The Weird, Vain History of Who’s Who Books

From Atlas Obscura:

On an average day floating through the press release service PR Newswire, it’s inevitable that you run into a list of people who are designated as new members of a who’s who list.

The list always varies but the intent is usually the same: To give a person notice for their life and career, no matter how seemingly mediocre. And while today they might just be a function of lazy p.r., there was a time, not too long ago, when who’s who lists were a more curated experience. In the United Kingdom, that amounted to a 250-page reference book that debuted in 1849 and is still published today, aspiring to be a compendium “of living noteworthy and influential individuals, from all walks of life, worldwide.” In the U.S., the first who’s who book was a little less expansive, the business-savvy project of an eccentric self-made publisher named Albert Nelson Marquis, who, in 1899, published a reference book for people who did notable enough things to get in a reference book for people who did notable things (though his choices tended reflect a conservative point of view.)

That book’s list of notables, already topping 8,000 in the first edition, included every member of Congress along with nearly every other politician during the era. But, as the Chicago Tribune reported in 1986, Marquis was noted for his odd standards of who actually got in. Traditional celebrities from film or sport were often looked over, for one, in favor of educators, clergymen, or other notables that reflected Marquis’s own personal interests. He also tended to make moral judgments, excluding Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, because of his turbulent personal life.

. . . .

The company started in Cincinnati, but eventually moved to Chicago, where Marquis realized his dream: a first edition of Who’s Who in America, that made clear its intent in a prologue.

“Without claiming infallibility or inerrancy, it is believed that this publication will be a welcome addition to the list of handy helps that make up the library of indispensable books,” the prologue states. “Certainly nothing has been omitted that painstaking care, persistent effort, or expenditure of money could supply toward making the volume fully fill the purposes of its compilation.“

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Here (with 2 Years of Exhausting Photographic Detail) Is How To Write A Book

From author Ryan Holiday:

Before I was a writer, I was simply a reader. Like many readers, I was somewhat in awe of the process. I had no idea how the books I read were made, or how if I was beginning to then aspire to one day write one myself, how on earth I would manage to string so many words together.

The author and poet Austin Kleon has done the creative world an enormous favor with his concept of showing your work. Part of the mystique of the artistic brand is to make it look easy, effortless. The result is that creativity seems like a black box. In fact, we should show how we make what we make. To help others, to understand our own process, to practice humility. To show people that it’s not impossible to turn their ideas into work.

There was once an exchange between the painter Edgar Degas and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Degas was having trouble trying his hand at poetry and so he complained to his friend about his trouble writing, “I can’t manage to say what I want, and yet I’m full of ideas.” Mallarmé’s response: “It’s not with ideas, my dear Degas, that one makes verse. It’s with words.”

. . . .

[H]ere is the original title (a suggestion from my agent) and subtitle I used in the book proposal:


Why Content and Strategy Trump Tactics Every Time or How to Succeed with Content and Strategy When All the Old Tactics No Longer Work

Taking a step back for a second, if you’re wondering what a book proposal even is, you’re not alone. In the world of nonfiction traditional publishing, most authors don’t get to simply wake up one day and sit down to write a manuscript (even when it’s their sixth book). Before an author writes a single word of the book itself he or she will write down what the idea for the book will be and why people will read (i.e. buy) it — and they have to sell that to someone. It’s like writing a business plan for a book. Proposals can contain an outline, sample chapters, endorsements from relevant tastemakers, and anything else that may attract the attention of an editor at a publishing house, with the goal usually being to secure as high of an advance as possible. A publisher essentially buys the rights to publish a future book by you based on your book proposal.

In my case, my publisher bought the rights to my book about book promotion based on the proposal I’d written. It ended up selling that same month, in March 2015.

It’s important to stress that the iterative phase of the book idea doesn’t necessarily stop once the book proposal sells. Authors frequently (maybe even usually) deliver a book that is substantially different that the book that was laid out in the original proposal. I usually tell authors that the proposal is for the publisher — the book is for themselves. So what is even the point of a proposal anyway? That’s another article for another time, but suffice it to say that even though I’d sold a book about book promotion, by May of 2015 the idea still wasn’t sitting right with me.

Link to the rest at Ryan Holiday via Medium

Here’s a link to Ryan Holiday’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

All Time 100 : History Books

From List Muse:

1. A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History is his magnum opus. In it he analyses the rise and fall of all 26 of the great world civilizations; whereas, previous historians had mainly concentrated on the West. Toynbee traces general themes focusing on the genesis, growth, and disintegration of civilizations; whereas, previous historians had mainly concentrated on the West. Toynbee traces general themes focusing on the genesis, growth, and disintegration of civilizations. Arnold was one of the most influential historians of the 20th century but due perhaps to his spiritual and religious outlook, that pervades much of his work, he has lost popularity.

2. The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson

This book transformed our understanding of English social history. Thompson revealed how working class people were not merely victims of history, moved by powerful forces outside of themselves, but were also active in creating their own culture and future, during the degradation of the industrial revolution.

. . . .

6. Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill

William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples theorises about the impact disease has had on human history. He examines the influence plagues may have had on various events, such as the development of Chinese civilisation, the renaissance and the downfall of the Roman Empire.

. . . .

12. The Origins of The Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor

The Origins of the Second World War is a history book by A.J.P. Taylor. In it he looks at the causes of World War II. It was controversial at the time for holding all sides to account for the outbreak of war, but has since been recognised as a classic.

. . . .

20. Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson

James McPherson’s classic account of the Civil War era focusses not just on the war but the lead up too. Another fundamental theme is the many interpretations of liberty, as both sides believed they were fighting for the freedoms won in the Revolution. Battle Cry of Freedom won the Pulitzer prize and was included on the Modern Library’s best 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century.

. . . .

27. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Pulitzer Prize winning, The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman, is focussed on the first month of World War I. Tuchman explains in detail the events that led to the war. The book was featured in the Modern Library’s Top 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century.

Link to the rest at List Muse 

PG notes that any lists like these invariably reflect the listmaker’s point of view. PG notes only one book by John Keegan, listed as number 81, which he believes should be ranked much higher, along with several other Keegan books. PG would also add several other works by Barbara Tuchman.

However, there are many excellent books on the list and, if you don’t mind reading physical books, most are available used at low prices.

The Secret (Lunch) Lives of Remarkable Women

From Eater:

I saw Laura Shapiro walking down the street slightly before she noticed me, and even though I’d never met or seen her before, I immediately knew who she was. She’s a petite woman with short, stylish salt-and-pepper hair and big wire-framed glasses. If you live in New York, you might recognize her type — these small women walking with authority, who look at the world around them with interest and the kind of confidence that only comes from growing and changing alongside the city for decades. Shapiro also has a sweet, slightly mischievous smile, an implicit promise that anyone lucky enough to get to talk to her will come away with great stories.

Shapiro’s physical smallness belies the Herculean nature of the project she’s just completed: a group biography, 10 years in the making, of the culinary lives of six historical women. What She Ate tells the “food stories” of poetry muse Dorothy Wordsworth, pioneering restaurateur Rosa Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, consort Eva Braun, novelist Barbara Pym, and Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown. Shapiro chose these particular wildly different women because they were all, in contemporary parlance, “influencers” — of art, culture, politics, and women’s roles in society. The only thing they all have in common besides that is that they all ate food.

Shapiro decided that we should dine at Tea and Sympathy, not for its ambiance but because its menu of stodgy British classics, cooked forever and thickly sauced, would have been familiar to, if not exactly welcomed by, two of What She Ate’s subjects. Rosa Lewis, an Edwardian chef and restaurateur, would have sniffed at it and loudly mentioned the superiority of her own cooking — simple French-influenced fare that led her to rise through the ranks of polite society from decidedly humble beginnings — while Barbara Pym, whose mid-century novels about single women have had a profound impact on today’s literary world, would have smiled and taken notes on what other people were eating, then gone home and prepared a delicious, simple feast of her own.

