Author Topic: Orlando Figes Scandal  (Read 7193 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Orlando Figes Scandal
« on: July 26, 2010, 08:39:24 AM »
I'm surprised there hasn't been any comment on the recent (spring 2010) scandal surrounding Orlando Figes, the author of many acclaimed works about Russian and Soviet history, also cultural history, including Natasha's Dance, A People's Tragedy and The Whisperers . This is the link:

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/62311,people,news,orlando-figes-caught-in-poison-pen-reviews-row

My only excuse for Figes is that he might be an alcoholic, who posted these poison pen reviews of his colleagues anonymously only because he was thoroughly out of it. On the other hand, most drunks experience remorse and delete what they've written or apologize once the overall stupor has worn off. I can't imagine what Figes thought he was doing as a professor, badmouthing all his "rivals" at the expense of his own scholarly reputation.
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline primrose

  • Boyar
  • **
  • Posts: 103
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2010, 12:14:12 PM »
This is extraordinary, but I have heard of this sort of thing happening on amazon -- and have read several 5* reviews supporting mediocre books in the area of Russian studies which certainly raised my eyebrows -- though not at such a high level of academia. However, having spent much of my life in academic circles I know the level to which some of these people can go to disparage the research of colleagues; jealousy and backbiting is endemic and egos inflate out of all proportion to reality. Alcoholic, narcissistic, paranoid..... take your pick.

I am particularly struck by this as I'm now reading A People's Tragedy and I find it riveting.

In many ways sites like amazon make it relatively easy for an intelligent individual to pull off something like this... when I read 'red flag' reviews I always check back on the reviewer's other reviews, that usually gives an indication of whether they're authentic or not.     

I think if you were to look back at some of the reviews of books that most of us on this site have read and discussed, you'd see a few that would raise an eyebrow.... it can be tempting to disparage the work of another when it is done anonymously.

primrose
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Winston Churchill

Offline Janet Ashton

  • Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 719
  • www.directarticle.org
    • View Profile
    • Direct Article
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2010, 03:29:51 PM »
I'm surprised there hasn't been any comment on the recent (spring 2010) scandal surrounding Orlando Figes, the author of many acclaimed works about Russian and Soviet history, also cultural history, including Natasha's Dance, A People's Tragedy and The Whisperers . This is the link:

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/62311,people,news,orlando-figes-caught-in-poison-pen-reviews-row

My only excuse for Figes is that he might be an alcoholic, who posted these poison pen reviews of his colleagues anonymously only because he was thoroughly out of it. On the other hand, most drunks experience remorse and delete what they've written or apologize once the overall stupor has worn off. I can't imagine what Figes thought he was doing as a professor, badmouthing all his "rivals" at the expense of his own scholarly reputation.

I was also surprised back in April to see that this story didn't get any attention here. It's worth mentioning - as the article you posted doesn't mention it - that Figes came clean and admitted that he and not his wife wrote these reviews. The other historians have subsequently sued him - not for the reviews he wrote but for the threats he made when they said they would expose him, which seem to have caused huge emotional distress to Robert Service, who feared he'd lose his home over the legal action.

Figes claimed that he is suffering from some form of depression which made him do this - whether alcohol is involved he didn't say!

I don't think the row can have done any harm to the sales of the two rivals he targetted, though - it probably brought them to the attention of audiences who had never heard of them before. While I think Figes made a huge mistake in throwing threats around (bullying with his money), the original story of the anonymous reviews is rather petty and seems to have its origins in a long-standing professional feud or two. It's a remarkably infantile thing for a person of his stature to have done, and I doubt they'd have cared if there hadn't been a personal history there alreday.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2010, 03:32:48 PM by Janet Ashton »
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many; they are few.

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2010, 10:58:34 AM »
I'm surprised there hasn't been any comment on the recent (spring 2010) scandal surrounding Orlando Figes, the author of many acclaimed works about Russian and Soviet history, also cultural history, including Natasha's Dance, A People's Tragedy and The Whisperers . This is the link:

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/62311,people,news,orlando-figes-caught-in-poison-pen-reviews-row

My only excuse for Figes is that he might be an alcoholic, who posted these poison pen reviews of his colleagues anonymously only because he was thoroughly out of it. On the other hand, most drunks experience remorse and delete what they've written or apologize once the overall stupor has worn off. I can't imagine what Figes thought he was doing as a professor, badmouthing all his "rivals" at the expense of his own scholarly reputation.

I was also surprised back in April to see that this story didn't get any attention here. It's worth mentioning - as the article you posted doesn't mention it - that Figes came clean and admitted that he and not his wife wrote these reviews. The other historians have subsequently sued him - not for the reviews he wrote but for the threats he made when they said they would expose him, which seem to have caused huge emotional distress to Robert Service, who feared he'd lose his home over the legal action.

