Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero

On a scale of 1 (fie!) to 10 (huzza!)

5
5

Book Review: Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna (Crown Publishing: 2018).

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As a fan of Dr. Joseph Warren and having researched him thoroughly for my own two Revolutionary War books,[1] I was interested to see what new research was offered in Founding Martyr. The book’s introduction repeatedly declares this is Warren’s “untold story,” that “Warren has largely escaped attention,” and the back cover proclaims that “Little has been known about . . . Warren.”

In fact, much is known. Di Spigna’s book is the now the fifth Warren biography,[2] with the most recent one extensively researched by Samuel A. Forman and published at the end of 2011. (Full disclosure: in the course of researching my own books, I’ve become well acquainted with Forman. He did not, however, play any role in producing this review.)

Besides the many eyebrow-raising claims of the short introduction, if we judge not its content, the book is overall well written. The book flows chronologically and runs through Warren’s life as you would expect: from boyhood, to Harvard student, to his rise as a successful Boston physician, and then to influential political and Revolutionary leader. A few episodes are glossed over, such as Warren’s possible struggle with money prior to the Revolution, and his suspected engagement to Mercy Scollay. But the problems with this book are not readability. It is the content’s accuracy that is most vital in any nonfiction book. And a good nonfiction must present its subject objectively, which leads to the first problem.

Bolstering Warren’s importance
There are many cases of this, but here are three examples just from the introduction alone, each of which attempt to conflate Warren’s importance to the war with that of George Washington.

On page 3 (note that page numbers may be slightly different in the final publication): “Warren . . . was also an icon of military heroism. The newly appointed general George Washington admired and longed to emulate his battlefield heroics.” Warren was not a military icon but a political one, though he died a martyr in battle. Washington had no such longing.

On page 4: Di Spigna claims Warren “operated an intricate spy ring,” though no source, including his own book, supports this. Di Spigna adds that “Warren mastered this dangerous chess game of intrigue and deceit before General Washington’s famous spy network.” In three other places, Di Spigna labels Warren a spymaster. Yet Warren had no spies. Sure, Boston did have what is the modern equivalent of “If you see something, say something,” but the moniker of “spymaster” implies the utilization of espionage and intelligence tradecraft, trained undercover operatives in the enemy’s ranks, etc. Warren was no spymaster, and Di Spigna provides no evidence to support the claim.

On page 5: Di Spigna calls Washington’s “martial exploits to that point [1775] to be questionable at best. . . . By contrast, Warren had fought in several battles.” Warren had done little fighting in the opening battle of April 19, 1775, was only witness to a few skirmishes afterwards, and played a volunteer role at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, where he died. Meanwhile, Washington fought in several battles in the French and Indian War. He was on the losing side of most of them, but he led men into battle, and at Monongahela, saved the retreat. Washington’s martial experience was unquestionably much greater than Warren’s.

This is just the introduction, and these sorts of poor comparisons are repeated in various places in the book. Consequently, it demonstrates that the author’s passion for his subject has rendered him unable to remain objective. It colors the entire book’s perspective, and may very well be the source of the next problem.

Undeserved bias against the British
Revolutionary War books of the early 1800s commonly follow the maxim “history is written by the victors.” That is, they are unabashedly pro-American to a fault while turning the British into one-dimensional villains and emphasizing dubious claims to make them appear more villainous. Modern histories are generally pretty good at being balanced. Di Spigna’s book is not.

While this perspective colors any mention of the British, the strongest examples are around acts of violence. For instance, for the Boston Massacre, it is well documented that the British did not take deliberate aim and fire into the crowd (despite what Paul Revere’s famous propaganda engraving depicts). Yet Di Spigna, in his quick summary of the event (p. 108), perpetuates the myth: “The soldiers retaliated by firing into the crowd.” This is not an accurate portrayal.

But the most egregious failure in this bias against the British is in the telling of the death of Warren. And to paint the British in the worst possible light, Di Spigna also resorts to another major failing.

