Damn that Stalin! He forced historian Orlando Figes to write sock-puppet reviews trashing books written by other authors.
One of Britain's leading historians, Orlando Figes, is to pay damages and costs to two rivals who launched a libel case after a row erupted over fake reviews posted on the Amazon website.
The award-winning Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London, admitted in April to posting critical reviews of books by a number of authors, including fellow historians Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service, praising his own work and rubbishing that of his rivals.
Initially, Figes denied the allegations, threatening legal action against colleagues, journals and newspapers that suggested he had written the reviews. …
Figes's lawyer, David Price, contacted the newspaper, demanding a "corrective publication", and suggesting that his client would be entitled to damages. Hours later Price issued a new statement, which said Figes's wife, the barrister Stephanie Palmer, had posted the comments, and that Figes himself had "only just found out about this, this evening".
In fact, Figes' cover story that his wife had written the reviews, some of which appear to have been connected to the suspiciously named "Orlando-Birkbeck" account, was also false. Figes was later forced (by whom?) to admit that he'd written the reviews himself, and that he'd lied to his lawyer, not once ("I didn't write this! Sue the bastards!"), but twice. ("My wife did it! I'm innocent!")
Which makes Figes' last line of defense, that he was driven to malign other historians by the stress of meeting victims of Stalin's Gulag, rather suspicious.
According to Dr. Rachel Polonsky, one of Figes' victims:
"I understand that he is claiming that he has been traumatised by the research he did with victims of the Russian gulags which caused him to behave like this. I think it is horrific to use one of the greatest acts of criminality in history to excuse his bad behaviour. In any case he has been behaving like this for years beforehand."
Walter Olson, from whom I got this story, wonders whether Figes would have been forced to pay damages in an American court. Probably not. But consider: Figes' defense of his conduct, that he was in effect driven to sockpuppet and defame by Stalin's crimes, seems unlikely, perhaps even untrue. Stalin committed appalling crimes, but are we to believe that Stalin drove a historian to destroy his career almost 57 years after the tyrant's death?
Under Russian law, even the dead (or more properly, their estates) may file defamation actions. Joseph Stalin, in particular, has a litigious family.
It's possible Orlando Figes will, in the end, have to answer not just to Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service, and not just to his wife (to whom he probably answers every hellish night), but to Stalin himself.