. . . .

The publication of What She Ate is a watershed moment for Shapiro. After spending much of her life devoted to the idea that everyday food and the women who prepare and serve it are worthy of interest, the world is finally catching up to her way of thinking. The kind of cooking and eating that she describes in her book — the homely, survival-oriented eating of everyday life, not special-occasion or restaurant food — has, historically, and almost exclusively, been done by women, and it’s only recently that the myriad things that women do silently and invisibly to keep civilization afloat have gained cultural currency.

. . . .

After writing several books about the doyennes of American cooking, the seeds of What She Atewere planted when Shapiro read a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, who kept house for her brother, William, the famous poet. A single detail — an out-of-character meal of heavy blood pudding in a life that had previously been sustained by ethereal repasts of gooseberries and broth — led Shapiro to the realization that writing about the role of food and eating in the lives of women who weren’t necessarily famous for anything food-related could be a way to tell their most intimate stories. “We’re meant to read the lives of important people as if they never bothered with breakfast, lunch or dinner, or took a coffee break, or stopped for a hot dog on the street, or wandered downstairs for a few spoonfuls of chocolate pudding in the middle of the night,” Shapiro writes.

Link to the rest at Eater

Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

From The Guardian:

In 2011, Claudio Aspesi, a senior investment analyst at Bernstein Research in London, made a bet that the dominant firm in one of the most lucrative industries in the world was headed for a crash. Reed-Elsevier, a multinational publishing giant with annual revenues exceeding £6bn, was an investor’s darling. It was one of the few publishers that had successfully managed the transition to the internet, and a recent company report was predicting yet another year of growth. Aspesi, though, had reason to believe that that prediction – along with those of every other major financial analyst – was wrong.

The core of Elsevier’s operation is in scientific journals, the weekly or monthly publications in which scientists share their results. Despite the narrow audience, scientific publishing is a remarkably big business. With total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable. In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.

But Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.

It is as if the New Yorker or the Economist demanded that journalists write and edit each other’s work for free, and asked the government to foot the bill. Outside observers tend to fall into a sort of stunned disbelief when describing this setup. A 2004 parliamentary science and technology committee report on the industry drily observed that “in a traditional market suppliers are paid for the goods they provide”. A 2005 Deutsche Bank report referred to it as a “bizarre” “triple-pay” system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”.

Scientists are well aware that they seem to be getting a bad deal.

. . . .

It is hard to believe that what is essentially a for-profit oligopoly functioning within an otherwise heavily regulated, government-funded enterprise can avoid extinction in the long run. But publishing has been deeply enmeshed in the science profession for decades. Today, every scientist knows that their career depends on being published, and professional success is especially determined by getting work into the most prestigious journals. The long, slow, nearly directionless work pursued by some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century is no longer a viable career option. Under today’s system, the father of genetic sequencing, Fred Sanger, who published very little in the two decades between his 1958 and 1980 Nobel prizes, may well have found himself out of a job.

. . . .

The scientific article has essentially become the only way science is systematically represented in the world. (As Robert Kiley, head of digital services at the library of the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-biggest private funder of biomedical research, puts it: “We spend a billion pounds a year, and we get back articles.”) It is the primary resource of our most respected realm of expertise. “Publishing is the expression of our work. A good idea, a conversation or correspondence, even from the most brilliant person in the world … doesn’t count for anything unless you have it published,” says Neal Young of the NIH. If you control access to the scientific literature, it is, to all intents and purposes, like controlling science.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

From The Guardian:

Garry Kasparov is arguably the greatest chess player of all time. From 1986 until his retirement in 2005, he was ranked world No 1. He is also a leading human rights activist and is probably close to the top of Vladimir Putin’s hitlist, not least because he tried to run against him for the Russian presidency in 2007. But for people who are interested only in technology, Kasparov is probably best known as the first world champion to be beaten by a machine. In 1997, in a famous six-game match with the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue, he lost 3½-2½.

In the grand scheme of things, losing by one game in a six-game match might not seem much, but at the time it was seen as a major milestone in the long march towards “artificial” intelligence (AI). With the 20/20 vision of hindsight we can view it in a less apocalyptic light: the triumph of Deep Blue was really a victory of brute computing power, clever programming and the ruthless determination of a huge but struggling corporation to exploit the PR advantages of having one of its products do something that would impress the world’s media. But if you believe that AI has something to do with cognition, then Kasparov’s epochal defeat looks like a sideshow.

That it retains its fascination owes more to the popular view of proficiency at chess as a proxy for superintelligence rather than as possession of a very specialised skill. We’ve known for centuries that machines are much better at some things than we are. That’s why Google has become a memory prosthesis for humanity and why we use power drills to anchor bookshelves to walls. So the fact that machines now play better chess than even the greatest grandmasters or that DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated the world Go champion at his particular speciality is interesting – and might even be useful in other areas, such as pattern-matching. But it’s just an incremental step on the same path that Deep Blue trod: the IBM machine used brute-force search; AlphaGo combined even more powerful brute-force search with a couple of neural networks. It’s technically sweet, certainly, but of less than cosmic significance.

Living, as we do, in a time when existential concern about “superintelligence” and robots taking away middle-class jobs, Kasparov has acquired a new significance as the highest-profile (and highest-status) human ever to have been defeated by a machine. (Interestingly, Deep Blue didn’t take away his job: he continued to hold the world chess championship until his defeat by Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. And he continued to win tournaments and maintain his world ranking until he retired in 2005.) So what makes his book fascinating is that he uses it to reflect on what it was like to have been defeated by a machine and on the more general implications of that experience.

The Kasparov v Deep Blue match has been endlessly discussed by chess aficionados in books and articles, but Deep Thinking gives us the inside story of what happened. Even for readers with only a passing interest in chess, it’s an absorbing, page-turning thriller that weaves a personal account of intellectual combat with the wider picture of what it’s like to come up against a powerful corporation that is determined to do whatever it takes to crush opposition. So this isn’t just a tale of human versus machine – it’s also a story about one man versus The Man.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What is the biggest challenge in university-press publishing?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

People are convinced there’s a crisis in university-press publishing — that we’re dying off in significant numbers, that we’re unsustainable, that dramatic changes are inevitable. None of this is true. Print, books, and bookstores are all healthy. Library sales are on the decline, it’s true, but they have been for generations. If anything, it feels like book publishing, including university presses, has achieved a new normal.

But I worry that the perception of crisis (stemming in part from a tendency to conflate for-profit journal publishers and not-for-profit university presses, which focus primarily on books) threatens to cause a crisis by undermining support for traditional university presses. If we seem doomed despite the evidence, after all, why continue to support us?

The book is necessary and important — and, while it’s hardly a static artifact, it’s proved remarkably durable. Books are also expensive, especially in terms of the skilled labor necessary to acquire and market them. But they’re worth it. In the current environment, with its emphasis on disruption and the widely promoted belief that university presses are a “problem” in search of a “solution,” our biggest challenge is making sure people don’t lose sight of that.

. . . .

There are roughly 4,200 institutions of higher education in the United States. These institutions rely on the work of some 140 scholarly presses to assure a critical function: the independent review, assessment, and distribution of the best ideas of faculty members, which in turn makes a clear basis for the evaluation of a scholar’s contribution to a field. But instead of finding ways to share the costs of this necessary system equally across all institutions, the sponsoring institutions have themselves increasingly abandoned their presses to the whims of the marketplace, effectively rendering these presses less and less distinct from trade publishers.

. . . .

We’ve seen e-book sales plateau and drop, so we aren’t experiencing the print reduction offset by the digital. Amazon, our biggest reseller, instituted a new policy that requires a minimum threshold of demand in order to carry stock. That’s a scary scenario. Our authors are constantly looking at Amazon and get nervous when they don’t see their title listed as “in stock.” —Fredric Nachbaur

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Exactly how I self-published my book, sold 180,000 copies, and nearly doubled my revenue

From Growth Lab:

The Coaching Habit was published on February 29, 2016. (Leap Day! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?)