Lack of scholarly judiciousness
At the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, Warren was killed by a gunshot to the face, which blasted out the back of his head. On this, Di Spigna fails to draw upon the wealth of new research in Forman’s biography and thus gives little attention to the fatal shot. That fatal shot, it turns out, was likely from an officer’s pistol. I assume Di Spigna did use photographs of Warren’s skull as a reference, but even these are not cited.

Di Spigna is more interested in what supposedly happened after Warren was dead, claiming (p. 187) “a British solider stormed up to him and ‘immediately [stabbed] him through the body’ with his bayonet.” Di Spigna’s only citation is the London Evening Post, July 13-16, 1776. The battle was in 1775. Such a source, an ocean away, a year later, from no eyewitness, is exceptionally dubious.

It gets worse (p. 188 ff.): “a small group of seething redcoats circled the body of the ‘murdered worthy . . . Doctr. Warren’ . . . . His Majesty’s executioners repeatedly bayoneted his corpse in a violent butchering. Lt. James Drew of the Royal Navy, it was later claimed, returned to the redoubt, walked over to Warren’s body, and spat in his face before cutting ‘off his head and commit[ing] every act of violence upon his Body.’” Di Spigna adds that Warren was tossed in a shallow grave then dug back up so British officers could see “physical proof of his death” and that Warren’s body was continuously mutilated for some time thereafter. Other bodies were buried quickly, lest they “fall prey to rats, which were already gnawing voraciously at the slain.”

That’s one sensationalized story! But it is all likely false, rats included.

There are no citations to substantiate the repeated mutilations of Warren. And nothing to support Warren being buried and then dug back up for the officers. Only the quote about a navy man cutting off Warren’s head is indeed cited, but it comes from a rumor reported to John Adams a month and a half later. Since no credible sources report such a beheading, the rumor must be deemed dubious.

But let’s look closely at the source of the rumor. It’s Abigail Adams’s July 31, 1775 letter to John Adams in the Massachusetts Historical Society, which reads:[3] “the [sav]age wretches call’d officers consulted together and agreed to sever his Head from his body, and carry it in triumph to Gage.” Di Spigna used only part of the rumor, ignoring that the head was supposedly taken to Gen. Gage in Boston. He ignores it because it makes no sense. Certainly, the burial detail led by Lieutenant Laurie makes no mention of this, as Laurie recognized Warren, presumably by his face. (Laurie’s private letter, in which he had no reason to avoid such details, is even cited by Di Spigna.) And Warren’s head was present when he was exhumed and identified by his teeth a year later.

Simply put, Di Spigna cherry-picked sources to make a sensational but fictional account of Warren’s demise and to paint the British in the worst possible light. Since part of the rumor is false, all of it is likely so. Without other support, it should have been excluded.

Having researched the latter part of Warren’s life for my own two books, there were many other minor claims that I immediately thought unlikely. To name a few: Warren wore a wig (p. 122; unlikely and unsupported: Washington did not, many others did not); Warren carried pistols and a Bible to the Battle of Bunker Hill (p. 15, 183; uncited, except for the pistols, which is wrongly cited to a different event in 1774); Warren’s wife wore a bracelet woven from his hair (citing an 1857 newspaper); and Warren had five children rather than the four all other history books report, claiming that one died.[4]

Had Di Spigna relied more on the work that preceded him, he may have avoided some of these pitfalls.[5] But that brings us to the final problem.

Academic deception
Di Spigna’s introduction concludes (p. 8) that his is “the first completely nonfiction book writing about Dr. Joseph Warren in almost sixty years.” When I read this, I rushed to the bibliography: Di Spigna ignores Samuel Forman’s extensive 2011 biography Dr. Joseph Warren. With only four previous biographies, how can one ignore the most comprehensive study to date? But Di Spigna’s words aim to deceive (“first completely nonfiction”), because Forman’s book has a single chapter (15) that gives a hypothetical interaction.[6] Forman is twice explicit that that episode is fiction, and the remainder of Forman’s book is nonfiction and richly researched. But Di Spigna (p. 222), in his only explicit reference, dismisses Forman’s book because he claims it “shifts between nonfiction and fiction.”

