True Story

A Fact-Checking Controversy in Nonfiction News

Happiest of Friday, fellow nonfiction fiends! The weather forecast for this weekend in Minnesota looks pretty rainy, which means I have nothing better to do than hide out in the house with books. I am really excited about that.

This week’s newsletter is a deepish dive into a nonfiction controversy that brings to light one of the dirty little secrets of publishing. After that, I’ve got some Kindle deals you can check out this month!

Sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publishers of Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Linda Hirshman.

Linda Hirshman, acclaimed historian of social movements, delivers the sweeping story of the struggle leading up to #MeToo and beyond: from the first tales of workplace harassment percolating in the 1970s, to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal—when liberal women largely forgave Clinton, giving men a free pass for two decades. And yet, legal, political, and cultural efforts were quietly paving the way for the takedown of abusers and harassers. Reckoning delivers the stirring tale of a movement catching fire as pioneering women in the media exposed the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, women flooded the political landscape, and the walls of male privilege finally began to crack. This is revelatory, essential social history

When You Don’t Understand Old Legal Terms…

Last month, author Naomi Wolf was confronted with an embarrassing mistake at the heart of her new book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, a look at the criminalization of same-sex relationships in the Victorian Era. During an interview about the book, BBC Radio host Matthew Sweet pointed out one major argument was based on a misunderstanding of a legal term from the 1800s. Yikes!

The phrase in question is “death recorded,” which Wolf took to mean execution. On air, Sweet explained that wasn’t correct: “It was a category that was created in 1823 that allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for pardon … I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.” Yikes again!

Since then, Wolf’s publisher has reminded the world that publishers rely on authors to verify their research instead of hiring fact-checkers, and Wolf committed to fact-checking the book on Twitter. That’s a start, although something that major seems like it ought to at least delay publication a bit, right? Three other pieces of note:

I’m not sure if there will be much more to this story or not, but it’s been an interesting one to watch play out via Twitter and other think-pieces. The lesson I take away from it is to always be a little skeptical about what you’re reading, and take some time to peek into the notes section of any nonfiction book – often, the detail an author includes there will give you a good idea about their sources, methods, and reliability.

Cheap Memoirs to Buy Now

To close, a few ebook deals on memoirs that you can take advantage of this month:

While you’re browsing cheap ebooks, check out Book Riot’s Amazon storefront, we’ve put together a selection of our favorite books and bookish stuff for summer!

You can find me on Twitter @kimthedork, on email at, and co-hosting the For Real podcast here at Book Riot. Happy reading! – Kim