Book Out of Stores After Plagiarism Allegations

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Times Staff Writer

A new book about the invention of the atomic bomb was withdrawn from bookstores Tuesday by its publisher after four historians complained that it contained at least 30 passages that are similar, or in some cases identical, to phrases and passages in their own works.

Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch said he was ordering the recall of “Pandora’s Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb,” by Brian VanDeMark, because “after consultation with the author ... we felt this was the appropriate action.”

VanDeMark, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and co-author with former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara of “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,” “acknowledged that he’s made mistakes,” Pietsch said. He added that “Pandora’s Keepers” will be revised and that after the author has made “whatever corrections and official credits are appropriate, we will reissue the book as a trade paperback.”


VanDeMark, 42, could not be reached for comment.

The problem came to light when several historians asked to review the book noticed he had used language that was strikingly similar to their own published works on the same topic. The existence of these passages was first reported Saturday in the New York Times.

Gregg Herken, a curator and historian at the Smithsonian Institution, had been assigned to review the book for the Los Angeles Times, but he refused to do so after reading it and noticing passages identical or nearly identical to ones in his book, “Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence and Edward Teller,” which was published last year.

Herken contacted The Times; his agent subsequently wrote a letter of complaint to Little, Brown. Meanwhile, historian Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb: Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man,” had been assigned to review the book for the New York Times, and he also found passages similar to his work in VanDeMark’s book.

Two other historians voiced similar complaints about “Pandora’s Keepers” -- Richard Rhodes, who wrote “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” and William Lanouette, author along with Bela Silard of “Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb.”

Pietsch, who said that about 10,000 to 15,000 copies of the VanDeMark book had been printed, stressed that Little, Brown wanted “to give him the opportunity to correct these mistakes,” adding that he is “a very good and very serious researcher and writer.”