I’ve nearly finished the excellent Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations by David Warsh (frequent editing errors notwithstanding). But I’m baffled by one editorial/publishing decision.
Warsh’s book is a detailed account of the development of modern economic growth theory. Central to the story are many journal articles and books published by the protagonists. They understandably get full play in the narrative. But there are few footnotes and, even more inexplicably, no bibliography. Not even a recommended reading list at the back.
Of course, given the details Warsh provides, it wouldn’t be hard to find the articles if I wanted to, through Google Scholar or JSTOR. But as a lay reader who finds the subject fascinating, wouldn’t it be a great additional resource for the book to spare me the additional research? A poor second would be for Warsh to provide the necessary links on the website he has created for the book. (Update: Links on the website are a complete no brainer and, although not a subsititute for some scholarly apparatus in the book, a hugely helpful one-stop resource which could link directly to the relevant material where copyright allows.)
I’ve encountered and lamented this problem before. Here’s what I wrote four years ago:
I’m reading a wonderful book, The Peacemakers by Margaret MacMillan. It’s about the Paris peace conference that followed the First World War and just about every page jolts the reader with some insight or pithy aside. Great stuff, and eerily relevant to today’s world situation.
But there’s one thing that annoys me profoundly, and I fear it’s a straw in the wind of the future of book publishing. For the paperback edition, publishers John Murray decided to dispense with the 46 pages of notes. In the book, they claim they agreed this with the author to “make the paperback a manageable and readable size”.
I don’t believe this. I think it was to save money on production. Would 50 additional pages on a 500-page book really make it suddenly unwieldy? When I’m reading a book as involving as The Peacemakers, I want to follow some of the references.
As a sop, John Murray direct the reader to their website for the references. Of course, nothing is signposted from the home page. The user has to guess that The Peacemakers will be under “general books”. They are there, in a pdf file, but printing out 46 pages at my expense and carrying it around with the book would be truly unmangeable. (And will it be available and signposted if I want to find the references in five, 10 or 20 years?) Publishers should stop this nonsense before it gets out of hand.
And so it has proved. Publisher John Murray no longer exists. The site redirects to Hodder Education, which doesn’t even seem to do “general books”. I tried to follow my old link to The Peacemakers (titled Paris 1919 in the US) footnotes and it returned a 404 Not Found. The US publishers, Random House, don’t seem to have anything either.
I did some Google digging (using “margaret macmillan peacemakers footnotes”) and finally found a “sample pages” section on Hodder’s site. Voilà! You can find the necessary footnotes here. I’ll offer a bet that they won’t be there in five years time.
I think I’m going to start a campaign to save the footnote in non-academic books. My life will be poorer without them.