Debunked atom bomb book selling on Amazon
NEW YORK - The debunking of a book about the atomic bombing of Japan seems to have made it more popular.
As of Tuesday morning, Charles Pellegrino's "Last Train from Hiroshima" ranked No. 78 on Amazon.com . It was in the 200s on Monday when Henry Holt and Company, responding to questions raised by The Associated Press, halted publication.
While the book continues to sell on Amazon, Barnes and Noble Inc. said Tuesday it was pulling all its copies. Holt is no longer printing or shipping "Last Train," but said it was leaving the decision to retailers whether to sell existing books.
Film rights for the book, released in January, have been acquired by "Avatar" director James Cameron. Pellegrino served as an adviser for "Avatar," the box-office champ that has been nominated for nine Academy Awards.
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. Pellegrino acknowledged a week and a half ago that he had been misled by a source who claimed to have flown on a plane accompanying the Enola Gay, from which an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. He apologized and promised to correct the text.
When first 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 for flight engineer James R. Corliss.
"Charlie's faulty source clearly used elaborate deception to create a false account," Cameron said in an e-mail to the AP.
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 comment Monday 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.
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.
"All I know is that Charlie would not fabricate, so there must be a reason for the misunderstanding," Cameron said.
Cameron said he does not have a shooting script for the Hiroshima film project and "no decision has been made to proceed in the short term." He added that his decision about the 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.'"
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."