In the year since, it’s sold nearly 200,000 copies, including 8,000 ebooks in one week in May. It made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list “organically” (which is to say, accidentally). It received more than 500 reviews on Amazon, 450 of which are five-star. And it’s been the number one book in the business/coaching category for about 95 percent of the year.

. . . .

So perhaps you’re considering writing a book yourself, or you’ve gone as far as to have a first draft in a digital drawer somewhere. We’ve all seen our marketing heroes grow a base of fans, then customers, then empires through “content marketing.” And the big kahuna in content marketing is the book. This is how you officially rise to “Thought Leader” status, it’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors, you drive revenue, you launch your speaking career, you start hanging out with other cool authors. Easy enough, right?

As with most things involving your business, it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. Writing a book is a long, lonely, and oftentimes unsuccessful endeavor. My “instant success” was anything but. The Coaching Habit was the result of four years of floundering, rejection, and toil. So you don’t make my mistakes, allow me to share everything I used to vault my book from idea to bestseller (with a table of contents to skip to what you’d like to know).

. . . .

Part I: The New York publisher, the big-name agent, and misery

In 2010, I fell into a book deal with a fancy New York publisher. It happened remarkably quickly. I was planning to self-publish my second book and had printed a small run to send out to my friends for their feedback, a final step before I hit the “All In” button and printed several thousand. One of those friends, Nick, sent his copy on to his publisher who got excited and called me. I got excited, and told them they had 48 hours to make an offer, given the impending big print run. They got flustered but made an offer. And in less than a week, we had a deal.

Woo-hoo! (Note: As I’ve subsequently discovered, this is not at all how it normally works.)

Do More Great Work was launched, and it’s done well. In five years, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, and people who like it love it. I had my first experience with a publisher, and it was mostly good. There were the usual disappointments about design compromises (a little gap), and about what they thought of as marketing (a much bigger gap).

Courtesy, as well as my contract, obliged me to offer my next book to this publisher. And this time, rather than “Accidentally Do It Myself” like last time, I thought it was time to get an agent. Because that’s what “Real Authors” have. After talking to a few, I found someone who I considered smart and strategic, and who had an impressive roster of business authors. I signed up… and quickly entered a special kind of purgatory.

The next three years were spent in back-and-forth between me, the agent, and my publisher, and I failed to make any progress. I wrote proposals. The agent turned them down. I wrote more proposals. The agent and the publisher turned them down. I wrote entire books. My editor told me they “loved them” but didn’t “love them.”

So I tried to write the book that I thought they’d think they might love, if they knew what that book was, which they didn’t. Another miserable fail. And I wrote at least one other full-length version of the book somewhere in there as well, also rejected. It was a colossal waste of time that I could have spent growing and improving my business. I had lost my way. It crossed my mind more than once that I should be spending my time on something, anything, more productive. You know, marketing, sales, that sort of thing.

. . . .

Part III: Invest more upfront (and keep more money)

. . . .

Just so you know how the money works, for my first book Do More Great Work, which was published only as a paperback, I was paid an advance of $15,000 (which I was THRILLED about) and a royalty rate of eight percent for full-price books (this does not include those sold at a bulk discount rate).

The book sells for between $10 and $15, depending on how Amazon is feeling, which means I earn about $1 per sale, plus-or-minus 20¢. In the six years since it was originally published, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, meaning I’ve easily earned out my advance, and I get checks once or twice a year from the publisher (checks that get smaller each time).

For The Coaching Habit, I had to invest a bunch of money upfront (more about that above) and had to spend a bunch of money on the launch and ongoing marketing (more about that below). However, the economics of this book, if I can sell it, are much better. It costs me between $1.50 and $2.00 a copy to print it. It costs me money for shipping and storage. Our distributors pay us 60 percent of the sale price. The book sells for between $11 and $15, so that means I earn between about $4 and $6 for each print copy sold. The Kindle version sells for $5, and we get 70 percent of that from Amazon, so about $3.50 per copy sold. That’s anywhere between 300 and 500 percent more than I’d get with a traditional publisher!

Link to the rest at Growth Lab

Here’s a link to Michael Bungay Stanier’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Researchers find free textbooks are just as effective as costly ones

From the Provo Daily Herald:

In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.

BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.

The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.

. . . .

Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.

“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”

At community colleges, the price of textbooks can be half of the price a student pays for their education.

Fischer said the cost of textbooks over time, compared to inflation, has grown astronomically and that the textbook market in general doesn’t follow traditional supply and demand.

“It is a broken economic system because the normal laws of supply and demand don’t apply,” said John Hilton III, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and member of the Open Education Group. “The professor doesn’t have to pay for it, and the students don’t have a say in which one they chose.”

Fisher said about half of professors know how much their required textbooks cost.

. . . .

“If students perform just as well without the textbooks, it is like giving every student a $1,000 scholarship if students are using open education resources,” Hilton said.

With new editions constantly coming out in subjects that don’t change, like algebra, once a student buys a textbook, a new edition can make it nearly impossible to sell the used one.

Link to the rest at Daily Herald


From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 labrish, v.

. . . .

To gossip idly; to chat; to chatter.

. . . .

1935 Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 13 Mar. 17/6 Gerardo Leon..sang a Jamaica Mento composed by himself entitled ‘Ooman wa mek yu labrish so’.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Why We Are Self Publishing the Aviary Cookbook – Lessons From the Alinea Book

From Nick Kokonas:

One of the most opaque industries around is publishing, not here online, but good old-fashioned print-books and their digital and audio spin-offs. Poke around and try to find some hard sales numbers and you’ll quickly find that it’s near impossible to do so. You can find bestseller lists from reputable sources like the NYTimes, Amazon and others but tying those rankings to an actual number of books sold at retail is simply not doable. Publishing costs, deals, and profit lines are even harder to shake loose.

About a decade ago, in 2007, book agents and publishers began approaching chef Achatz and me to gauge our interest in creating an Alinea cookbook. Ever since that process started I have wanted to write this post. Having never published a book before I was fairly mind-blown by the terms of the offering and my inability to properly and easily research the process, costs and revenue potential of a cookbook. In the intervening decade I’ve ranted privately to dozens of chefs, restaurant owners, writers of fiction and non-fiction alike, and even a few screenwriters that they should avoid traditional publishing deals if at all possible. I’ve pushed the case in private, but have always been afraid to fully burn my bridges.

Until now.

Back in March of 2007 we received this exact offer from a major cookbook publisher in the US, the first of several such offers that were remarkably similar. I’ve redacted only the publisher’s identity, the rest is verbatim:

Advance against royalties: $125,000

Royalties: hardcover: 8% of cover price on first 15,000 copies; 10% of cover price on next 15,000 copies; 12% on all copies thereafter; trade paperback: 7.5% of cover price on all copies (note that we are not envisioning this as a paperback but nevertheless want to secure the rights)

Territory: world

Subsidiary rights secured by publisher: first serial (90% author/10% publisher); second serial (50%/50%), book club (50%/50%), permissions (50%/50%), other book publication (50%/50%), British (80%/20%), translation (75%/25%), electronic (50%/50%), audio (50%/50%), paper products (50%/50%)

Subsidiary rights retained by author: video, commercial and merchandising, performance

Deliverables: 100 recipes and supporting text by 8/31/07; 150 color photographs delivered as high-resolution digital files with match prints by 8/31/07; recipes must be fully tested and photographs are subject to [redacted’s] approval.

Option: on next cookbook; proposal may be submitted 90 days after publication of the contract work

Buyback: Author will purchase 5,000 copies for resale within 12 months of publication subject to the following terms: non-returnable; orders of a minimum of 500 copies; in carton quantities only; subject to [redacted’s] inventory requirements; at a discount of 50% off the retail price; royalties payable; delivered to a single US destination; to be sold through the author’s own restaurants, businesses, and website only.

