can't write, can't think Apr 29, 2012
“That’s not a very good book,” said the man in the Albuquerque airport. “I’ve read it, and it’s not very good.”
How this long, dull, rambling, poorly-written tome ever found a publisher is baffling. Herman can’t write, and he certainly can’t think.
According to Herman, Adam Smith studied at Oxford for seven years and “found nothing of value there (p. 198).” It is impossible for anyone, let alone Adam Smith, to spend seven years at Oxford and find nothing of value there. Does Herman even reread his own sentences?
“This is the Adam Smith with whom we are all familiar (p. 218);” does Herman really not realize that most of the people on earth have probably never even heard of Adam Smith?
“A watershed had been passed, and everyone knew it (p. 225).” Nonsense. First, whether or not a “watershed had been passed” is a matter of opinion; second, almost no one probably knew it; and third, what on earth does “passing a watershed” even mean?
What most people call “checks and balances” in American government is labeled “gridlock” by Herman, who also calls it Madison’s “dirty little secret (p. 260).” This is just bizarre.
Herman doesn’t seem to know when he’s exaggerating, or else he doesn’t care about using words correctly. He describes July 4, 1776, as “world-shattering (p. 226).” No, the world wasn’t shattered. “ . . . the Highlands emptied itself of people (p. 232).” No, many people left the Highlands. That’s not the same.
“None of the great intellectual breakthroughs of those years would have been possible without the incessant give-and-take of after-dinner table talk, (p. 276)” is another sweeping statement Herman can’t prove (no one could think except at a dinner party?), but which is apparently thrown in to add color and drama (he goes on to describe “glittering candles and glowing, ruby-red glasses of sherry and port”).
Higher taxes on alcohol “meant that illegal distilling was the only alternative (p. 276).” No, it wasn’t; people could have paid the taxes, made beer, or not drunk alcohol at all, but Herman either doesn’t think of those, or else wants so desperately to sound dramatic that he doesn’t mind making statements that aren’t true.
“Gripped by patriotic fever, everyone joined the militia (p. 301).” Actually, most people didn’t join the militia, especially the women and children.
Walter Scott’s name “is synonymous with the Highlands . . . (p. 306).” No, it’s not. If it were, “Walter Scott” would mean “the Highlands.”
“ . . . with one stroke” the people who stole the Stone of Scone “reversed the direction of British history (p. 421).” No, they didn’t, and what does that even mean? “The story of the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny---Lia Fail in Gaelic---is in large part the history of Great Britain itself (p. 422).” No, it isn’t, not even close. “Scottish history was starting to come full circle (p. 424)” is another sloppy, meaningless sentence.
Reading Herman’s limp, worn phrases is like breathing stale air: “spread like wildfire . . . (p. 85),” “pure and simple (p. 125)”, “with a vengeance (p. 161),” “Hume’s words must have struck Madison like a hammer blow (p. 260),” “no rhyme or reason (p. 284),” “passages of haunting beauty (p. 298),” “struck a strong nerve (p. 300),” “a steady stream (p. 313),” “would not have been caught dead in them (p. 316),” “sweeping changes (p. 326),” “cut from a heroic mold (p. 331),” “Soldiering was in Charles Napier’s blood (p. 356),” “refuse to lift a finger to save them (p. 357),” knowledge “at his fingertips (p. 391),” “pillars of the local chambers of commerce (p. 396),” “a pillar of the New York community (p. 400),” “grimly determined (p. 403),” “read everything he could get his hands on (p. 403),” “Scotland’s landed families were now pillars [of course!] of Britain’s social and political elite (p. 413).”
Apparently Herman thinks that anachronisms will spice up his tale, including “radical-chic (p. 158),” “economic takeoff (p. 161),” “state of the art (p. 167)”, “Service industries (p. 168),” “affluent urban lifestyle (p. 169,)” “visual data bank (p. 178),” “time warp (p. 232)”, “gridlock (p. 260),” “brinksmanship (p. 289),” readers of Waverly “were blown away by it (p. 309),” “hands-on (pp. 324 and 326),” “quick-and-dirty (p. 326),” all of which are inappropriate to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and simply make Herman a sloppy writer.
One of the most objectionable statements in this book is “It was genocide, pure and simple (p. 125).” No, it wasn’t. King James was angry at the MacGregors, and rewarded those who killed MacGregors, and a year later thirty-six of them were dead, and that’s disgusting. But for Herman to call the deaths of thirty-six men “genocide” is ludicrous, especially when the characteristic that marked them for death was name or clan membership, and not ethnicity. To use a word for the deaths of thirty-six men that is probably most frequently used to refer to the Nazi slaughter is really offensive.
If Herman ever goes to the trouble of writing another book, it would be a relief if he would learn what words mean, and how to use them correctly to tell the truth, instead of attempting to show off while using clichés.