It is entirely acceptable to write a book without referencing another book on the subject, and would make sense for a biography on, say, George Washington, given the hundreds of books that have come before. It involves replicating the research of course. Yet, to position a new biography as the most definitive while dismissing another as fiction, and to declare no biographies have been published for sixty years is not true. And it appears to be an intentional decision to deceive, as it is repeated in various forms in several places, including the marketing material.

Beyond this dismissal, there is quite a bit of overlap between Di Spigna’s book and Forman’s, and while Di Spigna’s Amazon page claims he worked on his research for twenty years, there appears to be some instances where Di Spigna draws upon Forman’s work without citation.

The one that I am certain of is in the notes (p. 273-274), where Di Spigna writes at length about Sally Edwards, a possible mistress of Warren’s. The first wide publication of this is in Forman, 185. Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill (Viking, 2013) cites Forman’s work and furthers the argument that Warren did indeed have such a mistress, and that Warren got her pregnant. Di Spigna spends almost a page refuting this argument and is clearly responding to this discussion by Forman and Philbrick, but refers to them only generically in his last line: “neither side of the argument has irrefutable proof.” Why does he not cite their work, if only to refute it?

Summary
We may be inclined to chalk these errors up to amateurishness, but there seems to be an overt effort to make Warren more important, more the hero, and then make his death more tragic than it was. This heavily tilts the perspective, but the book also contains examples of poor scholarship and rumors presented as facts. I cannot recommend this book. If you wish for a better account of Dr. Joseph Warren, consult Samuel A. Forman’s Dr. Joseph Warren (2011).

 

[1] Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775 (Sourcebooks, 2015) and its sequel The War Before Independence: 1775-1776 (Sourcebooks, 2016).

[2]Alexander Everett’s Life of Joseph Warren edited by Jared Sparks (New York: Harper and Bros., 1856), republished in James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 10:91 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1888); Richard Frothingham’s Life and Times of Joseph Warren (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1865); John Cary’s Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot (Urbana Ill.: Univ of Illinois Press, 1961); and Samuel A. Forman’s Dr. Joseph Warren (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 2011).

[3]There is one other report of the rumor: Benjamin Hichborn to John Adams, November 25 and December 10, 1775, also in the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It too is unsubstantiated and appears a half a year later, but was perhaps worth an endnote. The real problem is that Di Spigna utilizes no judiciousness in considering the rumor, and simply declares the rumor as fact. There were many false rumors in the Boston Revolution story that ended up being.

[4]The fifth child argument is different than the occasional theory that Warren had a secret love child with Sally Edwards, proposed as possible in Forman 185, then championed in Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill (Viking, 2013) 102, who cites Forman. In Di Spigna (pp. 76, 90, 114, 126, 129), he argues that the children were Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary who dies early, Richard, and another Mary. This is the first claim of a Mary who died to my knowledge, and Di Spigna fails to make any case. He cites the Brattle Street Church baptismal records, which I am well versed in. Previous historians have all agreed that, since the other children are listed in those records but Mary is listed twice and Richard is not, that the second one must have been a typo and was Richard. This seems most likely. Di Spigna does not back up his claim, assuming that since Mary was listed twice, there must have been two of them, but without comment on why there was no Richard listed, particularly given his baptism should’ve been around the time of that second Mary entry.

[5]Forman also maintains an online repository of Warren primary sources.

[6]A fictional account between Warren and Mrs. Margaret Gage, wife of the British General Thomas Gage.