For a first book this is considered a great offer. It’s super rare for any chef or restaurant to receive a solid book deal, let alone a restaurant that was less than 2 years old. $125,000 and the guarantee of editing support, printing supervision, and distribution would have ensured that the book would reach a wide audience and be of relatively high quality.

But then I started doing the math. And negotiating. The offer was soon doubled to $250,000 (perhaps too quickly). But it still didn’t add up to me. At a $60 cover price we would net $4.80 per book sold of the first 15,000 units and have recouped only a $72,000 credit of the advance. On the next 15,000 copies, $90,000. For every book sold after 30,000 — and let’s be clear *very* few cookbooks sell more than 30,000 copies — we would recoup at a rate of $7.20 per book and need to sell another 12,222 books before we saw another dime. The advance is just that — an advance against royalties — and just like a record deal the publisher keeps all of the revenue until the advance is fully recouped, if ever.

Out of that $250,000 we would be required to spend the money on all photography, graphic design, pre-press, editing, recipe testing, writing and proofs. With a team of 4–6 professionals contracted for the book this would typically use 70% to 85% of the advance. It could easily end up being more than that for us as we intended to shoot every recipe, its steps and the final dish… something that the vast majority of cookbooks do not do for several reasons.

The photography, color correction, layout and proofs are exacting and time consuming. As important, pages that are full-bleed, 6-color printed drive up the printing costs. That is why most cookbooks — even the best — do not include photographs of every recipe. The pages that are only text, be they recipes or essays, are far cheaper to print and work to save money on the overall production costs. If you unbind a typical cookbook (we dissected a dozen or so with an X-acto knife), you’ll find that pages 20 / 200 (for example) are printed on the same sheet… and don’t include pictures. Multiply that by 40% or more of the book and you’ve saved a great deal of money. Next time you pick up a cookbook try to estimate how many pages are all or mostly words, then page through the book. You’ll be surprised. And now you’ll know why there isn’t a picture of every recipe and dish, even though the ones with pictures tend to be the only recipes readers actually cook.

There is, baked into the structure of the publishing agreement, a mutual incentive to reduce costs. For the authors it is to cut corners on photography and design production to retain more of the advance money. This helps the publisher to keep the printing cost as low as possible. But what were those costs exactly?

I still had no idea what it actually cost to print a major cookbook. That was as hard to figure out as sales numbers. So our team started calling printers in China and Korea, print brokers in the US, and any publishing contact I could find to ask a very specific question: “How much does it cost to print 30,000 copies of a [Very Famous and Successful] Cookbook, do you think?” I was met with responses that were akin to me asking for state secrets that were highly classified. No one would talk.

Until one-day I got lucky. Just by chance I spoke to the print broker who actually worked on the exact bid for that famous book. And he told me precisely: that super amazing cookbook that I truly loved, which at the time retailed for $50 and had won every award imaginable, cost $3.83 per book to print, shrink wrap, and ship to the US. I thought he must be mistaken and I said so. “No way.” He replied, “well that was the first edition, I’m sure the cost has gone down since then.” He thought I was implying that $3.83 per book was too high!

Link to the rest at Nick Kokonas

Thanks to My OCD, I Wrote a Self-Published Best-Seller

From author Max Altschuler via MediaShift:

Whenever I leave a room, I flicker the lights on and off twice. If any object isn’t exactly where it belongs — a dish, the remote, the clock by my bed — then I need to fix it before I can move on to the next thing, let alone leave the house.

I know I have some level of OCD. But at this point, I’m not looking to treat it. That’s because I’ve learned to harness it professionally. Without it, I wouldn’t have written a book during a week-long vacation. I self-published it upon return, made six figure profits within months, and turned down an offer from a major traditional publisher — until eventually selling them the reprint rights.

While most people don’t share my obsessions and compulsions, anyone can learn from the steps I took to write and publish in little time.

My career focuses on sales and technology. As I learn things, I store them in compartments in my brain, filing them into specific folders where they belong.

Most people won’t do this mentally, but anyone can do it literally. Within your area of expertise, keep your knowledge organized somewhere, such as document folders in the cloud. As these build up, you’ll have the raw materials for a book. (This applies primarily to non-fiction, but can also help fiction writers store information necessary for the details they’re writing about — historical epics, industries, etc.)

. . . .

Specialized how-to business books of about 30,000 words can do quite well. This is particularly true when you sell a book about selling — to people who sell. I knew this about my market.

Just as importantly, I had established myself as a known quantity within my niche: where sales and technology meet. Through my work at Sales Hacker and the big conferences I was running, I had built up the right connections who would help spread the word. And I had a substantial e-mail list that would make initial marketing a breeze.

In my professional community, Amazon is generally the first place people turn to for books. So I hired an editor to format it and made it available on Amazon, as e-book and print-on-demand.

Soon after, I received an offer from a traditional publisher. But I saw no reason to give another company the vast majority of the money. Later, after months of steady sales, I had moved on to other projects. I agreed to sell the reprint rights to Wiley. They worked with me to expand the book a bit (it’s now at 35,000 words), and made it available in brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Link to the rest at MediaShift. Here’s a link to Max Altschuler’s book. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Picasso and the Cultural Rebirth of Chicago

Yesterday, PG read an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of Mike Royko.

PG is certain that most of the world has never heard of Royko, a Polish-Ukranian newspaperman who wrote a daily column for the Chicago Daily News for many years.

When the Daily News closed down in 1978, Royko took his column to the Chicago Sun-Times. When Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun-Times, Royko quit with the comment, “No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper.” He finished his career at the Chicago Tribune.

Royko was the quintessential voice of the little guy and the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, skewering the politicians of the Democratic party machine and the wealthy Republicans who supported them whenever the occasion arose. And the occasion arose quite frequently. He attended a junior college briefly, but had no formal training in writing other than what he absorbed working in newspapers.

Every day when he got off work, Royko went to the Billy Goat Tavern, the blue-collar after-hours haunt of Chicago journalists. He was well-known for being rude to any slumming young executive types who tried to talk to him while he was drinking.

When PG was commuting to work at his first couple of jobs in Chicago after graduating from college, he read Royko’s column every day. He remembers one Royko column discussing the replacement of Men’s and Women’s restroom signs at Chicago’s O’Hare airport with pictographs – outline drawings in the shape of men and women. Royko opined that this change was necessary because Chicago aldermen kept walking into the wrong bathrooms at the airport.

Following is one of Royko’s classic columns. For some context, Mayor Daley is Mayor Richard J. Daley, who served as mayor of Chicago for twenty-one years and died in office. After a few short-term mayors, Mayor Daley’s son, Richard M. Daley served as mayor of Chicago for twenty-two years. While plenty of their political supporters were indicted on various corruption charges, each of the Daleys managed to skate.

Mayor Daley walked to the white piece of ribbon and put his hand on it. He was about to give it a pull when the photographers yelled for him to wait. He stood there for a minute and gave them that familiar blend of scowl and smile.

It was good that he waited. This was a moment to think about, to savor what was about to happen. In just a moment, with a snap of the mayor’s wrist, Chicago history would be changed. That’s no small occurrence·the cultural rebirth of a big city.

Out there in the neighborhoods and the suburbs, things probably seemed just the same. People worried about the old things·would they move in and would we move out? Or would we move in and would they move out?

But downtown, the leaders of culture and influence were gathered for a historical event and it was reaching a climax with Mayor Daley standing there ready to pull a ribbon.

Thousands waited in and around the Civic Center plaza. They had listened to the speeches about the Picasso thing. They had heard how it was going to change Chicago’s image.

They had heard three clergymen·a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister·offer eloquent prayers. That’s probably a record for a work by Picasso, a dedicated atheist.

And now the mayor was standing there, ready to pull the ribbon.

