These are indeed murky waters, but unlike David Hare and Anthony Julius, whose endorsements adorn the book’s cover, I’m not sure Lipstadt is a reliable guide. A competent scholar whose first book, Beyond Belief, traced American resistance to news of the Holocaust, Lipstadt was catapulted to fame by her heroic defence against David Irving, who sued her for libel over his depiction in her second book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. (Julius was the architect of that defence, while Lipstadt’s account of her ordeal was brought to the screen in Denial, written by Hare.) However, no one who has read either book would call Lipstadt a subtle thinker...But then Lipstadt’s intended audience may not exist. It’s easy enough to imagine worried Jews buying a copy of her book for their assimilated grandchildren — or as a gift for well-meaning Gentile friends and neighbours. Much harder, though, to believe any of them will ever finish it — or learn anything from it.
Written as a series of letters to two composite characters, a “whip smart” Jewish college student and a well-meaning gentile law professor, Lipstadt’s book aims not to break new scholarly ground but to awaken her audience to the nature, persistence and scale of the threat, along with the insidious ways in which it seeks to disguise itself...But Lipstadt isn’t just interested in compiling a list of insults, outrages and assaults. Anti-Semitism, to adapt a phrase, is the hate that dare not speak its name, and Lipstadt is at her best when she removes the guises under which it travels...She has written a book that combines erudition, clarity, accessibility and passion at a moment when they could not be needed more.