Phoney reviewer Figes has history of litigious quarrels

Historians describe previous run-ins with the academic who made anonymous attacks on rivals

Orlando Figes, the award-winning historian who admitted to writing a series of anonymous attacks of his rivals' books, has a history of litigious academic spats.

The historian unmasked himself as the writer of several scathing reviews of books by contemporaries including Robert Service, Rachel Polonsky and the novelist Kate Summerscale on the shopping website Amazon. He originally denied authorship and then claimed that his wife had penned them.

The professor of Russian history at Birkbeck, University of London, who has previously been engaged in at least two legal disputes with other historians, has been accused and cleared of plagiarism, and received hate mail while an academic at Cambridge. One colleague who did not want to be named described the most recent episode as "the tip of the iceberg".

Opinion is divided over whether Figes will be able to remain in post after what one historian described as "career suicide" from which he could "never recover". But a one-time colleague of Figes said Birkbeck would be unlikely to want to lose one its most eminent names, and that "these days people recover from almost anything".

A number of historians recalled various incidents including the non-attribution of quotations and the inclusion of sentences in his books that seem to bear resemblance to their own work.

In 1997, the American historian Richard Pipes claimed that Figes had "quoted copiously but not always generously" from his own book, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, pointing out seven examples in Figes's book A People's Tragedy that, he claimed, bore resemblance to his own. The Sunday Times reported the allegations, but ultimately was obliged to print an apology to Figes. Figes then wrote a piece explaining the similarities, saying, "There are bound to be minor similarities of expression in two such large works on the same subject."

In 2002, the Cambridge historian Rachel Polonsky wrote a review of Figes's book in The Times Literary Supplement in which she accused him of inaccuracies, factual errors, misreadings, cavalier appropriation of sources and a general intellectual irresponsibility. Figes subsequently defended his record, but, according to Polonsky, misquoted his own book. When Polonsky wrote to point out that he had not quoted his own work in full, she was told the TLS would not be publishing her letter and the matter was dropped.

An American academic, Priscilla Roosevelt, said yesterday she had written to complain to Figes about his apparent use of sources from her book Life on the Russian Country Estate in his award-winning A People's Tragedy, some of which were so obscure she could not believe he had come across them himself. "You can't prove these things absolutely, but the experience left me shocked and demoralised," she said. "He sent me a one-line response."

Robert Service, who says he has endured "hell" over the past two weeks, said: "This is a much bigger matter than just this squalid little affair."

Service, whose biography of Leon Trotsky won this year's Duff Cooper Prize, has not ruled out taking legal action against Figes for malicious falsehood, but said: "I want debate in this country to be free from interference from lawyers. I intend to help with the campaign for a change in the libel law."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor