I’ve had plagiarism on my mind lately, so this news about historian Stephen Ambrose caught my eye.
Ambrose had a long history with the subject. Fortunately, he was called out shortly before he died in 2002 for his habit of repeating things that others had written without putting quotation marks around those things. That’s textbook plagiarism, but because Ambrose more often than not included footnotes that led readers back to the original sources of the words he had appropriated as his own, he did not receive much more than a slap on the wrist from the historical community or from his legions of readers. And lest you think that this problem only cropped up after Ambrose got famous and put together a factory that churned out book after book under his name, you should know that he plagiarized his dissertation and first book. I don’t doubt that a thorough review would show that he plagiarized everything in between, too.
It now appears that Ambrose’s fraud didn’t stop with plagiarism; not only did he appropriate others’ words, he flat out made shit up. And then based his entire, fabulously successful career on that shit he made up. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you own a book with Ambrose’s name on the cover, you should not trust a single word in it.
Maybe Tom Hanks can start making movies based on non-fiction books that contain only non-fiction.