irving's claim to be a historian of integrity.
Richard Evans, Professor...