You could tell it was a big event by the seating. In the first row on the speakers platform was a lady poet. In the second row was Alderman Tom Keane. And in the third row was P. J. Cullerton, the assessor. When Keane and Cullerton sit behind a lady poet, things are changing.

The only alderman in the front row was Tom Rosenberg. And he was there only because it was a cultural event and he is chairman of the City Council’s Culture Committee, which is in charge of preventing aldermen from spitting, swearing, and snoring during meetings.

The whole thing had been somber and serious. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had played classical music. It hadn’t played even one chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

Chief Judge John Boyle had said the Picasso would become more famous than the Art Institute’s lions. Boyle has vision.

Someone from the National Council of Arts said it was paying tribute to Mayor Daley. This brought an interested gleam in the eyes of a few ward committeemen.

William Hartmann, the man who thought of the whole thing, told of Picasso’s respect for Mayor Daley. Whenever Hartmann went to see Picasso, the artist asked:

“Is Mayor Daley still mayor of Chicago?”

When Hartmann said this, Mayor Daley bounced up and down in his chair, he laughed so hard. So did a few Republicans in the cheap seats, but they didn’t laugh the same way.

After the ceremony, it came to that final moment the mayor standing there holding the white ribbon.

Then he pulled.

There was a gasp as the light blue covering fell away in several pieces. But it was caused by the basic American fascination for any mechanical feat that goes off as planned.

In an instant the Picasso stood there unveiled for all to see.

A few people applauded. But at best, it was a smattering of applause. Most of the throng was silent.

They had hoped, you see, that it would be what they had heard it would be.

A woman, maybe. A beautiful soaring woman. That is what many art experts and enthusiasts had promised. They had said that we should wait that we should not believe what we saw in the pictures.

If it was a woman, then art experts should put away their books and spend more time in girlie joints.

The silence grew. Then people turned and looked at each other. Some shrugged. Some smiled. Some just stood there, frowning or blank-faced.

Most just turned and walked away. The weakest pinch-hitter on the Cubs receives more cheers.

They had wanted to be moved by it. They wouldn’t have stood there if they didn’t want to believe what they had been told that it would be a fine thing.

But anyone who didn’t have a closed mind·which means thinking that anything with the name Picasso connected must be wonderful could see that it was nothing but a big, homely metal thing.

That is all there is to it. Some soaring lines, yes. Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean.

But why not? Everybody said it had the spirit of Chicago. And from thousands of miles away, accidentally or on purpose, Picasso captured it.

Up there in that ugly face is the spirit of Al Capone, the Summerdale scandal cops, the settlers who took the Indians but good.

Its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner to make it all possible.

It has the look of the dope pusher and of the syndicate technician as he looks for just the right wire to splice the bomb to.

Any bigtime real estate operator will be able to look into the face of the Picasso and see the spirit that makes the city’s rebuilding possible and profitable.

It has the look of the big corporate executive who comes face to face with the reality of how much water pollution his company is responsible for and then thinks of the profit and loss and of his salary.

It is all there in that Picasso thing the I Will spirit. The I will get you before you will get me spirit.

Picasso has never been here, they say. You’d think he’s been riding the L all his life.

Link to the rest, including a couple of additional Royko columns, at the University of Chicago Press, which has published a One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko

How to Organize Your Book Collection

Note – the authors of this article have written a book about how to organize your life. They categorize their advice by personality types – Smarts, Organics, Classic and Fun Pixies, etc.

From Read it Forward:

The two of us have spent a lifetime surrounded by books. There are literally books in EVERY room of our parents’ house—from a large paperback collection in the basement (!) to our childhood books in the attic to others even in the dining room. We’ve also spent 10 years curating all manner of libraries owned by various Pixie organizing types and we haven’t seen a library yet that we haven’t improved with a little Pixie Magic. First, only keep books that either have meaning, are actively read, produce happiness, or frankly look good on display. Then play around with them using some of our great Pixie tips. Once you take these steps, your books will become both objets d’arts and utilitarian fountains of knowledge.

. . . .

Logical types—Smarts, Classic Structures, and Fun Structures—tend to keep books because they’re manifestations of their achievements. So when pruning, you guys need to make sure each book still mirrors what you want to project to the world. If this only purges one or two books, then focus on paperbacks. They’re meant to be recycled unless they’re out of print or still used. They’re literally disintegrating on your shelf as you read this. If our incredibly stubborn, Smart Structure, bibliophile father can start to consider donating his basement paperback library, then it’s time for you as well. If the paperback pathway fails, hire an organizer to make you justify the logic of holding on to paperbacks you can get online or didn’t even like when you read them. Donate hardcovers you don’t care about anymore or sell that textbook you’ve never referenced in 20 years. Let that poor neglected book be loved by someone, man!

Sentimental types—Organics, Classic Freedoms and Fun Freedoms—tend to keep books as reminders of the past, like old friends. Let’s face it, it’s hard to dump friends! Keep the golden ones (you know who they are) and get rid of the riff-raff. We assure you that tossing a book is much easier than dumping an actual friend. If this method fails, invite your most judgmental Classic or Smart friend over to make you justify every sentimental item in your library. Items you can’t let go of, even after being friend-shamed, should go in a “Later Box” in deep storage for 3, 6, or 12 months. Then without looking inside, keep whatever you miss from the box and donate the rest. C’mon, you forgot they even existed!!

. . . .

While it’s much easier to style a half empty bookcase, it’s not impossible to make one that’s bursting look a lot better. It’s a matter of putting like with like, a few pops of contrast here and there to break up the long line of books and matching frames for your photos to lend cohesion to a varied collection. The only idea you need to let go of is alphabetizing unless, of course, your book collection rivals your local library and you utilize your books on a regular basis. In which case, ask your local librarian for advice! If you’re like most folks, though, Pixie advice should suffice.

Link to the rest at Read it Forward

Here’s a link to Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality

For the record, PG is not any sort of pixie, organizational or otherwise. He doesn’t recall ever being or aspiring to be the least bit pixielike

Of course, as Mrs. PG will attest, PG is not terribly fascinated with the organization of physical objects.

The contents of PG’s computer, however, are a paragon of intelligent organization, his secret well-ordered life. However, even his secret life contains no pixies.


From The Oxford English Dictionary:

procacious, adj. 

. . . .

Insolent or arrogant in attitude or tone; forward, cheeky; provocative

. . . .

1660 R. Baxter Treat. Self-denyall xliv. 237 The temptations of women, and procacious youth.

. . . .

1796 tr. Voltaire La Pucelle I. iii. 73 Whose Acts exterminate the Race procacious, Of a fam’d Madman we name Saint Ignatius.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Hogs Norton

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 Hogs Norton, n.

. . . .

A fictional town renowned for its uncultured and boorish inhabitants; often in (depreciative) phrases suggesting that someone is a native or inhabitant of this town.

. . . .

1725 N. Bailey tr. Erasmus Colloq. 317 You saucy Fellow, where was you drag’d up, At Hogs Norton?

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

A Journey Into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory

From The New York Times:

 Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in America, has turned itself into a social media powerhouse over the past few years. Its editors star in online videos on hot-button topics like the serial comma, gender pronouns and the dreaded “irregardless.” Its Twitter feed has become a viral sensation, offering witty — and sometimes pointedly political — commentary on the news of the day.

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer here, is very much part of the vanguard of word-nerd celebrities. Her witty “Ask the Editor” video contributions, like a classic on the plural of octopus, and personal blog, Harmless Drudgery, have inspired a Kory Stamper Fan Club on Facebook. One online admirer has carefully tracked minute changes in her hair (which, for one thing, is purple).

But the company remains very much a bricks-and-mortar operation, still based in this small New England city where the Merriam brothers bought the rights to Noah Webster’s dictionary in the 1840s and carried on his idea of a distinctly American language. And this month, Ms. Stamper, the author of the new book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” was more than happy to offer a tour of some of the distinctly analog oddities in the basement.

. . . .

But the real jaw-dropper was the Backward Index, which includes some 315,000 cards listing words spelled … backward.

