Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's your limit?

Mine, in this case, was two words.

More to the point, two wrong words.

I was enjoying Jay Winik's American Upheaval, a massive book that deals with US, Russian, and French affairs after the American Revolution - until I got to this line on page 478:
"Ironically, where Jefferson was a magnificent populist, Hamilton was alternatively derided as pseudo-aristocrat (he married Jane Schyler, a daughter of one of America's wealthiest families)..." [emphasis mine]
Um, that would be Elizabeth Schuyler.

After slogging through 477 pages - which were really very interesting, filled with stuff I was mostly unfamiliar with - I slammed the book shut when I read that one mistake*.

Winik managed to get both her first and last names wrong, something I noticed only because I've been intrigued by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton since I first met her in the pages of Founding Mothers. (More about that later.) And there were no chapter notes, just a list of some of the sources consulted for that section - which is fine in some works, but doesn't make me happy when I'm trying to figure out where the author's misinformation came from.

(Further irritation: "Jane Schyler" doesn't appear in the book's index, so relocating the passage in order to rant about it took a little while.)

When I read, I want to have confidence that the author's telling me the truth. And in this case, all it took was two words for me to lose that confidence. Was I too harsh? Should I have continued to assume that the rest of Winik's facts were accurate? How many errors do you put up with before giving up?

Next: Why Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is so fascinating.

*For the record, I was reading the hardcover edition, but The Site That Shall Not Be Named's Search Inside feature confirms that the same words appear in the paperback.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I completely agree - because now you are stuck wondering what else was wrong in the damn book.

I hate it when this happens.s