Reviewing “Of Revelatory Histories and Hatchet Jobs”

H-DIPLO has published a review of mine that might be of interest.

They asked me to review R. Gerald Hughes’ “Of Revelatory Histories and Hatchet Jobs: Propaganda and Method in Intelligence History,” Intelligence and National Security, 23:6, (2008), pp. 842-877 which in turn took on Tim Weiner’s book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.

The appearance of the blockbuster book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Washington Post reporter Tim Weiner, has provided a valuable “teachable moment” for historians.  Gerald Hughes’ article shows us that this should have been an obvious fact. Blowing away the smoke surrounding Weiner’s book and its critical reception, Hughes shines a light on the real differences between academic history on the one hand and popular or journalistic history on the other. At the same time he provides a useful warning to intelligence historians and, indeed, all historians who wish to be relevant to the real world.

Hughes’ bracing article proposes to explore certain methodological, epistemological, and presentational issues with regard to intelligence studies. He does this by dissecting—disemboweling might be a better metaphor—Weiner’s book. He makes a convincing case that Weiner has misappropriated the trappings of academic work in a quest for sensation and sales. At the same time, Hughes argues for accessibility in language and the avoidance of jargon, skills which good journalists such as Weiner have in abundance.

Weiner’s thesis is that the CIA has been an unmitigated failure in its most important mission…[See here for the rest.]

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 7:14 PM  Comments (1)  

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  1. Mark,
    This is Tim Weiner. I just stumbled upon your review. I found it dismaying for several reasons, among them being that I enjoyed and respected your work on the Pond. Let’s start with the fact that I am not now nor have I ever been a reporter for the Washington Post. Major blunder, Mark. Let’s continue with the notion that my book is a book, not a newspaper story or a Ph.D. thesis, and should be judged as such. Even “official historians” can concede that it broke quite a bit of new ground with newly declassified CREST documents. Let’s end with the fact that I find your review an example of distortion in the name of ideology. If there is one thing I have learned over the past twenty years, it is that ideology is the enemy of intelligence (in both senses of the word). Examine your own biases first. Why do you think the book was well-reviewed? Why do you think it has sold well around the world? Because it’s a cheap and sensational distortion? Think again, sir.

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