“It was conceived of as another way of shuffling information,” Ms. Stamper said of the index, which seems to have been produced intermittently from the 1930s to the ’70s. “Basically, someone sat here and typed up all the entries backwards. And then went crazy.”

Craziness is a bit of a leitmotif in “Word by Word.” The book, published last week by Pantheon, mixes memoiristic meditations on the lexicographic life along with a detailed description of the brain-twisting work of writing dictionaries. The Atlantic called it “an erudite and loving and occasionally profane history of the English language” that’s also “a cheerful and thoughtful rebuke of the cult of the grammar scolds.”

Ms. Stamper calls it “a love letter to dictionaries in English,” if one that allows for some mixed feelings.

“People have so many fears about what their use of language says about them,” she said. “When you talk to people about dictionaries, they often start talking about other things, like which words they love, and which words they hate. And it’s perfectly fine to hate parts of the language.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Friendships That Saved the World

From The Wall Street Journal:

The “special relationship”: Ever since Winston Churchill coined the phrase to describe the alliance between the United States and Great Britain during World War II—an alliance that later became instrumental to founding NATO and sustaining peace during the Cold War—historians, diplomats and politicians have waxed eloquent (and sometimes indignant) about it. The alliance became increasingly asymmetrical as America’s power grew and Britain’s empire declined, and yet—even to this day—it has remained impressively, sometimes movingly, reciprocal.

Lewis Lehrman’s “Churchill, Roosevelt & Company” offers a detailed look at the special relationship, especially during World War II, when Anglo-American cooperation achieved its most impressive results and faced its most formidable challenges. The book is packed with fascinating detail and illuminates not only the past but the challenges of the present day. The subtitle is “Studies in Character and Statecraft”: Mr. Lehrman makes it clear that, in geopolitics, the two go together.

The origins of the special relationship actually go back to World War I, when the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy joined forces to beat the German U-boat menace. Although British statesmen had wanted the U.S. to join the Allied cause early in the war, they felt that, if need be, Britain could sustain itself against Germany without the help of the Americans.

By 1940, however, such strategic independence was no longer possible. When Churchill reached out to FDR that May as Nazi tanks were pouring across France, he knew that Britain couldn’t survive without American help. Even after Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941 and Stalin became Churchill’s unexpected ally, the British prime minister always knew that victory over Hitler depended on the full engagement of the United States.

Churchill found a willing partner in Franklin Roosevelt. As Mr. Lehrman reminds us, Churchill and FDR saw the world in much the same way—believing that whoever controlled the Atlantic controlled the fate of the U.S. as well as Europe—and both grasped the global stakes if Hitler prevailed. Even so, it took a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war four days later to turn America’s material support of the British under Lend-Lease into what Britain desperately needed: an all-out U.S. military commitment.

. . . .

[Wall Street lawyer William] Donovan turned out to be one of a series of envoys that FDR sent to London to manage policy. None were trained diplomats; all were men who combined high intellectual caliber and strong wills with an unswerving loyalty to their commander in chief. They included the banker Averell Harriman; the Republican politician John Gilbert Winant, who replaced defeatist Joe Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s; and FDR’s most trusted aide, Harry Hopkins. Mr. Lehrman quotes British Gen. Hastings Ismay saying that Hopkins “won the hearts of us all, from the highest to the lowest; he had seen everything. We felt sure that he would report to his chief that we were worth backing to the limit.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Pearson Posts a $3.3 Billion Loss as It Faces Down a Collapse in Its Biggest Market

From Fortune:

Pearson, the global education company battling a collapse in its biggest market, said it would take further costs out of the business and look to sell some assets after posting a $3.3 billion pretax loss and a sharp rise in debt.

Pearson, which has issued five profit warnings in four years after students in the United States started renting text books rather than buying them, said its loss included an impairment of goodwill of 2.5 billion pounds, reflecting the challenges facing the business.

Link to the rest at Fortune and thanks to MKS for the tip.

Can Self-Publishing Crack the Academic Market?

From Publishers Weekly:

In 2016, self-publishing pioneer introduced Glasstree, a new service the company hopes might begin to reshape the academic and scholarly publishing market. Ahead of the London Book Fair, PW caught up with Glasstree’s Daniel Berze to learn more about the company’s plan to crack the academic publishing market wide open.

In announcing Glasstree, you noted that “the existing academic publishing model is broken.” You’re not the first to make such an observation—but explain why you think the market is broken and why Glasstree might be a solution.

The traditional publishing model is broken for a number of reasons. First, because academic authors traditionally have so little control over their own content. When they hand it over to their publisher, they often assign their copyrights and hand over legal ownership. And they have no power to set the market price. Traditional publishing often compels purchasers to obtain content with restrictive policies, at often-extortionate levels.

This is also true for open access content, which usually requires the author to pay unfair processing charges in order to publish. More generally, traditional academic publishers also lack transparency: it is impossible to obtain any insight into the costs associated with the production of a book—or the profit margins earned by the publisher and/or the author. Speed to market is also an issue, as academic content can sometimes take years before being published. Glasstree aims to put power back in the hands of the author.

. . . .

What do you think the main selling point for Glasstree is? And where do you expect the service to be next year, and then, say, five years out?

I think that the biggest selling point is the ability to provide authors and universities with the tools that they need to publish, print, and be successful at a price level that would be unfathomable even a few years ago, with a specific orientation to academics and educators—for example, the ability to track bibliometrics with a DOI, discoverability tools, creative commons licensing, and so on. This year, we will introduce a print API to the market.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Drunk Texts, Squad Goals, and Brewer’s Droop: an Oxford Dictionaries update

From Oxford Dictionaries:

Oxford Dictionaries publishes an update of new entries today (#squadgoals), so let’s celebrate with a chest bump. This is truly a Kodak moment, so maybe it’s time to take a video selfie, and you’d better not untag yourself! Though it might not be the stuff of fitspo, you can still make room for this on your image board. Get yourself comfortable, check above you for drop bears, and grab yourself a cup of pour-over—it’s better than drinking the haterade! We’re very excited to share with you the Oxford Dictionaries’ funtastic list of new words.

. . . .

Thrill-seekers on the hunt for a way of levelling up their commute might choose to skitch: this word is a blend of skate or ski and hitch, and refers to the activity of ‘hitching’ onto a motor vehicle while riding a bike, skateboard, etc. so as to travel at greater speeds, not always giving the driver any warning of your intentions. Possibly not the safest way to get from A to B…

. . . .

If you’re anything like me, you need a bit of incentive to work up to any exercise. Perhaps this can be where fitspiration—often shortened to fitspo—comes in: this blend of fit and inspiration is used to refer to any person or thing that motivates you to improve your fitness.

Link to the rest at Oxford Dictionaries

My Mind Made Me Do It

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1991 a retired advertising salesman named Herbert Weinstein strangled his wife and threw her out the window of the twelfth floor apartment they shared on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Despite the killer’s confession, this seemingly straightforward case became clouded with confusion after it was discovered that Weinstein had a cyst “the size of an orange” pressing on his brain. Suddenly, neurologists and brain scans became as important to Weinstein’s fate as lawyers and physical evidence. At a pretrial hearing, a judge for the first time granted permission for a jury to see the results of a PET scan. It would not be the last.

Kevin Davis places Weinstein’s fascinating story at the center of “The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms.”

. . . .

What was novel in the Weinstein case has become commonplace. Mr. Davis reports that, “in more than 250 opinions issued in 2012, defendants argued that their ‘brains made them do it,’ more than double the number five years earlier.” The trend shows no signs of abating. Where once lawyers pointed to a broken home, many now point to a “broken brain,” whether caused by childhood abuse, an IED in Iraq or a cyst like Weinstein’s. The brain of the accused has become a second crime scene, the perpetrator a victim of traumatic brain injury, structural anomalies or lesions responsible for low-glucose metabolism in an area vital for decision-making.

