Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The writing life: Why the first half of many books often are better than the second

That is the way books end, not with a bang but a whimper.


I was thinking about this the other day when I was reading a 700-page book of history that actually held up to the end.

The writing of most books, I think, is a race between resources and understanding. As the author proceeds, his or her resources (energy, time, money) diminish, even as his or her understanding of the subject increases. The question is maintaining the resources long enough to finish at least a first draft. In many and perhaps most cases, fatigue overcomes the author, and so many books are weaker in their endings than in their beginnings. That is the way books end, not with a bang but a whimper.

I think this is especially true nowadays, when it seems that most books (mine excepted) are more or less unedited. I know I need an editor, and appreciate that my publisher gives me one, even as he hits me over the head with his sledgehammer.

In other words, all books are miniature wars of attrition.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1