If you are going to be a big-picture historian, if you are going to draw sweeping conclusions about great questions, why, oh why get mixed up in a lot of gritty details? To show that you've mastered the materials? But then you have to get the details right, or you look like a fraud.
Look at these errors committed by John Keegan. It's kind to call them "sloppy," because they are career, status, and credibility killers. Note his answer to the challenge on dates of the American Revolution; it shows the kind of hateur pop historians may indulge in - a pride that is the opposite of historic sensibility.
I think this poster is onto something:
"It makes me wonder whether or not he wrote the book himself. I've read Keegan before and he never made such glaring errors. Also, I don't think I've heard of such errors written on anything pertaining the civil war. It's almost comical."
Successful pop historians do not seem to research their own books or write them, as we learned in the Goodwin and Ambrose scandals. They bless the content, then learn just enough about their "own" writings to travel the interview and commentary circuit, and that's that.
This explains the anomalies in McPherson's Antietam book last year. McPherson's interviews and endnotes credit works containing new information and new thinking, but none of the newer stuff makes it into his prose.
For instance, he praises John Hennessy's, Return to Bull Run without noticing four incidents in which generals capture each others' orders before McClellan finds Lee's orders in the Maryland Campaign. McClellan's find remains unique, in McPherson's narrative.
He cites John Michael Priest's Before Antietam: The Battle for South Mountain, without noticing all the movements and orders McClellan issued after finding the Lost Order: in McPherson's new book, McClellan still waits six hours before issuing his first command.
In an interview, he praises Harsh's Taken at the Flood, without actually adopting any of the book's views or conclusions. For example, one of its central ideas is that McClellan seized the intitiative from Lee before finding Lee's orders.
Search McPherson in vain for this or other new insights. And yet these citations serve him as bona fides.
The solution, of course, is to write your own books. If you are Keegan, and you insist the Revolution was fought from 1776 on, give the ghostwriter a little break and tell us why that is so. If you are McPherson and you cite new studies whose findings and content contradict your earlier conclusions, don't restate those conclusions with a smile and a nod to the new material ... send the ghostwriter on coffeebreak and tell us why you reject the new material.
McPherson: "I owe much to existing scholarship. What is different about my book is the compression of these complex events into a brief compass."
No sir. What is different in your work are citations that spite your conclusions. Again and again.
You have read the good stuff, use it.