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Books: Fictional nonfiction

Books | Historians who make up things lose credibility

Issue: "The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999

Newspapers and magazines are filled these days with Reagan intimates and historians pointing out the factual flaws in Edmund Morris's Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Let them take their whacks. Mr. Morris well deserves them, as the passage about Mr. Reagan's speech at the Berlin Wall demonstrates: "The occasion is too staged, the crowd too small and well-primed, to make for genuine drama." As if Mr. Reagan's challenge to Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall"-and its stirring repercussions throughout the communist empire-were not dramatic, after all. Bizarrely, Mr. Morris criticizes the history-making Berlin speech as a missed opportunity. He complains that the speech could have been memorable if Mr. Reagan had only used a line from a Robert Frost poem, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." What's drawn the most criticism in Dutch is Mr. Morris's device of telling Mr. Reagan's story through the eyes of a fictional bystander named Edmund Morris. The author reinvents his own history in order to be closer to Mr. Reagan both chronologically and geographically. Dutch should be placed in the fiction section, and then on the remainder table.

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