During lock-down I have taken the opportunity to sort out my book collection – both physical and digital. This has resulted in a rather high “to read” pile of books: one is beside a book-case, whereas the digital pile has been uploaded to various devices to plough through. My eyes have been rolling down pages over the past few months in an attempt to cut down these piles.
One of these eBooks – How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Border-lines (2011) – took my fancy for enhancing my knowledge on American history. And so, I read through the collected articles with delight. But I came across a handful of annoying errors. Now, in the grand scheme of things they do not really matter: I have enjoyed reading the book and have learned many new aspects of the past, particularly in terms of how the various states in the U.S. developed in the manner in which they did.
But somehow, these annoying errors do matter!
Allow me to provide a couple of examples of these errors. The first outlined events taking place in the 18th century and outlined the succession of monarchs in Britain in this period; this was the time of the Hanoverian kings and all of those Georges. The writer outlined the following passage:
Still, as these depredations continued, Walpole’s efforts to avoid war met with increasing opposition. The tipping point came in 1737 with the death of Queen Caroline, through whose friendship Walpole had maintained the approval – or mitigated the occasional disapproval – of George II and the Prince of Wales (the future George III).
Now, on the face of things, there is nothing wrong with this passage. Of course, I’m selecting a one-off passage here with no greater contextual understanding, but such context is not needed in order to pick out the mistake. The element that bugged me came with the final few words when George II and the Prince of Wales – ‘the future George III’ – was mentioned.
This is because George II’s son – the Prince of Wales mentioned – was not actually ‘the future George III’. The Prince of Wales at this time (the late 1730s) was actually Frederick, a prince who predeceased his father by dying in 1751. In 1760, on the death of George II, the throne did not pass from father to son, but rather from grandfather to grandson. Therefore, mention of ‘the future George III’ being present or involved in the events of 1737 was very surprising: he was not even born until a year later in 1738!
And so, what of other mistakes. I will share two, much smaller ones from the same book. In another chapter Charles Mason – part of the combo of the “Mason-Dixon line” fame – is noted as having been ‘a mathematician in his home town of Gloucestershire’: well, clearly, Gloucestershire itself is not a town, but rather a “shire” and county. His actual home town – as a very simple search on Wikipedia will reveal – was Oakridge in Gloucestershire. Whilst my continuing bugbear was the use of ‘England’ when outlining the actions of Britain and the British Empire: no, England is one part of the union that makes up the political unit of Britain. The 1707 Act of Union merged the independent nations of England and Scotland to create the political construct of Britain. Yes, England is a very influential part of this British union, but using ‘England’ is simply wrong.
Now, it must be admitted that these mistakes are very small and none of them were crucial in terms of understanding the main objective of each chapter. I’m also fully admitting that picking up on such errors and dedicating a post to them is incredibly pedantic. But no matter the insignificance and pettiness, the fact remains: these errors annoy me. And I will explain why.
A small error suggests that larger errors could reside within the writing of the chapter. I obviously picked up on these errors because of my previous reading of British history, but I am not as well versed in American history. Therefore, my confidence in taking on board the arguments and points is not as high as it perhaps should be. Furthermore, these small errors are so small that they could have been remedied with a simple check of the facts online: that they have not been corrected suggests a more sloppy(ish) approach. Ultimately, I’m left asking myself: are the authors really in charge of the facts available to them?
Of course, errors are to be expected in any book. Although punctuation and spelling errors should be eliminated by thorough proof-reading, sometimes some simply escape detection and make it into print. But I can forgive such errors just as long as the page is not riddled with them (and after all, this blog is no doubt filled with punctuation errors). But errors in terms of facts cannot be as easily forgiven. This is why I decided to spend 20 minutes writing up this post and putting it on my blog.
However, I must add that I did enjoy the book: it was terrible by any means. And my final realisation of this post is that I now open myself up to such accusations of being sloppy with my own posts. Which is why I may use some of the summer break in re-visiting my posts to double-check!