Sauntering through Blackwells the other day, to pick up the Holy Father's Interview book, I stopped by D M's History of Christendom, which is now at the paperback stage of its decline. I dipped into it.
I do, somewhat boldly, think that there are some areas in which I have a very modest competence, but I am extremely aware of the boundaries of my knowledge (for example, I most certainly am not a historian). So I have a test which I apply particularly to the writings of people who produce Big Books in subject areas which are not my own (by the way, on the subject of Big Books in general, three cheers for the views of the greatest of the Greek poets, Callimachus).
The Hunwicke test is this. I find some topic in his discussion in which the Big Writer has strayed into an area in which I do know something. And I test his assertions. My assumption is that if it turns out that he is writing a load of tasteless white fish with small, needle-like bones* in an area in which I am able to judge him, there is every possibility (or at the very least a risk) that he is just as unreliable, tendentious, or crooked in areas where I do not have competence.
DM decides to tell us about the Kyries. He makes two assertions. The first is that the threefold Kyries (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison) are ever-present 'mantras' in Byzantine liturgy. The second is that in the Roman Rite they are relics of the period when the worship of the Roman Church was in Greek. Each of these assertions is untrue, the former partially and the latter totally. The paragraph concerned does not even condescend to offer a footnote directing us to any evidence for these crass assertions of inaccuracy and falsehood.
You may tell me that in so very Big a Book, it is unreasonable for a writer to be expected never to make little errors. "Don't be a pedant. Go for his Big Picture."
I could not more profoundly disagree with you. Any Big Picture is built up of innumerable small brush-strokes. If a man is slipshod about his details, it will be, to a greater or lesser extent, probable that his Big Picture is not worth the paper, so to speak, which it is written on. And in any case, nobody is under a legal or moral obligation to write Big Books. If someone chooses to do so, he should either get his facts straight or be excoriated for not doing so.