Essay: Jason Colavito Book Reviewer by Charles Rector

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur by Graham Phillips Book Review Part I .

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur by Graham Phillips Book Review Part II.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston Book Review.

There exists in popular culture a great deal of what only can be called bunk. This is a polite term meaning fraudulent nonsense such as that spread by confidence artists aiming to separate marks from their money. Much of this bunk concerns such fields as archaeology, history, and science.

There are a number of people on the Internet who are engaged in exposing the falsity of this nonsense. They are called debunkers and many of them are bloggers.

Perhaps the best known of these debunker bloggers is Jason Colavito. Colavito has won plaudits from establishment supporters of orthodoxy. Many of Colavito's targets are well deserving of his criticism such as the infamously inane Ancient Aliens TV show. Colavito has also been quite critical of The History Channel for the fact that it so often runs such programming as The Men Who Killed Kennedy documentary miniseries that made it sound as if half the U.S. government was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

However, one problem with heavy-duty blogging is that it can get the blogger into a mindset that can lead him or her to write all sorts of things that they would never write if they wrote at a more normal pace. In the case of a debunker such as Colavito, this can take the form of treating the work of an esteemed author as being bunk when it clearly is no such thing. Such is the case with two books that were reviewed by this writer elsewhere in this issue of H&F. With both of these books, Colavito treated them and their authors with contempt even though both books are of high historical value.

The first book that Colavito reviewed was The Lost Tomb of King Arthur by Graham Phillips. Right at the outset, Colavito attacks Phillips because other people have called the Britisher a “real-life Indiana Jones” even though Phillips himself has never called himself that. Colavito then gets into name-calling saying that "Phillips is among the lesser lights of fringe history." As proof, Colavito uses the fact that Phillips has written a great many books about such subjects as Robin Hood, the Knights Templars, whether or not there was such a place as Atlantis, the death of Alexander the Great, William Shakespeare, Stonehenge and other subjects that Colavito evidently considers beyond the pale. The fact that there are a great many people, such as this writer, who are interested in these subjects means nothing to an elitist like Colavito.

Colavito attacks Phillips for using the traditional Before Christ or BC/Anno Domini or AD dating system instead of the Politically Correct (PC) "Common Era" dating system. Phillips also prefers to use the term "Dark Ages" even though most academic types don't use it anymore. Colavito fails to explain just why Phillips is wrong for using these terms.

Colavito then gets into how King Arthur is an illegitimate subject for historians to write about since Arthur is nothing but a mere "myth." He then attacks Phillips for attempting to sift through the legends surrounding Arthur on the grounds that legends are nothing but bunk and besides Arthur is an unworthy subject for reputable historians to study. The implication here is that by devoting a great deal of time and effort to studying King Arthur, Phillips himself is a disreputable scholar.

Colavito also attacks Phillips for using such medieval historians as Geoffrey of Monmouth as if that is beyond the pale. What historical sources relating to King Arthur does he approve of? Evidently, Colavito thinks that King Arthur is just a load of nonsense and is completely unworthy of historical study by anyone in any era.

The bottom line here is that Colavito has closed his mind to the very idea that there was ever any such person as King Arthur. If you disagree with him, then as far as he is concerned, you are a village idiot.

The second book that Colavito reviewed is The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. Preston is a far better-known writer than Phillips in that Preston has been widely published in such magazines as National Geographic and The New Yorker. He is either the author of a number of well-received books of both fiction and nonfiction. He is widely recognized as being one of this nation's foremost experts on archaeology. This makes it harder to believe that Colavito would actually go after Preston the same way that he did Phillips. However, that is exactly what he did.

Colavito starts his review of Preston's book by right away attacking him on the grounds that "writers become so close to their subjects that they lose the ability to see the big picture." As we shall see, Colavito failed to demonstrate that Preston has done so. On top of that, one can make the case that Colavito is himself guilty of precisely of what he accused Preston of being.

Colavito brags about how he has never read any of Preston's previous books as if that is something to be proud of. He also alleges that one of Preston's earlier books almost became a Hollywood movie and that at one time George Clooney was attached to that project. He writes this as if that reflects poorly on Preston.

