Judging Mister J (Cont’d)

Published:November 16, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, fires back at his critics in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning. (The article is behind a paywall.)

“This is the language of Ann Coulter,” he says of reviewers who claim he was out to get Jefferson. “If you say things critical, you must hate America. They’re just pulling things from Fox News.”

The scholar Jan Ellen Lewis, who reviewed the book for the Daily Beast, told the Chronicle that Master of the Mountain was

“a disaster. I read the stuff and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.” She accuses him of cherry-picking facts to serve his needs, distorting the historical record in the process: “He makes a cartoon out of Jefferson and a cartoon out of other historians.”

Yours truly was interviewed for the piece:

The critiques by Jefferson scholars, however, have picked apart Mr. Wiencek’s interpretations of the historical record: the legality of a will, the meaning of notes in the margin of a letter, the work of other Jefferson scholars.

Mr. Wolfe finds both types of opinions valid. Yes, it is important that scholars evaluate the work of other scholars, but sometimes he feels they miss the forest for the trees. “I have this sense of scholars playing out vendettas in a way that the readers of the review don’t have full access to,” he says. “Where scholars are attacking little bits of evidence and not looking at the fuller picture.”

Allow me to add that when I spoke of “playing out vendettas,” I was speaking generally and not about this particular book. I don’t want to personalize this argument any more than it already has been.

PREVIOUSLY: I’ve written about Wiencek’s book here and here.

IMAGE: Monticello by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1983)