March 8th, 2010

tea_and_tomes: (Default)
Monday, March 8th, 2010 09:58 am
I've thought this question before, but I was reminded of it last night when I flicked through a book that is soon to be on my "Currently Reading" list, Homosexuality in History. (Nobody can accuse me of not having a diverse taste in books!)

Not being a history major, I can't verify whether a lot of the facts presented in this book are true or not, but I did come across a few mentions of things that made me pause. Particularly the presentation of two east-Asian names. A Japanese shogun by the name of "Lemitsu" (should be Iemistu) and a Chinese character, I believe, named Ximen Quing (should be Ximen Qing).

Now, I can hazard a guess at how and why these errors were made. Somebody could have seen Iemistu and mistaken the upper-case I for a lower-case L. In where Ximen Qing's name is concerned, the letter Q hardly ever stands on its own in English, so force of habit may have made them add a U after it. They are understandable mistakes to make.

However, the fact that there are identifiable mistakes makes me wonder how many other mistakes are in that book that I may be accepting as fact, even though they aren't. I can't tell whether those mistakes were made because of a sloppy editor or sloppy research, after all. If those small things are wrong, may larger things be wrong also?

Of course, it's wrong of me to assume that because I noticed two errors with the presentation of non-English names then every fact presented in the book is almost mistaken. And to research every single fact I come across there would ruin my enjoyment of the book as a whole, and would drag on the reading for well over a year. But it always happens like this, whenever I find small errors in nonfiction, even with ones so seemingly trivial as names. If A is wrong, then how can I trust B, or C, or the rest of the alphabet? How do I know that the mistake wasn't a result of sloppy research? Perhaps nobody else noticed because they weren't familiar with how such names worked, but how many people will read that book who already know every fact and theory presented in it so that they can point out to the author, "Um, I think you got this bit wrong."

Does this happen to anybody else? Do you run across small errors in nonfiction and start taking the book as a whole a little less seriously? Do you wonder what else may be wrong, and wonder if you'll be able to tell?