Orlando Figes Admits To Writing Mud-Slinging Amazon Reviews: Historian's Wife NOT Involved

06/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

LONDON — There may be some marital tension in the home of Orlando Figes, a celebrated author and Russian scholar embroiled in a scandal involving vicious reviews posted on Amazon's website.

The anonymous reviews attacked books written by Figes' rivals, and last week his wife, law professor Stephanie Palmer, said she was responsible. But now Figes admits he actually wrote the nasty putdowns, which built up his reputation at other authors' expense.

"I take full responsibility for posting anonymous reviews on Amazon," he said in a statement released Friday. "I have made some foolish errors and apologize wholeheartedly to all concerned."

Figes specifically apologized to his wife, his lawyer – who was misled about the source of the reviews – and to the authors he trashed on Amazon, including Rachel Polonsky, Robert Service and Kate Summerscale.

The scandal has transfixed literary London because of the personalities – and venom – involved.

It seems to have taken a heavy toll on Figes, who said in his statement he was suffering from unspecified health problems brought on by the controversy about the reviews.

"I am ashamed of my behavior, and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did," he said. "It was stupid – some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous but they were not intended to harm. This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse. I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help."

Figes, 50, is a prizewinning author known for his evocative works about Russia, including "Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia" and "The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia."

The controversy has caused some consternation for David Price, Figes' lawyer, who last week said that Palmer, the author's wife, was behind the reviews, which included gushing praise for one of Figes' books.

Price said Friday he had been misled.

"So far as I can, I try to ensure I am being told the truth by a client," he said.

In his statement, Figes said he panicked when confronted with questions about the Amazon reviews and turned to his wife for help. She agreed to take the blame for the slanted reviews, he said.

"My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried for my health, and I owe her an unreserved apology," he said.

Figes' anonymous reviews were scathing. When he lost out to Summerscale for the 30,000-pound ($45,000) Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008, the anonymous review said: "Oh dear, what on earth were the judges thinking?"

In praise of his own works, he said anonymously : "I hope he writes forever."