What is a book for?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jul 5, 2013

I’m approaching “the end of major combat operations” on this blog, and a bit of a valedictory post about this whole project is on the way… as a bit of a lead-in to that, though, I feel like jotting down a few thoughts about why one writes a book and what purposes it serves.

This was largely prompted by a recent e-mail, informing me of the publication of yet another book in what one might call the “jeremiad” category, i.e. a documentation and lamentation of some or other “wicked problem.” And it occurred to me to wonder, not for the first time, just what the point of these books could be. They generally look like miserable reading, as a result of exploring really depressing situations and, moreover, situations which provide benefit to a small, concentrated and powerful group while spreading costs among much larger but diffuse groups. i.e., situations all the more depressing for the unlikelihood of their being changed, certainly by books that I can’t help suspecting mostly just preach to the already converted. I mean, I certainly don’t shy away from reading about problems of the world, but generally a magazine-length article is about all I want to swallow in one go.

Thinking about it this most recent occasion, though, I had the idea that maybe the point of the book is, in some sense, simply a pretext for getting magazines and talk shows and online news to produce those kinds of briefer stories on the author and his or her cause.

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