I just reread and realized that I missed the most irritating point I wanted to make in my previous review. There's a whole other level to Lifespan of a Fact that I forgot to complain about--can you believe it?
Okay, so it's an argument in the form of emails, structured around the fact checking of an essay. And both sides of the argument--the author's claims that art demands these changes to reality and the checker's claims that the reality of what happened matters--are kind of aggressive and alienating. But here's the big question: what do you make of the factuality of the book itself?
Here's an article with a summary of this angle of the situation: to what extent is this book an accurate--a "true"--representation of that conversation? Because it turns out that most of the emails were written during the process of writing the book, not fact checking the article. The "seven years" of correspondence that is represented here is not exactly what it appears to claim to be.
On one level, that is in no way unexpected. I mean, on what level do you expect that an unedited email correspondence would be in any way publishable? Besides which, I don't suppose that the facts were actually checked out in the linear, chronological fashion in which the book unfolds--that is, the confused outrage expressed at the beginning of the article is backed up by a research trip to Vegas. It's pretty clear that the correspondence couldn't really have looked anything like this, with the checker sending notes to the editor "at first" and then being told to talk directly to the author instead after he's already clearly put in a lot of the research time.
So here's the thing--by not advertising this editing, this creative license that's been taken, the book essentially stakes its claim on which side of the divide it stands behind. Is graceful art more important than fact? Is it important that the examples given in an argument be "true?"
I have opinions, but I'm not up to expounding on them. But I do think that when you prove a point with a lie, you weaken the point, even if the lie is convincing AND the point is correct.