A Despatch from the Dark Side – William Shawcross’s ‘Justice and the Enemy’

Any writer who wants to stay sane accepts criticism with grace – or at least the pretence of it – but hostile reviews always cause stress. And there’s a flipside. The fresher the memory of slaving over a book, the more you’re likely to empathise with other writers who’ve done the same. That can skew perceptions when it comes to reviewing, in that it’s easy to switch your focus away from a book’s merits and become impressed by the fact that its creator managed to research and write it in the first place.

I recently had to deal with the problem in connection with a book by William Shawcross called Justice and the Enemy, which argues that the US should abandon many of its traditional ideas about fair trials and due process to confront terrorism more effectively. Although the thesis is both wrong and dangerous as far as I’m concerned, the effort put into its expression seemed to merit a degree of respect – especially because about the only thing more unpleasant than a self-righteous author is a ranting reviewer. Anyway, if anyone’s interested in my attempt to engage with Shawcross’s very dubious arguments, my piece for the Literary Review is here.