Fact or Fiction in books; who is responsible for published books?

Today as I labored to stay awake at work (my job is really boring) I caught up on some NPR podcasts. A subject came up that I thought was worth talking about here. Well really it is more of a question I want to pose to you all: Do you expect Publishers to take the time to vet nonfiction stories, especially when they are controversial. Do you hold them accountable when “nonfiction” turns out to be fiction?
By now you may know Henry Holt Publishing has pulled Charles Pellegrino’s book The Last Train from Hiroshima because it turns out the focus of the book Joseph Fuoco was a fraud (Fuoco is now deceased). Turns out Fuoco was not on the plane that escorted the Enola Gay. What tipped them off was his comment about the bomb. According to Fuoco an accident happened before they took off that depleted the power of the bomb. Can you imagine? The bomb was not as powerful as it could have been? Scientist and experts cried fraud and an investigation into Fuoco’s involvement ensued. Other characters turned out to be hard to track down so the publisher has decided to pull the book. Now there are questions about why Pellegrino’s work was not looked at a little more closely and why he chose to believer rather than investigate. Pellegrino is not talking right now, so it is hard to know if he chose to believe or if he knew all along he was writing fiction.
Henry Holt is taking responsibility as far a selling the book goes, but will not take responsibility for vetting the book. They say they do not have the time or man power to fact check books they offer as nonfiction. Several other publishers are saying the same. So the question comes up; why not take responsibility? After all they sell us a book as nonfiction, so why not take responsibility when what they sell us turns out to be a lie? Are they not then frauds themselves when they put their name on something that turns out to be nothing more than a good yarn?
Yes, it is hard to vet someone like James Fry who lies about his life, but to have a manuscript that could change the course of history is a different matter. After all it would only take a phone call or two to find out that Fuoco was not part of the military. I bet you could find the answer on Google! And when given a manuscript that disputes over 60 years of history, wouldn’t it be wise and prudent to make sure what you are about to offer is in fact, true?
When I buy a nonfiction book about history I know there may be a mistake, omission or factual error; no one has ever written a definitive history book completely error free. But when I buy a nonfiction book with a first person narrative I expect that person to be credible. I expect a publishing company that puts its name and reputation on a book to have at least made sure this person is who he/she claims to be. At some point an editor should question the author’s facts and supporting evidence.
What about you dear Reader? Do you hold the publishing company responsible for making sure nonfiction is just that, or do you buy into the idea that they do not have the time or man power to make sure what they are selling us is the real deal?
If you want to hear the NPR interview here is the link. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124495774
I am excited to announce my first giveaway is starting to pick up steam. Here is an updated list of the books that I have for the box so far:
Ruth Downie Persona Non Grata
Nick Hrnby How to be Good
M J Rose The Reincarnationist (autographed!)
Susan Abulahawa Mornings in Jenin
As promised I am adding more books for every five new followers.  I appreciate everyone who has joined and those who have spread the word. We have two more weeks, and I have plenty of shipping boxes! Can we get to 50? 100? Hey I would be happy if we saw more people commenting. After all, my goal is to have a community.  I want to hear from you!  

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

3 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction in books; who is responsible for published books?”

  1. While I'm not sure that the publishers SHOULD be held accountable, it's obvious they ARE being held accountable–because they're responsible for pulling the books from the shelves when facts turn out not to be true, and they're the ones who have to eat the loss when those books aren't sold.I don't understand why they don't hire a bajillion interns to do stuff like this. It seems like fact-checking would be a perfect job for an intern (following up on interviews, citations, etc) and it would be cheap labor. There's not really an excuse NOT to check facts, in my opinion.


  2. Yes, Henry Holt did right by pulling the book, but as you point out there could have been an easy fix in the beginning; have interns or copy editors look into his claim before the book was released. I feel they should be held accountable because they make money by selling these books. When I buy anything I expect it to be what it is advertised as. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love book chatter:)


  3. Editorial standards seem to be dropping, these kinds of things seem to be occuring with some regularity, I think it is more than reasonable to expect a degree of honesty. I accept content in non-fiction that may be speculative but I also expect it to be presented in such a way that I know that is what it is. I wouldn't worry to much about comments, for ages I didn't comment on blogs because I felt to shy. And I have just been reading a lot or rather dull and convoluted material on computer mediated communication amongst which included information on how many more people read online discussions, blogs or discussion boards and chat without ever joining in the conversation, it appears shyness even operates in the digital world, even in well established digital communities where members are actually known to each other participation is usually dominated by a few, often hightly confident males. I suspect there are many more readers than you know about. I always read even if I don't always comment or I am a bit behind in catching up.


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