Self Important Authors II

I’ve written three self-published books (this one and this one and this one), I’m proud of them and I’d love it if you bought them, and I wish all my fellow authors, self-published or published by diminishing-by-the-day publishing houses, all success. I support you.

A cooperative spirit, I think, may be how we get through this up-in-the-air transitional period in publishing. Alas, there is the question of authors whose egos run well out in front of them. There are two or three specifically that I can think of tonight, and why wouldn’t it be fun to go ahead and call them out?

In my yet-to-be-read stack sits The Economists’ Hour by Benyamin Appelbaum. I understand it to be a study by a journalist of the rise of market-favoring economists since the 1970s, their embrace by policy makers, and the resultant mayhem.

Fair enough. A topic that interests me enough to buy it, and we’ll see how it turns out as a read. What grates is a blurb on the back of the book jacket by Tyler Cowen, who is an economics professor at George Mason University, someone who has become well-known over the last decade through hard work, prolific online output and savvy use of new media.

George Mason University is a libertarian bastion and a Koch brothers-funded favorite, which is a required negative mention in all the lefty press. Nevertheless I applaud Mr. Cowen’s accomplishments, hard and sustained work on his online presence, and the interesting stuff he has turned up

Just this one thing: There is an unfortunate contagion among people who have an established audience. They seem to want to make it all about them. This is not just a product of the internet.

Mr. Cowen in a moment. First the prime example of all-about-me-ism, the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, who wrote compelling books early in his career. Alas, for some time now our former hero has been all about himself.

Friedman has been prolific. His early work, in particular From Beirut to Jerusalem, before he went off on his world-is-flat neo-lib jag, compels admiration. He was there. Did that.

But it’s hard to read Friedman’s NYT review of Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir without cringing. The first seven paragraphs, before any consideration of the book, before anything else, are steadfastly Friedman about Friedman.

I’ve written about this kind of hubris before as regards another author I otherwise admire, Robert Kaplan, author of a 2005 book that was seminal for me, Balkan Ghosts, in an article I called Big, Important Writers Embarrassing Themselves).

Back to Tyler Cowen. He blurbed Appelbaum’s book this way:

“I very much enjoyed reading The Economist’s Hour, an entertaining and well-written look at how market-oriented ideas rose from the acedemy and transformed nations. I do not agree with each and every perspective but found this a valuable and highly recommendable book, which I devoured in a single sitting.”

Takeaway here: Cowen is such a polymath that he can digest a 332 page book in a single sitting. It’s not so much about the book. It’s about Cowen’s reading prowess.

Naipaul

Goma, DRC, across Lake Kivu

Difficult man? Probably. Pretty much nobody says not. But whether or not you’d enjoy his company at your next ice cream social, V. S. Naipaul’s fictional Kisangani in A Bend in the River sticks with you.

Congo will just not stop being a compelling place. Kabila’s reign in Congo is drawing to a bitter close, even as Kivu provinces totter close to armed conflict – again – and  the Latest Ebola Outbreak Is Centered in a War Zone. All in Congo.

Remind me to post a Congo reading list. Just now though, on the occasion of Naipaul’s death, let’s all pull out A Bend in the River or A House for Mr. Biswas and reread.

Weekend Reading

Spring hovers in the wings. In our part of the world, in southern Appalachia, it’s the yearly fight between eager-to-bud trees and determined-to-refreeze cold fronts. If the rain holds off, we’ll head to the creek with an iPad loaded with some of these reading suggestions. Pick and choose what you might like among these fine reads and please enjoy your weekend.

The Sinn Fein question: could the party stop a hard Brexit? by Martin Fletcher at the New Statesman

Operation Gunnerside: The Norwegian attack on heavy water that deprived the Nazis of the atomic bomb by Timothy J Jorgensen at The Conversation (also entertainingly told in Lynne Olsen’s Last Hope Island)

Fat Leonard’s Crimes on the High Seas – The rise and fall of the defense contractor who bought off Navy brass with meals, liquor, women and bribes by Jesse Hyde in Rolling Stone

Disarming the Weapons of Mass Distraction by Madeleine Bunting at the NYRB blog. More on how to reclaim your attention span.

How a Fake Mountain Range Slowed Down Arctic Exploration – The 19th-century naval officer John Ross’s unfortunate imagination by Cara Giaimo at Atlas Obscura.

Headline hyperbole here, but on a longer term horizon, Parag Khanna is onto something: There’s a new secretary of state. Who cares? Sorry, Washington. The world doesn’t need you anymore at Politico.eu.

The Asset, How A Player In The Trump-Russia Scandal Led A Double Life As An American Spy by Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold at Buzzfeed. Everything about this is remarkable.

And finally, How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened) by David Graeber and David Wengrow at Eurozine. This compliments a flurry of books and articles lately on the distant history of humans, including the articles Tools and voyages suggest that Homo erectus invented language by Daniel Everett at Aeon, Tracing the tangled tracks of humankind’s evolutionary journey by Hannah Devlin in The Guardian and How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future by James Suzman at evonomics, which compliments his new book Affluence Without Abundance.

Another newish book, that sets out to upend most conventional hunter-gatherer history, is Against the Grain, A Deep History of the Earliest States, by James C. Scott. Scott, a contrarian, has gotten approving press, but after all, he is merely the new Colin Tudge. Tudge covered much of Scott’s territory twenty years ago in a tiny little book, Neanderthals, Bandits & Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began.

No doubt more than you were asking about early humans.

Wet but warming up in southern Appalachia this weekend. What about where you are?

Cheers!

Quotes: On Writing

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Thomas Mann

Cold Winter Weekend Reading

Next week I think I’ll post a vignette from a trip to West Africa, some form of which should work its way into my eventual book about African travel. As for now, along with everyone else on the U.S. east coast, I’ll be spending this weekend mostly indoors. Here’s some engaging reading to enjoy by the fire, or wherever you are:

Spies, Dossiers, and the Insane Lengths Restaurants Go to Track and Influence Food Critics in the Washingtonian by Jessica Sidman
One of Us at laphamsquarterly.org by John Jeremiah Sullivan
The Bridge to Nowhere and the Bays Road at East of Elveden by my friend Laurence Mitchell
Will globalisation go into reverse? in Prospect Magazine by Barry Eichengreen
The monster beneath at 1843magazine.com by Helen Gordon
They Began a New Era in The New York Review of Books by James Salter (recommended as a Salter fan. I can also recommend the 2013 compilation of Salter’s travel writing, There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter)

Cheers for now.