(Originally Posted June 23, 2008)
Beginning today, June 23, 2008, Encounter Books will no longer send its books to The New York Times for review. Of course, the editors at the Times are welcome to trot down to their local book emporium or visit Amazon.com to purchase our books, but we won’t be sending gratis advance copies to them any longer.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “I don’t recall the Times reviewing titles from Encounter Books.” Precisely! By and large, they don’t, at least in recent years. That’s part of the calculation: why bother to send them books that they studiously ignore?
In the last month, Encounter has had two titles on the extended New York Times best-seller list: Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor by Roy Spencer, and Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, by Andrew C. McCarthy. But that list is the only place you will find these books mentioned in the pages of The New York Times. We’ve also published other brisk-selling books that the Times has ignored—Guy Sorman’s Empire of Lies: The Truth About China in the Twenty-first Century, for example, or Philip F. Lawler’s Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, or Bruce Thornton’s Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide or Caroline Fourest’s Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, to name just a few recent titles.
Not, I hasten to add, that Encounter’s experience is unique. Consider, to take just one example, Mark Steyn’s book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, published in 2006 by Regnery. This is a brilliant book about one of the most pressing issues of our time—the threat of radical Islam and the West’s loss of cultural confidence. It perched for weeks on the Times’s bestseller list. But that was the only place in the Times you would see the book mentioned because the Times’s editors chose to ignore it.
In favor of what, you might ask? Well, there are reviews of books about people like Ron Jeremy, a porn star, and then there are reviews of books like Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. And let’s not forget Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America and The Surrender: The Beauty of Submission, a meditation on the joys of sodomy by a former ballerina, both of which got full reviews in the Times (actually, The Surrendergot several notices). Not that the Times is monomaniacal. In the current issue of the Book Review, there is a review of a book by a University of California linguist that endeavors to explain “how the right wins and keeps power: by framing issues and controlling minds.” I knew there had to be some reason.
Do you see a pattern here? The Times had nothing but praise forWhat Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News (“impressively researched and documented”) by The Nation’s Eric Alterman, but it completely ignored William McGowan’s Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism,which won the National Press Club’s Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism but, being published by Encounter and being critical of the Times, just didn’t make the cut. At Encounter, we started making a list of the important conservative books that the Times ignored. We gave it up after we realized it was going to amount to a small library of titles.
“But the Times does review conservative books,” you say: “I have seen some reviewed.”
Well, there is also that to be considered. One of the only books published by Encounter that the Times has deigned to review in the last few years is Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalismby James Piereson. Since I am the publisher, I won’t pass judgment on the book other than to say that it is a serious analysis of how Kennedy’s assassination by a Communist radical marked an important turning point in American liberalism. “The assassination of a popular president by a Communist,” Piereson argues, “should have generated a revulsion against everything associated with left wing doctrines. Yet something close to the opposite happened. In the aftermath of the assassination, left wing ideas and revolutionary leaders, Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Castro foremost among them, enjoyed a greater vogue in the United States than at any time in our history.”
Was Piereson right? I think so. But there is certainly room for disagreement and debate. What the Timestreated its readers to, however, was not debate but sophomoric disparagement. It sent the book to Jacob Heilbrunn—“a regular contributor to the Book Review,” according to his tag line, but also a sometime conservative who for the last few years has specialized in heaping abuse upon his former ideological allies. Accordingly, Heilbrunn did not so much review the book as trash it. The tenor, and the level of intellectual sophistication, of his piece is neatly summed up in its conclusion, where Heilbrunn, appropriating a line from Richard Hofstadter, describes Camelot and the Cultural Revolutionas “rubbish.” (At least in this instance Heilbrunn acknowledged his appropriation: as Corey Robin has shown in a devastating review of Heilbrunn’s book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Heilbrunn often appropriates without acknowledgment.)
