Over at Gawker the other day, I did a post on the absurdity of The New York Times Book Review’s picking Andrew Roberts, whom Henry Kissinger first asked to be his authorized biographer, to review Niall Ferguson’s authorized biography of Henry Kissinger. Margaret Sullivan, the best public editor that the Times has ever employed, has likewise questioned the choice. Sullivan asked the Review’s editor, Pamela Paul, to comment. She writes that Paul told her:
that she was unaware of that fact before the publication of a Gawker piece that makes much of that relationship and of Mr. Roberts’s acquaintance with the book’s author, Niall Ferguson.
Gawker’s headline: “Kissinger Biography Is Great, Says Pal of Author and Kissinger in New York Times.” Indeed, the review is kind to Mr. Kissinger and to Mr. Ferguson; it calls the book “comprehensive, well-written and riveting.”
“We rely on our reviewers to disclose conflicts of interest,” Ms. Paul said. Mr. Roberts disclosed no conflict, saying only that he had met Mr. Ferguson a few times but that this wouldn’t affect his review.
(Disclosure: I’ve reviewed for the Times, and I’ve done an interview with Paul, whom I like very much, related to my last book, The Empire of Necessity.)
Let’s underscore the fact that Roberts said “that he had met Mr. Ferguson a few times but that this wouldn’t affect his review.” As I wrote in Gawker, according to The Guardian they have been mates for nearly 25 years. The paper called Roberts “a little biased” after Roberts called Ferguson “the brightest historian of his generation.”
Indeed, in 2009, Roberts, after telling a reporter that Kissinger had originally tapped him to be his authorized biographer, predicted that Ferguson would “do a wonderful job.” And, lo, he has, according to Roberts.
Also, get this, Roberts and Ferguson co-authored a paper together (h/t Jonathan Stein): “Hitler’s England: What if Germany had Invaded Britain in May 1940?” Here’s a better counterfactual: What if the Times had googled “Andrew Roberts” and “Niall Ferguson”?