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11 Comments

  • One should be careful in reading Forman’s book, as it is not a pure biography. It is speculative on numerous occasions regarding Warren’s actions and intent. Still, it is well researched and probably the most definitive review of the man to date. I studied it carefully attempting to try to identify his intelligence activities regarding Gage’s inter circle, and while I found some clues regarding his access, I am still no closer to identifying his source(s). Was he a “spy master”? Really depend upon your definition of the term, which certainly varies between the public and professionals.

  • It is more conclusive if a writer has two unrelated observations to confirm any fact. Historians tend to use this “rule” as a means to criticize and lessen the work. Just because two people report something does not make it true, particularly in battle. Two sources are only used to cover historians reputations. We do not know what we do not know yet. Let someone document the first report and see what history brings…..

  • I am very interested in spy craft and read Founding Martyr hoping to learn about the earliest American intelligence networks. I enjoyed DiSpigna’s book and learned much about the man and Boston but not much detail about the network itself. Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride remains my favorite book concerning the workings of the intelligence network. I was curious at the harsh criticism Founding Martyr was subjected to in the Journal’s review so I took reviewer Beck’s recommendation and started Forman’s Dr Joseph Warren to see if I could find more detail about Warren as a “spymaster.”
    Here is what I found in Beck’s recommendation. What follows is Forman’s description of the “most likely scenario” for Warren’s intelligence that led to the decision to call out the militia. I quote Forman’s account of the imagined meeting between Warren and his source, the wife of the British governor, Margaret Gage. After an exchange of Shakespearian quotes the meeting continues:

    ….Warren stepped forward involuntarily to reassure her, but he knew not how. He was standing much closer than was decent for a man not her husband, for a doctor, for a social inferior.

    “Reason will lead the heart to the right place.” He was unsure of what he was saying. It was an unaccustomed sentiment for him.

    Margaret Gage blushed; he imagined at the physicality of their nearness and words about the heart.
    He imagined that she might grow angry at him. What business did he have to reference parts of the body, parts of her body, aside from the realm of physic?

    Warren flashed on the fulsome contents of her corset, which he knew in such anatomical detail. Her body contained the secret life force of the beating heart. The doctor felt almost as if he could see through her, her anatomy, her thoughts, and her forbidden attraction to him! ……

    Leaving Forman I add my own comment here-Given his fanaticized X-ray vision, I don’t think I will go to Dr Forman in a professional capacity. Calling upon his medical training Forman speculates on Warren’s and Margaret’s physical transformations that resulted in the American Revolution: Back to Forman:

    …But “the heart has its reasons which reason itself knows not.” Humors, long denied, were screaming to be intermixed—the sanguinary and the phlegmatic melding with hydraulic force into the seminal.
    It was an attraction of opposites. Cold and indifferent surfaces steeled to maintain imperviousness to differing class, were turned in unnatural circumstance to powerfully attract one another…….

    I stopped reading soon after and took a cold shower in hope of quelling my sanguinary and phlegmatic humors lest I succumb to their hydraulic force. Intelligence networks can apparently be founded upon cold and indifferent surfaces and history can be turned, according to Forman and Beck, subject to such unnatural circumstances.

  • I grew up with Dr. Joseph Warren: my father and brother were named for him, his dressing table, candle stand, and medicine chest were in our living room and copies of the Copley portrait and Trumbull’s Death of General Warren hung on our wall. I was thrilled whenever his important role in America’s founding was recognized–from President Reagan’s inauguration speech to Dr. Samuel Forman’s 2012 work Dr. Joseph Warren.

    Founding Martyr by Christian DiSpigna, a summa cum laude Columbia University graduate in history, represents a ground-breaking historiographical approach to Warren. With the skills of a professionally trained historian, DiSpigna reveals a stunning new vision of this mysterious and fascinating man. Warren is mysterious because so few primary sources remain from which to analyze his life. His early death at 34, intentional destruction of personal papers, and later house fires left few documents for historians.