Again, Encounter is hardly the only publisher to be treated to such smarmy and uncomprehending trivialization when the book under review is recognizably conservative. I could cite many examples, but will mention only the outrageous review accorded to Harvey Mansfield’s book Manliness, published by Yale University Press. Mansfield is a prominent—probably theprominent—conservative political philosopher at Harvard. But leave his politics aside: Mansfield is as distinguished a scholar as you will find in the academy: a translator and interpreter of Tocqueville, of Machiavelli, of Leo Strauss. He is an intellectual giant. But the editors at the TimesBook Review couldn’t contemplate a book on manliness—talk about politically incorrect!—without sniggering. So they sent Mansfield’s book to Walter Kirn, intellectual lilliputian, who, like Heilbrunn, is “a regular contributor to the Book Review” and who disgorged a contemptible and condescending review in which stupidity competed mightily with malice.
Once upon a time, and not that long ago, it meant something if your book was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. A Times review imparted a vital existential certification as well as a commercial boost. Is that still the case? Less and less, I believe. The Times in general has lost influence as the paper has receded into parochial, left-liberal boosterism and politically correct reportage. And where its news and comment have become increasingly politicized, its cultural coverage has become increasingly superficial and increasingly captive of establishment, i.e., left-liberal, pieties and “lifestyle” radicalism.
Sure, a positive review in the Times still helps sell books. But it’s quite clear that books from Encounter won’t be getting those reviews, so it is pointless for us to send copies of our books to theTimes—worse than pointless, because by so doing we help to perpetuate the charade that the Book Review is anything like even-handed in its treatment of conservative books. There is also this fact: the real impetus in selling books has decisively shifted away from legacy outlets like The New York Times towards the pluralistic universe of talk radio and the “blogosphere.” That is why Encounter can see its books on the Times’s bestseller list without ever making it into the paper’s review columns.
A couple of decades ago, the novelist Charles Simmons wrote a hilarious send-up of The New York Times Book Review called The Belles Lettres Papers. Simmons had been an editor for the Book Review, and he knew the sad, sordid (albeit unintentionally funny) story from the inside. It’s too bad that there isn’t a new Charles Simmons to write an update, showing what happens to a lumbering giant as it lurches further and further into politicized self-righteousness, intellectual mediocrity, and journalistic irrelevance. It might even be worth a book, though not, I’d wager, one that you’d see reviewed in The New York Times.
America is facing a higher education bubble. Like the housing bubble, it is the product of cheap credit coupled with popular expectations of ever-increasing returns on investment, and as with housing prices, the cheap credit has caused college tuitions to vastly outpace inflation and family incomes. Now this bubble is bursting.
As everyone knows, the United Nations is about to debate the question of a statehood for the Palestinians. “Statehood for the Palestinians”? Where have you heard that before? Here’s a little history lesson on the subject:
Some books are born prematurely. Maybe it was just a matter of time until London erupted, Amy Winehouse—the addled icon of a lost British youth culture—kicked the bucket, and the eurozone economy went belly up. But who could have imagined it would happen all at once? We published Theodore Dalrymple’s The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism back in 2009, a couple of years early it seems.
To account for this blunder, we’re releasing a new, updated paperback edition of The New Vichy Syndrome this October (pre-order it.) In the meantime, you can read Dalrymple’s astute and unfashionably blunt pieces on the riots in City Journal (1 and 2) and in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
The icing on the cake, as it were, is that social charges on labor and the minimum wage are so high that no employer can possibly extract from the young unemployed Briton anything like the value of what it costs to employ him. And thus we have the paradox of high youth unemployment at the very same time that we suck in young workers from abroad.
The culture in which the young unemployed have immersed themselves is not one that is likely to promote virtues such as self-discipline, honesty and diligence. Four lines from the most famous lyric of the late and unlamentable Amy Winehouse should establish the point:
I didn’t get a lot in class
But I know it don’t come in a shot glass
They tried to make me go to rehab
But I said ‘no, no, no’