Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The British disdain for military affairs — and how it might affect British publishing

I’ve noticed in looking at British books about war in the last 20 years that the British public is not well served by its publishers.

British World War I recruitment poster. (Wikimedia Commons)
British World War I recruitment poster. (Wikimedia Commons)
British World War I recruitment poster. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve noticed in looking at British books about war in the last 20 years that the British public is not well served by its publishers. The publicity is off. The blurbs are kind of generic. The jacket copy sounds good but doesn’t in fact say much. The covers are tired. (I don’t want to be more specific because this rant was inspired by a book recently written by someone I admire.)

Why is this? I suspect it is because most contemporary British intellectuals think that war is beneath them, really rather unfashionable, undeserving of their time and energy. And so the minions of the publishing industry cannot really put their hearts into shaping and promoting works of military history. The same attitude can be found here in the United States, of course, but it isn’t so pervasive, and so American books about war tend to be presented more attentively and even enthusiastically.

If I were a British author with a solid proposal for a work of military history, I think I would seek to sell it in New York first.

I’ve noticed in looking at British books about war in the last 20 years that the British public is not well served by its publishers. The publicity is off. The blurbs are kind of generic. The jacket copy sounds good but doesn’t in fact say much. The covers are tired. (I don’t want to be more specific because this rant was inspired by a book recently written by someone I admire.)

Why is this? I suspect it is because most contemporary British intellectuals think that war is beneath them, really rather unfashionable, undeserving of their time and energy. And so the minions of the publishing industry cannot really put their hearts into shaping and promoting works of military history. The same attitude can be found here in the United States, of course, but it isn’t so pervasive, and so American books about war tend to be presented more attentively and even enthusiastically.

If I were a British author with a solid proposal for a work of military history, I think I would seek to sell it in New York first.

 

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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