Debunked atom bomb book selling on AmazonBy HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer Hillel Italie, Ap National Writer – Tue Mar 2, 4:32 pm ET
NEW YORK – The halted publication of a book about the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 has not prevented James Cameron from supporting its author or considering a film project based on the work about the days following the blasts and those who survived.
Publisher Henry Holt and Company is no longer printing or shipping Charles Pellegrino’s “Last Train from Hiroshima” because of doubts over facts in the book. While the book continues to sell well on Amazon, Barnes and Noble Inc. said Tuesday that it was pulling all its copies.
“All I know is that Charlie would not fabricate, so there must be a reason for the misunderstanding,” Cameron said in an e-mail sent Tuesday to The Associated Press. Film rights for the book, released in January, were acquired by the “Avatar” director. Pellegrino served as an adviser for “Avatar,” the box-office champ that has been nominated for nine Academy Awards.
Cameron said he has long sought to do a movie on the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “and still intend to do so, although I currently do not have a shooting script and no decision has been made to proceed in the short term.”
The filmmaker continues to support the author, with whom he has had a long relationship. Cameron wrote introductions for Pellegrino’s “Ghosts of the Titanic,” published in 2000, and for the controversial 2007 release “The Jesus Family Tomb,” co-authored by Pellegrino and strongly questioned by scholars for its assertion that a tomb discovered in Jerusalem contained the remains of Jesus and possible family members.
When released, “The Last Train from Hiroshima” received high praise from The New York Times’ Dwight Garner, who called it a “sober and authoritative new book” and a “gleaming, popular wartime history.” Pellegrino first acknowledged flaws in the book when he told the Times last month that he had been misled by Joseph Fuoco, who had claimed he was a last-minute replacement on the Enola Gay for flight engineer James R. Corliss.
Pellegrino apologized and promised to correct the text.
“Charlie’s faulty source clearly used elaborate deception to create a false account,” Cameron said. “On our numerous projects together, I have known Charlie to be a diligent and thorough researcher, who always does his best to cross-reference testimony.”
But the AP raised additional questions, including one about the existence of a Father Mattias (the first name is not given), who supposedly lived in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing and committed suicide, and John MacQuitty, identified as a Jesuit scholar who presided over Mattias’ funeral. Holt said Monday that Pellegrino did not offer a satisfactory answer.
Pellegrino, in an e-mail sent to the AP on Monday night, said he had used pseudonyms to protect the identity of the men.
Holt publicist Nicole Dewey declined to comment on whether “Last Train” had been fact-checked. Publishers traditionally review manuscripts for possible legal problems, but have resisted calls to fact-check nonfiction works, saying the process is too expensive and time-consuming.
The author also responded to questions about his education. Pellegrino’s Web site, http://www.charlespellegrino.com, lists him as having a Ph.D. from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The school said it has no such record. Pellegrino said that his degree was revoked over a dispute on evolutionary theory.
Pellegrino’s Web site also says he was a “founding member” of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, an organization started soon after the 1986 shuttle tragedy. Center spokesman Rob Cork said Tuesday that Pellegrino has never served on the board of directors and that there is no record of his giving money.
“Now, we have been in existence for nearly 24 years, and we do have nearly 50 Challenger Learning Center locations around the world, and he may have made a donation at some point,” Cork said.
Pellegrino, 56, has also written science fiction and magazine articles. A piece he wrote for Omni magazine in 1985 is widely credited as an early examination of whether the DNA of flies preserved from prehistoric times might include information about dinosaurs, a theory amplified in Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park.”
Despite the doubts, “Last Train” ranked No. 36 on Amazon.com Tuesday afternoon. It was in the 200s on Monday when Holt, responding to questions raised by the AP, halted publication. Another discredited book, James Fry’s “A Million Little Pieces” also continued to sell well in 2006 after it was fouind that the memoir contained fabrications.
According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks around 75 percent of industry sales, Pellegrino’s book has sold 7,000 copies, including 1,000 in the week leading up to Monday’s announcement.
Cameron said that any decision he makes about the Hiroshima film project would not be influenced “by the issue of a single flawed source,” and when he does move forward, he “would be a fool to ignore the rich vein of eyewitness testimony, so painstakingly gathered, that exists in ‘Last Train from Hiroshima.'”