Monday, March 16, 2015

"Dreamers and Deceivers" by Glenn Beck (2014) HISTORICAL FICTION

This is not a non-fiction book. But that's where it is being filed in the library and in book stores. It is what is known as “historical fiction” according to Mr. Beck; but that in itself is an overstatement. Historical fiction is a genre in which true events are used as a backdrop for a story. What Mr. Beck does is to take actual people; inventors, politicians and the like; and make up whole conversations and thoughts based solely on what he believes occurred. 

Actually, it is a fiction to think that this book was even written by Mr. Beck. At the end; in the section where even Mr. Beck refers to this work as “historical fiction”; he speaks of the “teams” he used to cull other peoples books and biographies to re-write them in a way which will “clarify” for the reader what the original author really meant.

Reading the chapter about Desi Arnaz is nothing more than reading a book report of Mr. Arnaz’ brilliant autobiography “A Book.” It is the same with all of the other chapters. And some of the source notes for the chapters are really almost funny.  For instance, in the notes on the chapter dealing with Edwin Armstrong; the inventor of the radio receiver which revolutionized Marconi’s wireless, as well as FM radio itself; actually read, “From an imagined conversation.”  I’m not kidding you.

This is a continuation of a troubling trend (nice bit of alliteration there) which began when the book “Dutch” was published several years ago. That book was purported to be an autobiography of Ronald Reagan as imagined by the author, who was not Ronald Reagan.

Rush Limbaugh uses horses that talk in his books “Rush Revere.” That’s okay. Those are children’s books and we all know; or should know; those horses and other animals cannot talk. That’s historical fiction. And it serves a purpose in getting children interested in reading about the actual events later on.

"Gone With the Wind" is a perfect example of historical fiction; wherein real life events serve as the backdrop to a fictitious story. Lincoln and Lee are only names in the film; and Shiloh and Gettysburg are merely names of distant battles.“Shogun” and any other number of other books also come to mind. None of which contain real people doing and saying anything. While the King may be real in “A Prince and a Pauper”, we know that the book is fiction. It is labelled that way. Even in “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”, by Pierre Boulle; which is a fictional tale about the real bridge; the author uses fictional names for the characters. (By the way, Boulle also wrote "The Planet of the Apes.")

Books like this one by Mr. Beck do a great disservice to serious history; as they will be read largely by adults who will then not read the books written by the original authors and biographers who have already carefully chronicled the true events. And, naturally, fans of Mr. Beck's TV show will be taking his books to be the "gospel" on the subjects they purport to be about. That's troubling. Also, consider the younger readers who will take this book to be all fact..

What troubles me most though is that the real stories no longer seem to be of interest to the average reader. The books have to be suggested by Oprah; or else re-written by "talking heads" like Mr. Beck. Certainly there is an agenda at work in these projects. And, even with a team of researchers and writers, Mr. Beck's book has Neil Armstrong broadcasting from the surface of the Moon in 1968. For the benefit of those who might not be old enough to remember, we didn't land there until 1969. With an error like that, how am I to trust him in the chapter about something as complicated as the Alger Hiss case?

Having a team of researchers distill the essence of other people’s writings and experiences; while adding conversations and motives not attributable to any real source other than “imaginary”; only serves to slant history and dumb the reader down. I will be asking my library to please file these types of books under Fiction, where they clearly belong. This is not just my opinion. Even the author says so on page 285. 

While the author has the perfect right to pen whatever he chooses to, he also has the responsibility to see that the book is not misrepresented as something it is not. While Mr. Beck may be blameless; leaving the publisher at fault initially; surely Mr. Beck noticed that his book was listed and reviewed as Non- Fiction rather than Historical Fiction, and yet chose to do nothing about it. 

Note: Having read almost all of the books referenced in "Dreamers and Deceivers", I was unable to finish reading this one. I made it to the end of Chapter 2 before looking at the source notes and confirming my suspicions that this is merely a collection of highly imaginative book reports. I then skimmed through the remainder of the book, which did not improve in regards to being "imagined history" rather than a collection of true biographical sketches.

However, the book is registered with the Library of Congress as a Biography; and I have registered my concerns with them about whether or not this book should even be classified as Non-Fiction, let alone as Biography. 

Here is the reply I received last Tuesday from the Library of Congress. It would appear that the book was presented by the Publisher as something which it is not.

"The original record (you see it as Cataloging in Publication Data printed on the copyright page of the book) is created pre-publication based on the minimal information provided by the publisher.  Hopefully we got the cover info, title page, copyright page, table of contents, preface, and first chapter.  We did not have page 285.  If you look at our record, one of the summaries provided by the publisher says, "The new nonfiction from #1 bestselling author and popular radio and television host Glenn Beck" and the other says, "Glenn Beck provides stories of the people who built America and the people who sought to destroy it." The table of contents provides chapter titles that show no sign of fiction.*  So to say the book is "so poorly cataloged" isn't exactly correct based on what the publisher provided to LC.  It is difficult enough to catalog with minimal information and the publisher providing incorrect information will be reflected in what you see."

David Williamson
Cataloging Automation Specialist
Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20540

* The original e-mail from Mr. Williamson stated "non-fiction" here in error. It was corrected later by a subsequent e-mail from him. For the sake of brevity I have inserted and highlighted the correction.

End Note: I have contacted the publisher; Simon and Schuster; about this issue and as of this writing they have chosen not to respond.

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