For the past week I've been indulging a secret interest of mine--reading histories about times, cultures and places I find interesting. And I've finally gotten around to reading a book that's been on my list for the past few years, A World Lit Only by Fire, by William Manchester.
It's one of those big, sprawling, superlative-ridden histories of a time (in this case, the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance).
But as I was reading I kept getting this uncomfortable feeling--is this all believable? How much of this should I take as widely-regarded-as-true by the medievalist community?
In other words, how credible is this book?
The issue of credibility often comes up in the context of web research. (When you land on a page, how do you know if you should trust it or not?) But the problem of credibility assessment didn't begin with web pages found through web searches; determining credibility has always been with us.
So I thought I'd start writing a bit about how to determine credibility, and start with a pretty well-known book (it was on the New York Times best seller list for quite a while). And.. because it's a book, most people will have an idea about how to determine whether to believe it or not.
So the search challenge for today is this: How credible is this book (A World Lit Only by Fire)?
Or.. more succinctly, Can you find 5 or 6 good, highly regarded, trustworthy reviews of this book by people who are experts in the field?
Note that this isn't a black-or-white issue: your solution might be different than mine (and you'll probably find different reviews than I do)... but I want to start a conversation about how to find credible resources.
This puts us solidly into the land of the reference librarian, but that's just fine with me. Reference librarians know a bunch of things that we can't afford to ignore--we can learn a great deal from them.