. . . .

To “neuroskeptics,” brain damage, however visible on a scan, offers no proof that a much-concussed football player is not responsible for shooting his wife even if he is damaged in an area implicated in moral reasoning. After all, he might have been drawn to a violent sport by a violent nature long before his first collision. As Helen Mayberg, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine, tells Mr. Davis: “Neuroscience is not objective. Two people can analyze the same data differently.” This is a legal revolution based on a subjective foundation.

. . . .

Mr. Damasio ultimately found that while Weinstein appeared to know right from wrong, pressure from the tumor deprived him of the ability to act in accordance with that knowledge. In the scientist’s words: “Confronted with an unusual provocation he was unable to select the most appropriate response option.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

So you want to write a nonfiction book

From The Washington Post:

One of the interesting things about specialization is how we often take for granted the things we do well. I am insanely impressed by the Europeans I encounter who can speak at least five languages and are likely adding a sixth, but they usually just shrug their shoulders and think it’s no big deal. Truck drivers who can back up a 16-wheeler into a loading dock with little margin for error? That looks more complicated than brain surgery, but to them it’s no big whoop.

I’m just a small-town political scientist, so I don’t think of myself as possessing any special skills. But from recent conversations, I’ve learned that there is one thing that seems impressive to other folks but is nothing extraordinary to me: I write nonfiction books. My sixth book will be out in less than two months, and I’m spending a lot of this month pondering how to write my seventh book. People keep publishing them, so I guess my books aren’t awful.

. . . .

2) Know your audience. Another thing that you need to put in your book prospectus is your targeted audience. Who do you want to read your book? Why, everyone, of course, and they should each buy 10 copies just to be safe. The better question to ask is: Who do you think needs to read your book? Business leaders? College students? Stay-at-home parents? Retirees? Make sure you have the answer to this question in your head — and then, when you’re crafting the prose, imagine that reader.

. . . .

5) When you get on a good writing jag, tune everything else out. There are days of writing a book when you can concentrate all you want and you will only produce a few hundred words. But then there are the days when you are in the zone, when all you are really doing is transcribing the elegant turns of phrase from your brain to the computer. It’s like a baseball pitcher who finally tweaks his throwing mechanics and goes on a streak.

. . . .

If you’re writing thousands of words a day, then don’t check your phone, don’t clean up your office, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on food, and sleep only when you must.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Bill for the tip.


From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 outler, n. 

. . . .

An animal that is not housed during the night or winter. Also fig.: a person out of work

. . . .

1791 J. Learmont Poems Pastoral 160 At length the Outlers grew sae mad Against ilk Inler purse-proud blade.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Ultimate Kitchen released an e-book “How to Fillet Fish” that will go with their 7” fillet knife with gut spoon and sheath.

From Newswire:

Ultimate Kitchen gained popularity on the online market as a producer of elegant and functional kitchen accessories.

. . . .

Ultimate Kitchen offers the range of additional services that clients receive with their purchases. The company recently released the e-book “How to Fillet Fish”. Customers will receive this e-book with their purchase of 7” fillet knife with gut spoon and sheath.

Link to the rest at Newswire

PG checked Amazon’s bookstore and discovered that several books on the topic of filleting fish may be found under the Fishing heading.

Top Hat Raises $22.5 Million to Go After Pearson, McGraw-Hill

From Bloomberg Technology:

Top Hat, the Canadian education technology startup, completed a new round of funding to give it more firepower to go after textbook publishers like Pearson Plc.

The $22.5 million round is Top Hat’s biggest yet and brings its total funding to about $40 million, the Toronto-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

. . . .

Top Hat is one of a handful of startups trying to find ways to disrupt the traditional textbook publishing industry, dominated by companies like Pearson, Cengage Learning Inc. and McGraw-Hill Education Inc., which is owned by Apollo Global Management LLC. All of these firms have added digital educational materials to their range of products, but the transition has been rocky.

. . . .

Even as the big publishers work to increase the proportion of sales that come from digital products, they’re still largely dependent on physical books.

That’s a weakness Top Hat Chief Executive Officer Mike Silagadze said he’s trying to exploit. He started by selling software tools to professors that help them engage their students, such as smartphone apps that let them tell lecturers if they understand new concepts in real-time. The company, which launched in 2009, has 2 million students using its products.

The next step is to go directly after the textbooks and digital course content made by Pearson and McGraw, Silagadze said in an interview. In November, they launched an online content marketplace, where professors can create course materials and sell it around the world. The idea is to cut out the publisher and let professors sell directly to students and each other, Silagadze said.

“It fundamentally breaks the publisher’s traditional model of producing content,” he said. “Our aim is to disrupt the paradigm the publishers have created over the last 100 years.”

. . . .

The industry “has been dominated by really traditional publishers that come exclusively from the content side and not the technology side,” Wenger said in an interview. His son’s Intro to German textbook cost $230.

“That era is coming to an end,” he said.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Technology and thanks to T.K. for the tip.

What News-Writing Bots Mean for the Future of Journalism

From Wired:

When Republican Steve King beat back Democratic challenger Kim Weaver in the race for Iowa’s 4th congressional district seat in November, The Washington Post snapped into action, covering both the win and the wider electoral trend. “Republicans retained control of the House and lost only a handful of seats from their commanding majority,” the article read, “a stunning reversal of fortune after many GOP leaders feared double-digit losses.” The dispatch came with the clarity and verve for which Post reporters are known, with one key difference: It was generated by Heliograf, a bot that made its debut on the Post’s website last year and marked the most sophisticated use of artificial intelligence in journalism to date.

When Jeff Bezos bought the Post back in 2013, AI-powered journalism was in its infancy. A handful of companies with automated content-generating systems, like Narrative Science and Automated Insights, were capable of producing the bare-bones, data-heavy news items familiar to sports fans and stock analysts. But strategists at the Post saw the potential for an AI system that could generate explanatory, insightful articles. What’s more, they wanted a system that could foster “a seamless interaction” between human and machine, says Jeremy Gilbert, who joined the Post as director of strategic initiatives in 2014. “What we were interested in doing is looking at whether we can evolve stories over time,” he says.

. . . .

It works like this: Editors create narrative templates for the stories, including key phrases that account for a variety of potential outcomes (from “Republicans retained control of the House” to “Democrats regained control of the House”), and then they hook Heliograf up to any source of structured data—in the case of the election, the data clearinghouse The Heliograf software identifies the relevant data, matches it with the corresponding phrases in the template, merges them, and then publishes different versions across different platforms. The system can also alert reporters via Slack of any anomalies it finds in the data—for instance, wider margins than predicted—so they can investigate. “It’s just one more way to get a tip” on a potential scoop, Gilbert says.

The Post’s main goal with the project at this point is twofold. First: Grow its audience. Instead of targeting a big audience with a small number of labor-intensive human-written stories, Heliograf can target many small audiences with a huge number of automated stories about niche or local topics. There may not be a wide audience for stories about the race for the Iowa 4th, but there is some audience, and, with local news outlets floundering, the Post can tap it. “It’s the Bezos concept of the Everything Store,” says Shailesh Prakash, CIO and VP of digital product development at the Post. “But growing is where you need a machine to help you, because we can’t have that many humans. We’d go bankrupt.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Little bit of poison for everyone

From The Times Literary Supplement:

The publication of Ernest Hemingway’s complete correspondence is shaping up to be an astonishing scholarly achievement. We are already on the third of a projected seventeen volumes, minimum, which will include in their entirety every surviving letter, postcard and telegram sent by Hemingway. Meticulously edited, with shrewd introductory summaries and footnotes tracking down every reference, the series brings into sharp focus this contradictory, alternately smart and stupid, blustering, fragile man who was also a giant of modern literature.

