Sunday, February 17, 2013

Books about Books

It is surprising that today we see so many books being written about other books. While from time to time these secondary source books are important they do not as a matter of course add anything to readers and students.

I was trained to work with primary sources and to put in the effort to understand them. I would rather struggle with a primary source written by the author than get my information second hand as it were.

Many books are hard to read and take due attention to detail. Expend your energy at the source not at the pool of surmise and opinion.

So read the book, not the book about the book. I was lucky to have got my undergraduate degree at an institution that truly wanted us to do this. For many students, I realise, this is not always possible, because at many universities, Prof X and Dr Y want you to reference their own erudite works.

I had a most informative seminar when I was a postgrad student where the primary author, the source, was present and kindly punctured the egos of several academics who had been pontificating about what he, the author, really meant in his works. Very entertaining as well, it is not often that you get to witness such literary evisceration.

Go on, read the source, you know that is the right, even if the hardest, thing to do.
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