Written Without Fear and Without Research

Dorothy Parker? Carl L. Becker? Thomas Reed Powell? Charles A. Beard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker wrote book reviews containing memorable zingers. When she examined a scientific volume she reportedly wrote the following:

This work was written without fear and without research.

I have not been able to determine when she wrote this. Nor have I figured out the title of the excoriated book. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: In 1944 the quotation and anecdote collector Bennett Cerf published “Try and Stop Me” which included a section dedicated to the sayings of Dorothy Parker. Cerf presented the following instance of the quip: 1

She polished off one scientific volume with the dictum, “It was written without fear and without research.”

QI has been unable to locate evidence of a linkage to Parker before this date. Also, QI has not found the joke directly in a review written by Parker. Interestingly, the expression was in circulation for decades before Cerf’s ascription.

The “Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912” included an article by Carl L. Becker who was at that time a Professor of History at the University of Kansas. Becker reviewed several history texts and singled out one work for harshly comical analysis. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

The great books, however, are not the only ones that enlist the attention of the critical reviewer. It sometimes happens that a slight book is significant for what it points to. I have in mind, for example, the little volume of Mr. A. M. Simons entitled “Social Forces in American History;” not perhaps a very wise performance; written, it must be confessed, without fear and without research; written nevertheless with profound conviction, and significant because it is representative of what probably passes for history among militant socialists, but significant above all because in the next 50 years many histories of the United States, and better ones than this, will doubtless be written from the same point of view.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Written Without Fear and Without Research

Notes:

  1. 1944, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 111, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1914, Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1912, The Reviewing of Historical Books by Carl Becker (Professor at University of Kansas), Start Page 127, Quote Page 133, Submitted to the Congress of the United States by Smithsonian Institution for the American Historical Association, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link