I know I'm in a dwindling group, but I love a good literary takedown. Give me one big-name author taking the piss very publicly out of another big-name author in a book review and I'm basically a pig in shit.
The literary takedown is a disappearing subgenre of book review. Readers don't seem to have the stomach for them anymore, and publicists will likely blackball a reviewer who takes too hard a hand in their review. And yes, the subgenre has been used too much, and for some truly heinous purposes, in years past.
However, I have to call your attention to Winner Take All author Anand Giridharadas's review of the new Jared Diamond book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. Giridharadas isn't just calling out Diamond for a difference in their opinions — though there certainly are many of those — but he also cites multiple errors on Diamond's part, acccusing him of laziness and bringing the receipts to prove it.
But even if you don't want to read a takedown right now — maybe you're feeling too tender, or maybe you prefer to remember Jared Diamond at the height of his Guns Germs and Steel powers — there is still a paragraph in Giridharadas's review that I think everyone should read. It calls out the publishing industry for a practice that has gone on for far too long:
There is also a systemic issue here. The time has come for those of us who work in book-length nonfiction to insist that professional fact-checking become as inalienable from publishing as publicity, marketing and jacket design — and at the publisher’s expense rather than as a cost passed on to the author, who, understandably, will often choose to spend her money on health care. In the age of tweets, it cannot be the fate of the book to become ever more tweetlike — maybe factual, maybe whatever. The book must stand apart, must stand above.
Yes! Most people are shocked to learn that nonfiction books are not fact-checked, or they are fact-checked on the author's dime. As Giridharadas points out, this embarrassing practice does nothing but diminish books in a time when books are already being diminished in the cultural discourse. It's time to hold our authors to a higher standard — the same standard that reputable newspapers maintain. Fact-checking for all!