Figes claimed that he is suffering from some form of depression which made him do this - whether alcohol is involved he didn't say!

I don't think the row can have done any harm to the sales of the two rivals he targetted, though - it probably brought them to the attention of audiences who had never heard of them before. While I think Figes made a huge mistake in throwing threats around (bullying with his money), the original story of the anonymous reviews is rather petty and seems to have its origins in a long-standing professional feud or two. It's a remarkably infantile thing for a person of his stature to have done, and I doubt they'd have cared if there hadn't been a personal history there alreday.

It's interesting and highly revealing to me that Figes threw his wife under the bus, i.e., blamed the poison pen reviews on her, rather than admitting straightaway that he had written them. This indicates to me that at some level he was aware of how potentially damaging this was to his professional reputation. Of course, you're right, all these so-called reviews stemmed not from scholarly detachment but from Figes's personal vendettas against authors who had criticized him in the past (or in the case of one, won a prize he didn't).

Generally if a review doesn't contain at least one positive comment about the book (because there's usually something good to say about any book - even if only, "the author obviously tried very hard"), then it's not something you should take too seriously. I am just hugely saddened that someone who is such an eminent and talented historian like Figes would have stooped to this kind of behavior, and I can't help but think that depression or alcohol or both must have played some kind of role. This really taints his professional reputation, not to mention his books, for the next generation or more, and it was all so unnecessary!
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam


Offline primrose

  • Boyar
  • **
  • Posts: 103
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2010, 11:32:23 PM »
Hmmm...  after reading the links posted above plus a fascinating one that I found in the Mail archives earlier today

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1268660/How-I-rumbled-lying-professor-The-story-discredited-don-rubbished-rivals-Amazon--left-wife-blame.html

I'd say the chances are good that all three of the suggestions in my post above are on target.

"Oh how the mighty have fallen."

« Last Edit: July 28, 2010, 11:44:32 PM by primrose »
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Winston Churchill

Offline Janet Ashton

  • Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 719
  • www.directarticle.org
    • View Profile
    • Direct Article
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2010, 06:58:42 AM »

Generally if a review doesn't contain at least one positive comment about the book (because there's usually something good to say about any book - even if only, "the author obviously tried very hard"), then it's not something you should take too seriously.

I very much agree with this. I can think of a number of books in the field of Russian history which I am far from being an uncritical fan of - Michael Sullivan's book about Victoria Melita would be an obvious example I mention a lot! - but in that particular case the author at least deserves credit for trying to tackle the subject. I don't know anyone who is impressed by one star reviews or thinks the author of them anything more than a green ink merchant.
(In the case of Michael Sullivan, though, it has to be said that I'm with Primrose in being suspicious of the origin of the FIVE Star reviews on his Amazon page!)
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many; they are few.

Offline Lyss

  • Boyar
  • **
  • Posts: 139
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2010, 01:50:35 PM »
This makes me really sad because I value Figes' books a lot. It's always painfull when the person you look up to turns out to be a man with (quite big) faults. It isn't bad enough that he posted these reviews but blaming it on his wife and later on depression is even worse.
I don't believe for a minute he's suffering from depression, he's just being malignant.
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or stupidity.

Offline Elisabeth

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 2131
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2010, 12:18:59 PM »
This makes me really sad because I value Figes' books a lot. It's always painfull when the person you look up to turns out to be a man with (quite big) faults. It isn't bad enough that he posted these reviews but blaming it on his wife and later on depression is even worse.
I don't believe for a minute he's suffering from depression, he's just being malignant.


Have a heart, Lyss, everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes serious ones, when they're seriously screwed up. I don't think Figes is a bad person by any stretch of the imagination, he just did some bad things. He's not exactly a murderer, now is he?
... I love my poor earth
because I have seen no other

-- Osip Mandelshtam

Offline Belochka

  • Velikye Knyaz
  • ****
  • Posts: 4447
  • City of Peter stand in all your splendor - Pushkin
    • View Profile
Re: Orlando Figes Scandal
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2010, 09:00:41 PM »
This makes me really sad because I value Figes' books a lot. It's always painfull when the person you look up to turns out to be a man with (quite big) faults. It isn't bad enough that he posted these reviews but blaming it on his wife and later on depression is even worse.
I don't believe for a minute he's suffering from depression, he's just being malignant.


Have a heart, Lyss, everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes serious ones, when they're seriously screwed up. I don't think Figes is a bad person by any stretch of the imagination, he just did some bad things. He's not exactly a murderer, now is he?

Despite what Orlando Figes allegedly did, he certainly is a talented writer.

I am looking forward to acquiring his new book about the Crimean War.

Margarita
« Last Edit: September 27, 2010, 09:30:35 PM by Belochka »


Faces of Russia is now on Facebook!


http://www.searchfoundationinc.org/