Before going on into Colavito's attack on Preston, it is necessary to explain just what Preston was writing about. Starting in the 16th Century, Spanish chroniclers started mentioning legends and rumors spread by the natives about a fabled "White City" that was allegedly a place of immense wealth. The conqueror of Mexico, Hernando Cortes, wanted to mount an expedition to find this city, however, problems within his command prevented from doing so. Cortes even wrote Emperor Charles V about it asking permission to mount this expedition and for reinforcements from Spain to do it with and received no reply. Later, when a Catholic priest was trekking through the Mosquito Mountains in Eastern Honduras en route to his new parish, he came across a magnificent city that he could see from the mountain top. His native guide told him that it was the White City, however, the priest was interested only in reaching his parish, not investigating the city. He did, however, later write up a report of what he saw. Since then, a great many writers and adventurers, as well as a few archaeologists, have become interested in finding this White City. Two of these archaeologists are Preston and Steve Elkins. Along with some other hardy souls, Preston & Elkins were able to put the resources together to mount their own expedition into the Mosquito Mountains in search of the White City. Using advanced technology, they were able to find a lost city, which is a major discovery despite the fact that it is by no means clear that it is the White City of legend or for that matter just how big the site will turn out to be. Many years and perhaps even decades of archaeological fieldwork remain to be done before we know just what the true significance of the Preston-Elkins expedition's discovery is.

Colavito was brimming with attitude when he wrote his review of Preston's book. He gets into his review by showing that he has not come to praise Preston's book but to bury it. Quoth Colavito: "This is not a book about the Lost City of the Monkey God. It is not a book about the White City. It is not really even a book about archaeology. To my mind, it is a “book” mostly in the technical sense that it has a large number of uneven chapters fronted by a table of contents and backed by a useless list of sources unlinked to specific facts within the book." He denigrates Preston for writing about the hardships he and his companions endured on their expedition as if that is somehow irrelevant.

Colavito then accuses Preston of being a fraud. He made the claim, without any evidence, that the Preston-Elkins expedition was in search of a legend, that there is no real White City. He attacks Preston for informing his readers of the legends surrounding the White City and here Colavito falsifies the record by claiming that there are no such legends. This despite the fact that the legend of the White City has been documented for centuries.

Colavito trashes Preston for defending the expedition and its accomplishments against academic critics who ran the expedition down from the safety of their air-conditioned offices. He says that it is unfair for Preston to show just how petty and mean spirited so many of these critics were. He also shows how so many of them also made serious factual errors in their criticisms. Colavito acts as if that should be out of bounds.

Colavito then went into full Political Correctness mode. Specifically, he accused Preston and his companions of engaging in "colonialism" and that the expedition had "colonialist overtones." Colavito attempts to shore up his PC criticism of Preston by adding that the Preston-Elkins expedition was praised by none other than Harrison Ford, the man who played Indiana Jones. Specifically, Ford praised the lost city that the expedition discovered as being an “extraordinary, globally significant ecological and cultural treasure.” As for Colavito's attacks on colonialism, it should be pointed out that countries that were at one time colonies are far more advanced than countries that were never colonies. Take America for example. More importantly, colonialism has nothing to with Preston's book or its subject and the fact that Colavito brought it up is a measure of just how desperate he is to trash Preston's book at all costs.

Colavito then got absurd. He uses the fact that Preston contracted a tropical disease for which there is no known cure and claims that because Presto is suffering medically that is why he believes that disease is what brought the lost civilization of the White City to an end. Actually, Preston came to that conclusion based on the fact that the coming fo the Spanish unleashed a flurry of epidemics, most notably smallpox, upon the Indian populations who had significant immunity deficiencies. It is a proven fact that contagious diseases killed upwards of 80% of the Indian populations in the Western Hemisphere in the wake of Columbus discovering the New World.

Colavito uses his last paragraph to get down and dirty by smearing Preston's book as "Lost City of the Monkey God is not a book you should read to learn about lost cities or monkey gods, or the White City, or much of anything other than Preston’s jungle adventures or his he-man intestinal fortitude in the face of protozoans, snakes, and critics." This is a baseless slander that makes you wonder just what is Colavito's problem with Preston. Could it be that Colavito is insanely jealous of Preston being a far more successful author than he is?

What Colavito really needs to do is take a break from his keyboard and go out and smell the flowers. He needs to relax and get some perspective in life. Just because most of what he writes about really is bunk does not mean that everything that he writes about is bunk.

Contrary to what Colavito has to say in his trashing of both Phillips and Preston and their books, both these authors and their works will remain useful to students of history long after Colavito's blog disappears into a cloud of cyber dust long forgotten except for those who will say good riddance to its demise.