    With his exhaustive 20 year search of primary sources to fill in many blank pages of Warren’s life, DiSpigna has made an invaluable contribution to early American history. Such discoveries include additional facts as well as corrections to previously held beliefs. For example, DiSpigna’s comprehensive and thoroughly documented research reveals that Warren did not dispatch Dawes and Revere on their historic rides from the Green house on Hanover Street as formerly believed. DiSpigna discovered that it was in fact from a house owned by a neighbor named Chardon. His biography is filled with such discoveries that the reader will find fascinating but tellingly ignored in this JAR review.

    How does a historian deal with errors found in an earlier work? He can challenge each fact one by one in a polemical argument that quickly becomes personal, opinionated and unappealing to a general audience. Or the historian can present his facts, and his interpretations of those facts, and let his analysis stand on its own merits. DiSpigna evidently chose the latter, opting to present his own narrative and not explicitly pointing out significant errors found in an earlier author’s work. In fact, DiSpigna explicitly praises Forman’s book as “extensively researched” and “more informative that previous works,” professional courtesies deceptively ignored in this review. As a trained historian, DiSpigna stuck to the standards of his discipline and eschewed filling empty portions of the record with digressions into the genre of historical romance.

    It is unfortunate that Derek Beck’s review posted in JAR and other on-line sites fails to approach DiSpigna’s book in light of its own merits and contributions to history. Rather his review is in comparison to an earlier, personally favored work. As an established scholar, Beck’s omission in this review of a single one of the abundant new revelations about Warren and numerous corrections to errors in previously published works is inexplicable. One is drawn to conclude either partiality or a lack of familiarity with the subject for the exclusions. Unlike DiSpigna, the reviewer chooses to cavil about interpretative minutiae that are of little interest or benefit to the reader and does little service to the understanding of Joseph Warren. JAR readers expect and deserve reviews that do not disparage, quibble or disregard positive aspects of one work in order to aggressively shill for another author.

    Both DiSpigna and Forman have made considerable contributions to Warren scholarship and both authors should be recognized as having advanced his story. What is required is a professional dialectic that will benefit history and contribute to Warren’s memory, not a petty squabble. No one person has title to his legacy. I hope subsequent reviewers conduct themselves accordingly.

  • For many years I have had a strong interest in the incidents that happened in Boston in the 1770s. I have read many wonderful books on this time period and DiSpigna’s, Founding Martyr, is no exception. I was surprised by such a negative review by Dereck Beck who is also an author.

    In Founding Martyr, I learned a lot of new information about Dr. Joseph Warren and his family. And I have read two other biographies of Warren and also Fischer’s, Paul Revere’s Ride. I thought DeSpigna did very thorough research and disproved some past hypotheses about Dr. Warren and he found many of his lost letters and items including a piece of his lost doctor’s journal. Christopher Monk is not generally known as the last victim of the Boston Massacre and Warren treated Monk in this missing journal. I also was unaware of Dr. Warren’s connection to John Wilkes. It’s an old habit from my school days to read through the footnotes and I’m very glad I read through these because they were packed with a lot of very good information. In fact, I found myself wondering why some of those footnotes were not in the narrative.

    The information on the mourning jewelry was a nice addition also. My grandmother had a mourning ring from her grandmother that I remembered from when I was a child. (The review never did mentionDr. Warren’s ring.)

    I particularly enjoyed the last few chapters, which really brought the book home for me. I’m not in the habit of throwing in my two cents to others, but this review seemed unreasonably harsh on a book that was this informative and had a lot of new discoveries about a man who does not get much credit in the history books. I would recommend that people with an interest in this time period or in Dr. Joseph Warren read Founding Martyr.

    I read at the beginning of the review that Dereck Beck is friends with Dr. Samuel Forman, who himself wrote a biography about Dr. Joseph Warren, which I read several years ago. I can’t help but think that there was an obvious bias since Dereck Beck repeats throughout his review that Forman’s book is better. That’s not an impartial review from an author. And several claims in Beck’s review seem inaccurate. For instance, Di Spigna does include the text of the Abigail Adams letter referencing Warren’s head that Beck claims he does not. So that was a head scratcher for me.