The third volume, ably edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon, takes us through a particularly eventful and productive patch of Hemingway’s life, from 1926 to 1929. At the beginning he is just tackling the rewrites of The Sun Also Rises (1926) and seeing through publication his satiric novel The Torrents of Spring (1926) – his first, chronologically speaking, though it is seldom credited as such. He will switch publishers to land with the prestigious editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, will write some of his greatest short stories for the collection Men Without Women (1927), and go on to compose his second proper novel, the hugely successful A Farewell to Arms (1929). Having entered the four-year period aged twenty-seven as a promising if uncommercial newcomer backed by obscure experimental presses, he will exit it at thirty transformed into a literary lion and international celebrity.

. . . .

Considering what a conscientious stylist Hemingway was in his serious prose, he brought little precision or care to his correspondence. Nor did he use letters as an opportunity for introspection or self-examination. Indeed, he confessed to having a hard time putting his private life into them. He apologized for being an irregular, undependable correspondent, begging off with the excuse that he needed to save the verbal energy for his books. He loved to receive mail and be connected to the literary world’s gossip, but one senses his own responses were the reluctant obligatory dues paid to stay in that sphere. An irony of this monumental project is that Hemingway was not one of literature’s great letter writers; his efforts are nevertheless steadfastly interesting to read, partly because he could never write poorly, and partly because they offer many insights into his character and milieu.

While Hemingway frequently expressed dissatisfaction with his writing, his comments about the actual problems involved in composing were sparse, in keeping with his conviction that “It’s a terrible mistake to talk about a book”. He would state the number of pages he’d written but little about their substance. As someone who never attended college, he was always playing catch-up, reading omnivorously, with an eye towards finding models for the rhetorically chaste style he tried to perfect. He had little patience for Whitman or Stendhal or Henry James. About James, his opposite, he wrote: “My impression is that he knew NOTHING about people . . . . He seems to need to bring in a drawing room whenever he is scared he will have to think what the characters do the rest of the time and the men all without exception talk and think like fairies except a couple of caricatures of brutal ‘outsiders’”. In the original draft of The Sun Also Rises he ridiculed James as impotent from a rumoured bicycling accident, but Maxwell Perkins made him change it.

Link to the rest at The Times Literary Supplement

blood and iron

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 blood and iron, n.

. . . .

[A]fter German Blut und Eisen (1862 with allusion to the style of foreign policy advocated by Otto von Bismark, reflecting the phrase Eisen und Blut used by Bismarck in a speech made to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 20 September of that year; 1785 or earlier in more general use in the sense ‘domination through warfare’).

. . . .

In foreign policy (originally and chiefly that of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98)): the use of military force rather than diplomacy; the advocacy of such an approach.

. . . .

1864 tr. Der Wanderer (Vienna) in Times 22 June 14/4 The man of blood and iron (the Prussian Minister for Foreign Affairs) will not listen to reason.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

The hi-tech war on science fraud

From The Guardian:

One morning last summer, a German psychologist named Mathias Kauff woke up to find that he had been reprimanded by a robot. In an email, a computer program named Statcheck informed him that a 2013 paper he had published on multiculturalism and prejudice appeared to contain a number of incorrect calculations – which the program had catalogued and then posted on the internet for anyone to see. The problems turned out to be minor – just a few rounding errors – but the experience left Kauff feeling rattled. “At first I was a bit frightened,” he said. “I felt a bit exposed.”

Kauff wasn’t alone. Statcheck had read some 50,000 published psychology papers and checked the maths behind every statistical result it encountered. In the space of 24 hours, virtually every academic active in the field in the past two decades had received an email from the program, informing them that their work had been reviewed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before: a massive, open, retroactive evaluation of scientific literature, conducted entirely by computer.

Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics.

Susan Fiske, the former head of the Association for Psychological Science, wrote an op-ed accusing “self-appointed data police” of pioneering a new “form of harassment”. The German Psychological Society issued a statement condemning the unauthorised use of Statcheck. The intensity of the reaction suggested that many were afraid that the program was not just attributing mere statistical errors, but some impropriety, to the scientists.

The man behind all this controversy was a 25-year-old Dutch scientist named Chris Hartgerink, based at Tilburg University’s Meta-Research Center, which studies bias and error in science. Statcheck was the brainchild of Hartgerink’s colleague Michèle Nuijten, who had used the program to conduct a 2015 study that demonstrated that about half of all papers in psychology journals contained a statistical error. Nuijten’s study was written up in Nature as a valuable contribution to the growing literature acknowledging bias and error in science – but she had not published an inventory of the specific errors it had detected, or the authors who had committed them. The real flashpoint came months later,when Hartgerink modified Statcheck with some code of his own devising, which catalogued the individual errors and posted them online – sparking uproar across the scientific community.

Hartgerink is one of only a handful of researchers in the world who work full-time on the problem of scientific fraud – and he is perfectly happy to upset his peers. “The scientific system as we know it is pretty screwed up,” he told me last autumn. Sitting in the offices of the Meta-Research Center, which look out on to Tilburg’s grey, mid-century campus, he added: “I’ve known for years that I want to help improve it.”

. . . .

“Statcheck is a good example of what is now possible,” he said. The top priority,for Hartgerink, is something much more grave than correcting simple statistical miscalculations. He is now proposing to deploy a similar program that will uncover fake or manipulated results – which he believes are far more prevalent than most scientists would like to admit.

When it comes to fraud – or in the more neutral terms he prefers, “scientific misconduct” – Hartgerink is aware that he is venturing into sensitive territory. “It is not something people enjoy talking about,” he told me, with a weary grin. Despite its professed commitment to self-correction, science is a discipline that relies mainly on a culture of mutual trust and good faith to stay clean.

. . . .

If Fanelli’s estimate is correct, it seems likely that thousands of scientists are getting away with misconduct each year. Fraud – including outright fabrication, plagiarism and self-plagiarism – accounts for the majority of retracted scientific articles. But, according to RetractionWatch, which catalogues papers that have been withdrawn from the scientific literature, only 684 were retracted in 2015, while more than 800,000 new papers were published. If even just a few of the suggested 2% of scientific fraudsters – which, relying on self-reporting, is itself probably a conservative estimate – are active in any given year, the vast majority are going totally undetected. “Reviewers and editors, other gatekeepers – they’re not looking for potential problems,” Hartgerink said.

. . . .

Even in the more mundane business of day-to-day research, scientists are constantly building on past work, relying on its solidity to underpin their own theories. If misconduct really is as widespread as Hartgerink and Van Assen think, then false results are strewn across scientific literature, like unexploded mines that threaten any new structure built over them. At the very least, if science is truly invested in its ideal of self-correction, it seems essential to know the extent of the problem.

But there is little motivation within the scientific community to ramp up efforts to detect fraud. Part of this has to do with the way the field is organised. Science isn’t a traditional hierarchy, but a loose confederation of research groups, institutions, and professional organisations. Universities are clearly central to the scientific enterprise, but they are not in the business of evaluating scientific results, and as long as fraud doesn’t become public they have little incentive to go after it. There is also the questionable perception, although widespread in the scientific community, that there are already measures in place that preclude fraud. When Gore and his fellow congressmen held their hearings 35 years ago, witnesses routinely insisted that science had a variety of self-correcting mechanisms, such as peer-review and replication. But, as the science journalists William Broad and Nicholas Wade pointed out at the time, the vast majority of cases of fraud are actually exposed by whistleblowers, and that holds true to this day.

And so the enormous task of keeping science honest is left to individual scientists in the hope that they will police themselves, and each other. “Not only is it not sustainable,” said Simonsohn, “it doesn’t even work. You only catch the most obvious fakers, and only a small share of them.” There is also the problem of relying on whistleblowers, who face the thankless and emotionally draining prospect of accusing their own colleagues of fraud. (“It’s like saying someone is a paedophile,” one of the students at Tilburg told me.) Neither Simonsohn nor any of the Tilburg whistleblowers I interviewed said they would come forward again. “There is no way we as a field can deal with fraud like this,” the student said. “There has to be a better way.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian