The HistoryAccess.com Interview:
Michael J. Briggs
By Henry Frost
“I think all the elements are in place in military history scholarship for profound examinations of war and peace – data and information on the huge costs, the unforeseen consequences, the mistakes and accidents that always occur, how hard it is to come away with something that looks like victory.”
Q. Let me ask you at the outset, Mr. Briggs, for a few titles in scholarly military history that you would recommend to someone new to the field.
A. I would probably recommend just about any book by Robert M. Citino. I would recommend Allan R. Millett’s “The War for Korea,” a projected three-volume series, of which two books are published. “Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972” by Carol Reardon. James Willbanks’ “Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War.” “A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign” by Timothy Johnson, about the U.S. war with Mexico in 1847.
Q. What is academic publishing, in a nutshell?
A. It’s the publishing of books and journals by presses located at, and supported by, universities, focused on the dissemination of quality scholarship, monitored through a rigorous peer review process. It’s partly a service to higher education – scholars are of course eager to share their research with their peers and the public. That fact is a cornerstone of the scholarly enterprise as it has grown up over the years in this country and Europe.
Q. Your employer is “University Press of Kansas” rather than “University of Kansas Press”?
A. We actually represent all six state universities – the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State, Fort Hayes State, Emporia State, and Pittsburg State.
I became a history major at Maryville. I enjoyed the subject but I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to go into the academic profession. I graduated and went to Boston College where I received a master’s degree in history. But I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do. I left American academe for a while and taught in Hong Kong at Lingnan College – I taught Chinese students about American and European history, in English, from 1973-75, using the Palmer/Colton book as a resource.
Q. In the course of this interview I want to ask you how the University Press of Kansas became one of the world’s leading publishers of military-related scholarly material, including remarkable books about the Eastern Front in World War II, but let me ask you first to provide some details about your background.
A. I studied English and American literature during my undergraduate and graduate years and received my master’s degree in 1976. My first job in academic publishing came in 1979 at the University of Illinois Press in Urbana-Champagne. It was a great place to start out in the business – Illinois was a good-sized press, but not so overwhelmingly big that a rookie would get lost. And it had a diverse list. I worked in the press’s marketing department for a little over seven years as a kind of jack-of-all-trades, with the bulk of my duty focused on writing advertising and marketing copy. The experience gave me a solid overview of academic publishing in general, and more specifically, how an excellent academic press operates
Eventually I developed an itch to get closer to the front lines – I wanted to become an acquisitions editor. I kept my eyes open for job opportunities. I learned in 1986 that the University Press of Kansas was creating a new editorial position to cover several subject areas. In particular, they wanted someone to help create and grow a list in military studies, primarily through the development of a new series called Modern War Studies. This was not only a new field for both UPK and me, it was a field that academic presses had not yet embraced.
So, since that time, I have concentrated on making Modern War Studies the best academic series of its kind. I’m the acquiring editor for military history here. I’m also UPK’s editor-in-chief, responsible for the overall acquisitions program, which covers a number of fields with which I am not directly involved, handled day-to-day by other acquiring editors.
Q. How many books does UPK publish annually?
A. Around 55 to 60. This pales by comparison to the largest academic presses – Oxford, Cambridge, Chicago, Princeton, California, etc. – each of which publishes hundreds of books every year. We have established a much larger presence in our business than our numbers might indicate; we’ve done this by specializing in a limited number of niches, including military history
Q. Academic presses want to sell books not only to scholars but also to the general reading public, yes?
A. Oh yes. These days, and really for quite some time, most university presses try to balance good scholarship with sound commercial practices. Here at UPK we try to publish books that meet high scholarly standards and also have a chance to reach a fairly wide readership that is not exclusively composed of academics. Certainly not all of our books have commercial potential. But, like most academic presses, we do have a bottom line, and we’ve got to use our economic resources wisely. That fact has become more pressing with cuts in state budgets and a decline in support from home universities.
Q. You’re non-profit, right? And you are subsidized by the schools that you serve?
A. Yes. Most academic presses are subsidized. Minus that, it would be very hard for such presses to break even.
Meanwhile I worked on my second book, “Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions,” which was published in 1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. There is a bit of background to this. When I was at Cornell in the late 1970s I had a job editing Lafayette’s letters; I got very interested in the relationship between the American and French Revolutions and wrote articles about this. This led to my book about Lafayette.
Q. What is a good sales number for an individual title for UPK?
A. We like to see a book sell at least 700 copies. The great majority of our books never top 2,500 copies. There have been periodic exceptions to that upper limit. “In Deadly Combat” by Gottlob Herbert Bidermann has sold about 22,000 copies in hardback and paperback. It’s a memoir by a German soldier who fought on the Eastern Front, translated by Derek S. Zumbro. “The Battle of Kursk” by David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House has sold more than 15,000 copies. About 20 years ago we published Forrest McDonald’s “Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution,” a very engagingly written and authoritative work that benefited from extremely good timing – it came out just in time for the Constitution’s bicentennial celebration. It has sold 40,000 to 50,000 copies, mostly in paperback. It helped McDonald snare the NEH Jefferson Lectureship.
Q. Does UPK use non-academic writers at all?
A. We publish a few writers who are not purely academics. A prominent example is Richard Rhodes. Dick is a prominent writer but not a college professor. His books are always deeply researched and highly regarded, including “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” which won a Pulitzer Prize and became a national bestseller. It was published by Simon and Schuster. We subsequently published a Tenth Anniversary Edition of his memoir “A Hole in the World: An American Boyhood.” Another example is Adam Clymer, a longtime New York Times journalist. We recently published his book “Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch: The Panama Canal Treaty and the Rise of the Right.”
Q. Does UPK publish academic journals?
A. No. We have had opportunities over the years to get into that, but you need additional staff geared to and experienced in that kind of publishing. We have decided journals would be a potentially expensive distraction from what we do best.
Q. How big is your staff?
A. Right now, 17 to 18 full-time employees. That includes our warehouse, which we own and operate.
Q. What are UPK’s main fields?
A. One key thing we have done here is identify certain areas of publishing, certain topics, that have been successful for us in the past, and we’ve stayed within those boundaries. That includes most prominently the American presidency; American history, politics, and law; and military studies, which is perhaps our strongest area in terms of overall sales. In the next tier you would find Western, Native American, and environmental studies. The area where we appear to have the greatest opportunity for significant expansion is American studies, which we have been developing for the past decade or so, and which is now close to breaking out in a big way for us. For example, one of our books in this field got a full-page review in The New York Times Book Review last fall: “Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism” by Andrew G. Kirk. One final area of emphasis for us: the many regional books we publish pertaining to Kansas and the Midwest.
Q. Regarding the Kirk book – when you hear you’re getting a full-page review in The New York Times Book Review, that’s a good day for you, yes?
A. Oh sure. Any time you get a review there of any size it’s a big deal, because review space in newspapers is so limited these days. The review does have an impact, whether it’s very positive or merely lukewarm or even negative.
Q. In a typical year, how many of your books are reviewed by the New York Times?
A. A couple, maybe, in a good year. If you count the number of reviews each Sunday, you see it’s a tiny fraction of the books that are published. If you then count the number of reviews of books from academic presses, well, the fraction is very small indeed. There are fewer reviews these days in newspapers than in years past. They have cut way back on the space they’re allotting to book reviewing, partly to make more space available for advertising at a time when they’re really getting crunched financially, and partly, perhaps, because there is a perception on the part of editors that there’s less interest now in reading books. I should add, however, that online book reviewing seems to be growing in an array of formats. But it’s hard to determine what impact that has on book sales.
Q. I will note that Powell’s Books runs an excellent online book review section offering material from such sources as the Washington Post and The New Republic (Powells.com). Barnes & Noble runs good daily reviews (BarnesandNoble.com). Bookbrowse.com has reviews, reading lists, and recommendations. Kirkus Reviews is available online. Amazon.com of course has vast numbers of reader reviews. Plenty of other online outlets include reviews, as you indicate. Let me ask you – the Internet is of course generating worry among everybody who has anything to do with so-called traditional media. What is your comment on the future of book publishing?
A. I don’t consider this to be my area of expertise, and I know there are a number of publishing professionals who have spent much more time on this than I have; that said, it’s obvious there’s a lot of flux at the moment, with a lot of factors emerging and percolating together, so it’s not clear yet how book publishing is going to be affected. On the one hand, the Internet has been a boon for a lot of people who might resist going into a bookstore and prefer to purchase online and through the mail. On the other hand there continues to be a lot of talk about how content will be read and experienced in the future, with the usual worry that the book as a content delivery system may be overtaken by electronic reading devices. Meanwhile, bricks-and-mortar installations, both independent and chain bookstores, continue to struggle with bottom-line issues.
I guess I’m a guarded optimist about how things will shake out. The one thing that I am committed to, that I don’t think will change, is a belief in the value of content, no matter what the source is, no matter what the delivery system or package is. People want to communicate ideas. My objective as an editor is to help authors shape their ideas and find the best way to deliver those ideas to prospective readers. Coming up with ideas, shaping ideas, disseminating ideas – this is basic, essential editorial stuff. Whatever happens electronically, the basic need for standards and quality and editing, for good content, is not going to change much.
Q. What is your view of Google’s Print Library Project, also known as Google Books, their effort to scan a vast number of books, which is getting the cooperation of some big academic libraries and also the New York Public Library? This raises significant copyright issues.
A. There is a basic tension between libraries and publishers. Libraries want to disseminate information as widely as possible for as little cost as possible. Publishers are the producers of that information and need to pay authors, editors, typesetters, marketing personnel, sales representatives, warehouse workers, and so on, if their books are going to be read. Copyright protects that economic investment, which is why publishers are so vigilant about enforcing copyright.
If Google or some other company comes along and uses a model that sidesteps the issue of copyright, or transforms it somehow, publishers worry that sales will be lost, depriving them of funding to underwrite future books and potentially depriving authors of royalties. Authors and publishers support a strong stance there, but libraries and Google have a somewhat different view. So, yes, that’s a basic tension right now, and there’s a lot of talk, and not a lot of clarity. My best guess is that in five years or so, new publishing technologies, formats, partners, and strategies will emerge that will reshape the enterprise. Exactly what that will look like, I don’t know. (Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in 2008. See here for a 2009 essay by historian Robert Darnton on this topic and see here for a Google review of the project.)
Q. How did the University Press of Kansas get so deeply into military studies? Including what’s regarded as a pretty spectacular effort in books about the Second World War.
A. Our military studies effort was born just before I arrived here, in the mid-’80s, when UPK collaborated with the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, by sponsoring a symposium dealing with the first major battle of each major American war. The goal was to try to understand the special challenges, implications, and lessons of first battles. The result of that conference was a 1986 book entitled “America’s First Battles: 1776-1965” edited by Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft.
I was hired in part to help UPK use that book to build its presence in military studies, which we’ve done successfully, book by book. A key book for us was “When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler” by David M. Glantz and Jonathan House published in 1986.
Glantz is a retired Army officer and a Ph.D. graduate. He has become, in essence, a trademark of excellence for us. He’s an amazing guy. I have huge admiration for what he has accomplished. He has almost single-handedly preserved a major part of the history of the Soviet Union, some of which Russian officials would have liked to have kept hidden. He has developed a knack for gaining access to some very important Russian archives. He remains an incredibly humble guy, only caring about preserving this part of history. A significant part of his motivation is to honor the memory of all those millions of people who served in, were wounded or killed in, and/or survived the war on the Eastern Front. He has published seven books with us so far, soon to be followed by a remarkable trilogy on the Battle of Stalingrad. Based on what he’s discovered over the last two decades, there is so much left to tell. His books always have a reliable readership, and a large one, by academic press standards. He is highly respected in both the English-speaking world and in Russia – if you mention him to people who know this field, you had better settle back in your chair, because you’re going to hear a lot about how important he is. (Editor’s Note: Go here for a short piece by Glantz.)
David M. Glantz
Q. How did you discover him and bring him on board?
A. Theodore Wilson brought him to our attention. Wilson is a professor of history at the University of Kansas and the general editor for our military series.
