Over at the always-interesting Boston 1775 blog, J.L. Bell draws our attention to an interesting new title on gossip in American history. Unfortunately, as he notes, a copy of the book will set you back nearly a hundred bucks.
Hefty price tags aren’t unusual when it comes to academic books. Many university press hardcovers cost upwards of forty dollars. If you’re only going to sell a few copies of a book to large research libraries, it makes sense to slap a high price on each copy.
But what about readers who want copies of these pricey academic books? Many of them are probably going to be academics themselves, and they can get a free book from a journal looking for a review or a complimentary desk copy from publishers who want to sell to students. Other potential readers—grad students, bloggers, independent scholars, reenactors, and history buffs—will either have to cough up some serious dough or wait for copies to start showing up in used bookstores or on Ebay.
One of my professors refuses to submit her manuscripts to one very prominent academic publisher because their books are so expensive. She feels an obligation to make her work accessible and useful to people beyond the academy.
If your primary concern is writing for an academic audience, or if publication is just a means to some professional end (job, tenure, promotion, accolades), then you can afford to be unconcerned about your book’s cost. But I think it’s worth asking whether historians have an obligation to do whatever they can to ensure that interested lay readers can afford their books.
The trailer for Ron Howard’s film In the Heart of the Sea, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestseller of the same name, is finally out. It’s about time somebody put the tragedy of the Essex on the big screen; it’s one of the most harrowing and incredible episodes in human history.
For my America and the World course I’ve been reading We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History by John Lewis Gaddis. The twentieth century isn’t really my thing, but I’ve really enjoyed this book.
One of the themes running through We Now Know is that the Soviet Union operated with a number of disadvantages. Its authoritarian structure could not create and maintain alliances as well as the democratic U.S., which was more accustomed to compromises and building coalitions. The USSR therefore had to coerce its “allies,” whereas allies of the U.S. enjoyed more flexibility and initiative. And since there was nobody in a position to say “no” to a Stalin or a Khrushchev, nobody could stop them when they pursued a course that was misguided, as they tended to do often. (Gaddis notes that “there seems to have been something about authoritarians that caused them to lose touch with reality.”)
One of the few things the USSR had going for it was the appearance of military strength, which brings us to this delightful metaphor:
The end of the Cold War made it blindingly clear that military strength does not always determine the course of great events: the Soviet Union collapsed, after all, with its arms and armed forces fully intact. Deficiencies in other kids of power—economic, ideological, cultural, moral—caused the USSR to lose its superpower status, and we can now see that a slow but steady erosion in those non-military capabilities had been going on for some time.
To visualize what happened, imagine a troubled triceratops. From the outside, as rivals contemplated its sheer size, tough skin, bristling armament, and aggressive posturing, the beast looked sufficiently formidable that none dared tangle with it. Appearances deceived, though, for within its digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems were slowly clogging up, and then shutting down. There were few external signs of this until the day the creature was found with all four feet in the air, still awesome but now bloated, stiff, and quite dead. The moral of the fable is that armaments make impressive exoskeletons, but a shell alone ensures the survival of no animal and no state (p. 284).
These words of wisdom turned up in my pending comments: “When some one searches for his vital thing, therefore he/she desires to be available that in detail, so that thing is maintained over here.”
How profound. How pithy. And how eternally true.
Two films top my list of all-time favorites. Richard Attenborough gave an unforgettable performance in the first, and he directed the second. In both cases, his work was flawless. Absolutely flawless.
I knew his health had declined over the past few years, but that didn’t soften the blow when I heard that he passed away today. He made us all believe in the incredible and the inspiring, and he’ll be missed.
The situation for Iraq’s ancient Christian community, and for Iraq’s other persecuted religious minorities, is pretty dire, so much so that it’s easy to assume ordinary folks like us can’t do anything about it. But if you’ve got a few dollars to spare, here’s a way to pitch in:
The Knights of Columbus announced today that is establishing a fund to assist those – particularly Christians as well as other religious minorities – facing a horrific and violent persecution and possible extinction in Iraq and the surrounding regions.
The Knights has pledged an initial $500,000 and will match an additional $500,000 in donations from the public.
“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”
Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”
Those seeking to assist with the relief efforts can donate to K of C Christian Refugee Relief by visiting www.kofc.org/Iraq or by sending checks or money orders to: K of C Christian Refugee Relief, Knights of Columbus Charities, P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT 06509-1966.
Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, and 100 percent of all donations collected by Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., will be used for humanitarian assistance for those Christians – as well as other religious minorities –being persecuted or displaced in Iraq and the surrounding region.
In case you haven’t heard, it’s Batman Day. I’ve been a fan since I was about eight; the Tim Burton film was probably the first major movie that I went nuts over, and I accumulated a pretty good stash of Bat-collectibles over the course of my childhood. I still think Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is one of the greatest works of modern fiction. Seriously, if you’ve never read it, get yourself a copy.
It’s an unlikely concept for an enduring cultural icon, when you think about it—a vigilante who dresses like a flying rodent. What accounts for a career that’s lasted more than seven decades? I think it’s a combination of factors. The character has attracted good writers and artists, and he has the best rogue’s gallery in comics. Most important of all, I think, is the fact that underneath that cowl is a man of flesh and blood instead of steel.
Anyway, happy 75th, Mr. Wayne. Here’s to another three quarters of a century.