    In the end let the reader decide. For me personally, Founding Martyr, is the most informative and detailed account on Dr. Joseph Warren currently out there and a must read. Definite Huzzah!

  • Glad I came back to the comments after the review, I was excited when this book came out initially but the 5 out of 10 made me hesitant.

    Almost need to do away with the Rating system and leave it up to the Author of the article and the Commentators to decide. Will definitely be picking this one up!

  • Greetings all. I appreciate the comments. Sincerely, I do. Even those comments that do not agree with my review. I am happy to carry on a discourse so long as that discourse remains civil and professional. JAR should be a place for critical thinkers, and I am happy to have you here.

    Before I begin, let me say that, after reading the book, it was with some reluctance that I gave it a review at all. But it had been requested of me and so I obeyed. It was certainly not my desire to give a less than stellar review from the onset. I genuinely am a fan of Warren and would have liked very much for this book to have been beyond reproach. Yet I also believe the book’s issues are noteworthy enough to be stressed and highlighted, and are important enough to weigh down the score accordingly. The weight of these issues is contestable, of course, but I believe that my argument is solidly grounded.

    Which is why I cannot help but notice that none of the comments actually argue against my four categories of issues with Di Spigna’s book (bias for Warren, bias against the British, lack of scholarly judiciousness, academic deception). That is the crux of the review, and the real subject of any ensuing debate.

    Instead, several of the comments resort to logical fallacies such as red herring (e.g. one comment redirects the focus to a review of Forman’s book), appeals to authority (e.g. Di Spigna is an expert because he graduated from Columbia), and a few gentle ad hominem attacks (e.g. bypassing my central arguments by referring to the review as petty squabbles).

    Interestingly, Mr. Wildrick dismisses the entire debate as “cavil about interpretative minutiae” before preceding to give just one minutia of his own (Warren’s house was adjacent to where historians had thought) to justify the book as “a ground-breaking historiographical approach to Warren”. (Another commenter mentions too the mourning ring jewelry, another minor but indeed new find about Warren.) True, I did not list every new minor finding, but I did not list every dubious claim either. (I have several pages of notes, most of which did not make the cut for the final review.) Moreover, I believe the new findings are mostly minor things and are not compelling enough to qualify the book as “ground-breaking”.

    To Mr. Wildrick, you and I have corresponded in the past, and I respect your opinions and service to our country. To be fair, in response to your questioning my impartiality: just as I have disclosed my knowing Mr. Forman (as do you, I believe), your review may have been better served by your disclosing that you provided substantial help to Mr. Di Spigna on his work and that you are thoroughly thanked and acknowledged in his new book as a result. (At least one other commenter has never before posted on this site and is probably also connected.)

    Yes, Mr. Wildrick is correct in that Di Spigna does once explicitly refer to Forman’s book as “extensively researched”, but as I have noted above, Di Spigna also goes to great lengths to proclaim his own book is the first in decades (not true) and Di Spigna readily dismisses Forman’s book as fiction. One could argue Di Spigna is simply inconsistent in his assessment of Forman’s book: well researched yet dismissible.

    More importantly, and left unaddressed by the commenters above, we cannot ignore that Di Spigna draws upon some of Forman’s (and Philbrick’s) arguments without citing him, and this necessarily raises questions of academic honesty. While I’m uncertain if this flaw passes the test for being qualified as plagiarism as one review on Amazon now claims, it does raises suspicions of where else Forman’s work may have been used without citation. In other words, had Di Spigna handled his competition differently, he could have insured his book was beyond reproach. Instead, Di Spigna’s handling of Forman’s work raises serious doubts of academic integrity. (To future authors: always cite your sources, even if they are competitors. Citations are free and easy to give. And in some cases, your competition will freely share information with you if they’ve already published.)

    In contrast to the above comments on what “JAR readers expect and deserve”, I believe a book positioned as a definitive biography, a book that could serve to influence future books, deserves to be challenged when it has serious issues such as those in the four categories I have identified. This book review can thereby serve at least as a counterpoint to some of the dubious information and inform future authors so that they may be more judicious on the topic. That is, I believe a JAR review in particular, in comparison to any other outlet’s book review, has a duty to examine the content and give fair notice to future historians when a book contains dubious or debatable information.

    But to be fair, a “5” is not such a terrible review really, and part of the calculus in giving it this middle score was that the book is rather well written, which I freely admit at the beginning of the review. It seems some are taking umbrage to the review having not amplified some of the positive traits of the book, or the weight I give to the negatives. That is fair argument and certainly contestable. But whatever weight you the reader give to the four issue categories I have identified, the issues still remain bona fide issues, and thus deserve to be made known. And yes, I have given strong weight to these issues when deciding that I cannot recommend the book. Others (at least impartial others) may find these issues not serious enough and still wish to buy the book. This review (just one among a sea of reviews) is merely a perspective, though supported by many facts, and it remains up to the reader to decide.

  • Let me state at the outset that I do not know any of the authors, reviewers, or other commentators. I’m responding, in part, because Mr. Beck also left a comment on my response, which by the way is still incorrect. This will be my last commentary on this forum because I refuse to engage with this type of biased reviewer. Let me explain.

    In his Amazon review of Founding Martyr, Beck states that in his JAR review “(the editors there gave a slightly higher score than I wanted, hence the discrepancy)” Beck initially rated Founding Martyr a 3, but now states “But to be fair, a “5” is not such a terrible review really.” This is where Beck lost my trust. You can’t pick and choose which forum is more expedient to try and now appear unbiased against the author after writing such negative comments and rating the book a 3. Blaming the editors for giving a higher score and then claiming you gave that score is misleading and not forthright.

    The bias becomes evident again at the end of Beck’s Amazon review when he states that he was “Surprised at all the relatively positive reviews staged by Amazon Vine” and that “The reviews are written mostly without knowledge of the content.” Once again Beck is condescending towards other reviewers claiming Amazon staged reviews. This is both insulting and ridiculous.

    Ultimately Beck’s clear bias negates this entire review for me. His four argument claim is a matter of opinions without real evidentiary support, which he is of course entitled to, but Beck does this throughout the review. Also I noticed Philbrick endorsed Founding Martyr, but Beck claims “academic dishonesty” against Philbrick and Forman. Puzzling at the least.

    Actual Book Reviews for JAR should not be written by friends of “competing” works or by people who disparage other reviewers and commentators, of which Mr. Beck is accountable on both fronts and one he readily admits to.

    Naturally, I expect Mr. Beck will try to explain his inconsistencies and biases but there are too many to entertain. But, that’s just my opinion. Again I encourage readers to pick up both books and judge for themselves, which I have said from the very beginning. Mr. Beck should follow his own advice and keep it civil. Again, just my opinion.

  • I believe the former commenter has misread or misinterpreted what I wrote. I commented at Amazon that I was surprised that so many reviews were “staged” as in “placed” ahead of publication. Amazon does not generally allow reviews until a book is published, the exception being through the Amazon Vine program. So my comment was to express that I was surprised that some 20ish reviews were released before publication, before the common public was able to review.

    As for the score, there was quite a lot of deliberate discussion by the editors and I on how to logically come up with a number, and the review was published before we finalized this discussion. In the past, it was sort of an afterthought and arbitrary. We wanted to do better, and to come up with some logical system behind it, and essentially broke the book down by writing style, technical accuracy, and innovation. Because the book was well written, despite its problems, and because it does have the overall story of Warren mostly well-recorded, we arrived at a 5. The logic behind the number system is not perfect, but it is hoped that it is at least less subjective than in previous reviews.

    But again, we are discussing review methodology rather than the substance of the review–the problems I’ve identified that prevented the book from a higher rating.

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