Q. What made Glantz decide to go with you and your team?
A. First and foremost, he and I have a deep and abiding respect for each other as professionals. Also, I’m sure he has appreciated our willingness to publish extremely long books that are crowded with previously unavailable information. Length can be a difficult challenge for publishers – the longer the book, the higher the costs, generally speaking. In addition, good maps are a requisite in this area of publishing, but they can be expensive – we were instrumental in finding a good and reasonably-priced cartographer for this purpose.
Q. Did he convince other authors to come to UPK?
A. Not so much David himself as the high-profile success his books have projected on our behalf. Success breeds success. While I’m at it, I should mention another person who has been very important for our military studies list – Robert M. Citino, who I cited at the start of our interview. He teaches history at Eastern Michigan. He’s done four books of military history with us, specializing in operational history generally and German military history in particular. His most recent and most successful book is “The Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942,” to be followed soon by his fifth, on the SS-Waffen in World War II.
Q. Were you interested in military history before you began editing books about it?
A. I came into this job with very little knowledge of military history. As I say, my degree was in literature. I had read “Catch-22” and “War and Peace” and “A Farewell to Arms” but really I didn’t know much at all about non-fiction military studies. Over the past 20 years, though, I have grown to appreciate and respect the field. In part because the authors are so passionate about it. In part because there’s a very strong narrative component to it – it has stories. Stories remain one of the best learning and teaching devices ever created. They create drama and put a human face on all of the data and statistics. Wars, whatever else they do, provide amazing, urgent stories about individuals and armies in the crucible of conflict – the kinds of stories that you don’t find in, say, political theory or economics texts. That’s not to diminish what other authors and scholars do, it’s just stating a fact, that the story-telling aspect of military history is one of the fundamental reasons so many people find it appealing.
Q. Is interest in military history growing among readers and in the academy? Can you look at sales figures and see a definite jump from 20 years ago?
A. The readers have always been there but the numbers are definitely increasing, especially among academics, where military history has not always been popular.
Q. I’ll insert two comments here – a brief remark by historian Gunther E. Rothenberg and a lengthy observation by historian and journalist John Keegan – for the sake of deep background and perspective.
Gunther E. Rothenberg, 1989: “With military affairs dominating this decade, it would seem that historians would place the study of the army high on their list of priorities. But this has not been the case. Many academics were, and still are, convinced that military history is, at best, a poor second to political, social, intellectual, or economic history.”
John Keegan, 1983: “(Military history) is a neglected subject, at least in our own time. The neglect derives, in all probability, both from its obviousness and from the degree to which it was over-worked in times gone by. ‘Kings and battles’ is professional shorthand for a sort of history writing and history teaching that has killed for good generations of schoolchildren interest in the past. The phrase also proclaims an intellectual and corporate attitude that says that the world changes for much more complex reasons than victories or royal successions provide. Such events are dismissed as événementiels – having to do, that is, with the superficiality of things and not with that grinding of the tectonic plates of history which allegedly shift the human continents about time’s surface. Or so the fast men on the inside track of scholarship have been insisting these last two hundred years. First it was soil and climate, then the ownership of the means of production, then biological determinants, finally the buried and forgotten power of myth that was held to lie behind and beneath the structure of human society. Almost any explanation, it seemed, of the formation and alteration of those structures was preferable to one that depended on man’s visible, conscious, and violent struggle for change. Creasy’s ‘Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,’ one of the greatest Victorian best sellers, might be taken to stand as the all-purpose target for Marxists, social Darwinians, Freudians, and structuralists who, disagreeing about almost everything else, could all join cheerfully in contempt of the notion that the warrior – his tools, techniques, and social relationships – was worth five minutes of a serious historian’s time. Not even two great wars could change that. Indeed the quality of military historiography, at least in English, was probably at a lower level in the Twenties and Thirties than at any time before or since, and it did not improve immediately after 1945. During the last twenty years, however, there has been a dramatic change for the better. And what, it must be presumed, has so wonderfully concentrated men’s minds is the nuclear weapon. Shut his eyes as the historian may, twist, turn, and deny, the warrior now confronts him whenever he closes his book and opens his newspaper. The cost of supporting the military establishment is daily reported. The debate over how the money should be spent is a regular and recurrent theme in national politics. The consequences of making the wrong choice are calculated not in the probabilities of defeat in some war that lies ahead but in the immanent threat of complete destruction. Historians, like other scholars, have been driven to take a position in the strategic debate; unlike other scholars, they have also been compelled to reconsider the assumptions on which they conduct their business. For if the warrior is important now, has his importance in the past not perhaps been underestimated by those whose profession it is to study it? Is it possible that the warrior – his tools, techniques, and the rest – was not the expression merely of other forces in the world to which he belonged, but a force in his own right, autonomous, self-regarding, self-aware, and the recipient of tribute accordingly? Above all, might the current pervading concern with security not give a clue to the preoccupations of earlier times, when perhaps the fear of the invader and destroyer was as vivid as the need to win subsistence, and as large as the fear of nuclear extinction today?”
