UK

Orlando Figes to pay fake Amazon review damages

  • 17 July 2010
  • From the section UK
Orlando Figes
Orlando Figes has written many successful books

A leading historian who wrote anonymous reviews on the Amazon website praising his own work and criticising rivals is to pay libel damages and costs.

Orlando Figes, a professor at London's Birkbeck College, was sued by fellow historians Dr Rachel Polonsky and Professor Robert Service.

Prof Figes, 50, has been on sick leave since the scandal broke.

After initially denying responsibility for the reviews, he admitted writing them in a statement issued on 23 April.

As part of the settlement, Prof Figes has now circulated an apology and retraction in which he accepts that his initial denial of responsibility for the reviews was false.

According to a detailed account of the row in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), the controversy began when Rachel Polonsky - a writer and Russian expert - discovered a hostile review of her recently-published book on Amazon.

The comments posted online said her work was "hard to follow". Others described a book by Robert Service as "awful".

Prof Figes is an award-winning author known for his works about Russia, including Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History Of Russia and The Whisperers: Private Life In Stalin's Russia.

The true identity of the reviewer came to light after Dr Polonsky discovered that the reviewer shared the same home address as Prof Figes, said the TLS.

'Wholehearted apology'

Initially, when confronted by the allegations of his involvement, Prof Figes' instructed his lawyer to threaten legal action.

Prof Figes then stated that his wife, a leading human rights lawyer, had written the comments.

The reviewer who used the online moniker, "orlando-birkbeck", had reportedly praised a book by Prof Figes as "fascinating".

Prof Figes later accepted responsibility for the reviews and apologised "wholeheartedly" for making "foolish errors".

In addition to his apology for the distress he caused to Dr Polonsky and Prof Service, Prof Figes also apologised to his lawyer for having given him incorrect information.

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