Emmett Tyrrell
Followers of this column have noticed that something is amiss. They have looked to it every week for months with increased frustration. Many have gone back to the March, April, May and June issues of The American Spectator and pored over every page, but all was for naught. They have not been able to find a trace of the J. Gordon Coogler Award for the Worst Book of the Year, and they know that there were many promising candidates in 2010 for this hallowed recognition. The New York Review of Books was full of them. Ever since the J. Gordon Coogler Award Committee began sponsoring the award back in 1975, it almost seems that the Review has been serving as a referral service to assist our learned judges in their laborious work. Though this was by indirection; the Review's editors exalt those books they find admirable and even heroic, and the Coogler Committee has its short list of trash.

Well, dear readers, you were right in your premonitions that something had gone wrong. Here is the problem. In February 1980, we awarded the Worst Book of the Year Award to the British writer William Shawcross for his "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia." The late and gifted Peter Rodman reviewed the book in The American Spectator and took issue with its narrative and methodology. For instance, the maps were off, according to his calculations; and yes, The New York Review of Books had done cartwheels over "Sideshow." We had our worst book of the year. Our problem arose because over the years, Shawcross has become increasingly sound, an admirer of George W. Bush (though with qualifications), a friend of America, a proponent of America's special relationship with the U.K. and even a defender of Israel. Some members of the Coogler board began to suspect that we should strip Shawcross of his 1980 award, cruel as that might sound.

Actually, even when we gave him the award, he did not act like the ordinary knavish liberal. We sent him Rodman's review, and he responded to it, politely but for the most part negatively; and Rodman answered, not so politely, but intelligently. The exchange took place in our July 1981 issue. But that was not all. Shawcross published the whole exchange in the paperback edition of his book. He relished the debate! He encouraged his readers to witness the exchange. I should have known then that this fellow Shawcross was not your normal, run-of-the-mill intellectual antagonist. He believed, even in the 1980s, in the give-and-take of ideas. It is very rare. Most intellectuals run and hide.


Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
 
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