x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Footnotes: History in the faking

The historian Orlando Figes owns up to writing favourable reviews of his own work while disparaging his rivals on Amazon.

Orlando Figes was deeply moved by his own book.
Orlando Figes was deeply moved by his own book.

Although the anonymity of the internet can be a blessing, for others the temptations it poses can be a little too much. Such was the case for Orlando Figes, the contemporary British historian who has admitted to posting favourable reviews of his own work on Amazon under a pseudonym, while disparaging his rivals. Figes' 2008 book The Whisperers was, according to a certain reviewer, "a rich and deeply moving history", while works by fellow historians were, according to the same pundit, "dense and pretentious" and "an awful book".

When challenged about the reviews, Figes' lawyer denied all involvement before threatening legal action. Hours later, Figes stated that it was his wife who had published the reviews. Finally, following a week of media intrusion and unfavourable headlines, the historian came clean, saying: "I have made some foolish errors and apologise wholeheartedly to all concerned." He added: "Some of the reviews were small-minded and ungenerous, but they were not intended to harm."

It all seems fantastically childish, a modern version of writing nasty things on the blackboard before class. Someone, though, should have told him to choose a better pseudonym: some of the comments were published under the moniker "orlando-birkbeck" (he is professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London). We can safely assume that MI5 will not be requiring his services.