Jennifer Senior’s New York Times review of Lehrer’s new book about love, imaginatively titled A Book About Love, is brutal. Lehrer’s new book is more pop science drek, “a nonfiction McMuffin.” Reading it is “like reading an advice column by way of JSTOR.” Despite its expansive subject matter, it’s “insolently unoriginal.”
Senior describes A Book About Love as “a series of duckpin arguments, just waiting to be knocked down.” She does exactly that, demolishing Lehrer’s approach as “a certain genre of canned, cocktail-party social science, one that traffics in bespoke platitudes for the middlebrow and rehearses the same studies without saying something new.”
In an author’s note, Lehrer assured his readers that he was truly and really sorry for all of his previous intellectual dishonesty and fabulism and that it would never happen again. But A Book About Love is apparently not just “insolently unoriginal” in its conception and execution—it’s unoriginal because Lehrer has once again passed off the words and ideas of others as his own. Here is perhaps the most damning section of Senior’s review:
But I fear Mr. Lehrer has simply become more artful about his appropriations. At one point, for instance, he writes: “We don’t love our kids despite their demands; we love them because of them. Caregiving makes us care.”
I stopped dead when I read that sentence. Reread it. And read it again. It sounds to me like a clever adaptation of one of the most beautiful lines in “The Philosophical Baby” by Alison Gopnik: “It’s not so much that we care for children because we love them as that we love them because we care for them.”
I’m pretty certain Mr. Lehrer read Ms. Gopnik’s quote. Why? Because I cite it in my own book — which he cites, twice. (Though not for that.) He also wrote about “The Philosophical Baby” for The Boston Globe....
A Book About Love doesn’t come out for another six days, but this is about as brutal as pre-publicity gets, especially given Lehrer’s deplorable track record.
Update: Simon & Schuster is sticking with Lehrer. An S&S spokesman sent me this statement: “We believe in the quality of the work. We expect readers and critics will have their own interpretations, especially on a subject as mysterious and expansive as love, and by an author as conspicuous as Jonah. Our feeling is that his author’s note sufficiently addresses the rigor of his fact checking.”