A. As the dates suggest – 1989 and 1983 – these commentaries by two distinguished military historians are now dated. Military history today is accorded a much more honorable place by the academic establishment. I would add that the military itself during these last 20 years has made a concerted effort to study the lessons of the past. In addition, I’ve seen membership in the Society of Military History grow, and attendance at its annual convention increase significantly. The convention attracts academic historians, military buffs, military professionals, and amateur historians, all of whom are very committed to the field. At the most recent meeting that I attended, I noticed how different the feeling was from the early ’90s, when only a handful of publishers attended, hardly any of them academic publishers. At this recent meeting I think there were at least two dozen publishers overall, and many more academic publishers than in the past, including one scholarly press that, so far as I know, doesn’t have much of a military list, and perhaps is thinking of starting one. Presses are interested because there is more scholarship in the field, and, of course, because military history sells.
Q. How do you feel about the increased competition?
A. I think it’s great. It increases the legitimacy of the subject area, helps raise standards, makes it more likely that bright students will choose to do dissertations on military subjects, and ultimately assures a robust future for the field.
Q. Have you become an expert on military history in the course of 20 years working in it?
A. No. Not at all. I certainly know more than I once did, but I don’t consider myself an expert on any one aspect of it. I’m more of a generalist. I know enough about a number of areas to be able to communicate with scholars, and understand what they’re saying, but I would never presume to their level of expertise. I am an editor; my job is to apply my expertise in publishing to help make their books as good and successful as possible.
Q. Do you think military studies can contribute to the pursuit of peace? Or is that too far-fetched a notion to talk about in any systematic way.
A. I don’t think it’s far-fetched. To be sure, I don’t think most scholars approach the field that way; they’re more concerned with recovering history, with getting down on paper what actually happened, and why. Having said that, I do think some scholars reflect on the larger lessons that might be learned, as do a fair number of readers. I think the key is to focus not only on heroic deeds and victories, and the courageous sacrifice of soldiers, but also to depict as clearly as possible what victory costs in terms of human lives and health, both for soldiers and civilians, and in terms of national treasure, everyday infrastructure and support systems, and human rights. Hopefully people who run nations might reflect in such terms.
I think all the elements are in place in military history scholarship for profound examinations of war and peace – data and information on the huge costs, the unforeseen consequences, the mistakes and accidents that always occur, how hard it is to come away with something that looks like victory. It’s all there in the archives beckoning future scholars, and it’s present in many of the books already written, ready for people to take a whack at it. One thing about military history that I’ve noticed – it has a way of making you think not only about the past but also the present.
Q. Please take us through one typical book project at UPK, from initial contact to when it’s done and out in the world.
A. A typical project begins when I become aware of an idea that might become a book. This might come up via a phone conversation, or at an academic conference, or someone sending me an e-mail or regular mail that contains a book proposal. Maybe it’s one of our regular advisors alerting me to a book project that’s looking for a publisher, suggesting I call the author, such as Ted Wilson with David Glantz. Somehow, there’s a first contact.
The next step is, I need something in writing, if that doesn’t exist yet, in the form of a proposal or a partial manuscript. I look at the proposal and make a preliminary judgment on several questions. Does this idea fit with what we do as a press? Is it in a field that we know something about? Would this book make a new and significant contribution to the field? I’m not an expert, I can only make a preliminary judgment, so if the project looks to be worthwhile, I recruit informed opinion through the peer evaluation process. I recruit knowledgeable fair-minded individuals, mostly academics, to evaluate whatever it is I’m considering, whether it’s a proposal or a manuscript or something in between. Usually we recruit at least two individuals, but sometimes several or more people if there is a potentially controversial aspect to the author’s subject or thesis. I ask these people to give me an opinion on whether or not this material, in book form, would likely be viewed as a valuable contribution in the field it’s slated to occupy. Also: Is it well organized and written? Is it well researched? Is the author on top of the sources? Is the author’s argument persuasive?
If the reviewers recommend publication, we must decide if their reasons for that recommendation are persuasive. If the reviewers are sitting on the fence somewhat because of concerns and questions that have occurred to them during their reading, we will ask the author to address those concerns before a decision to move forward is made. If the reviewers feel reassured by the author’s response and subsequently recommend publication, we will go forward to our Editorial Committee – scholars from each of the six universities we represent. We request their formal approval. Once we have that, we can negotiate a contract with the author.
Once the contract is out of the way, the author needs to complete work on the manuscript, including all revisions that the author has agreed to implement. We then send the completed manuscript out for one final review, ideally to the people we recruited for the initial pre-contract review. This step may compel additional revisions by the author or a recommendation that publication proceed. There may be a long lag time between the initial pre-contract review and the final review of the finished work. The original reviewers may not be available any more. In which case we’ll recruit replacements with the same level of authority and credibility. This extended process of review, revise, review, revise, etc., is designed to help us maintain quality standards and encourage our authors to realize the full potential of their work.
Our fees for reviewers tend to be fairly modest. This is true for most academic presses. There is an understanding in the academic world that reviewing manuscripts for publishers is as much a service for the scholarly profession as it is an advisory for the publisher. And, of course, for scholars who are always eager to stay current and up-to-date, reviewing manuscripts gives them an early look at the cutting edge.
When the manuscript is finally ready for publication it goes to our production and marketing departments. The marketing staff develops a plan to sell the book, gathering information from the author and editor, making sure we all understand what’s most appealing and distinctive about it, what its contributions are, who the prospective readers might be. Meanwhile the production department initiates the copyediting phase, designed to polish the author’s prose and eliminate inaccuracies, mistakes, and inconsistencies.
Q. I want to interject here – I’ve done a bit of copyediting – I think many book readers would be amazed at how long it takes. It’s a massive, seemingly endless task.
A. It’s very labor intensive. When it’s finally done, the copyedited manuscript is sent to the author for his or her approval. Once approved, a “clean” version of the manuscript is produced and sent to the typesetter, who is selected through a low-bid process required by the State of Kansas. The typesetter creates page proofs that look very much like they will in the book itself when it’s printed and bound. These proofs are reviewed by both us and the author. The author at this stage is only allowed to make the most minor of corrections and changes, because changes more substantial than that can cause the entire work to be repaginated and reset by the typesetter, a very costly proposition.
The books are then printed and bound. Our print runs fall in the 1,500 to 2,500 copy range; by contrast, commercial presses routinely print well over 5,000 copies per book at minimum, and frequently much higher than that.
Once the book is printed and bound it’s shipped to our warehouse. Our marketing staff sends out review copies – they have already talked to representatives at the major review outlets and know who is most likely to review the book. By this time we’ve conferred with and received orders from the buyers at the big chain stores like Barnes & Noble, prominent wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and the sales reps who cover the independent bookstores.
We have two publishing seasons, spring and fall. In each season, we put out a catalog that features new books, but also includes a fair number of backlist titles. The heaviest promotion, of course, is reserved for the new titles. The promotion efforts take many different forms: review copies to book review editors; advertising in academic journals and also in commercial journals like The New York Review of Books; book exhibits at academic conventions, and at trade shows like Book Expo America, which is the trade show for the publishing industry; various types of direct mail fliers and brochures; and book signings and speaking engagements. So, that’s one book.
Q. What a process!
A. It’s quite complex. Also very enjoyable.
Q. As you indicated, you find the work satisfying?
A. Very much so. I feel lucky to have found this work.
Q. In conclusion, please mention a few new books on your list that you are particularly fond of.
A. One of my recent favorites is “Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA” by Jefferson Morley. Winston Scott was the chief of station for the CIA in Mexico City from 1956 to 1969, a period which includes the arrival and puzzling activities of Lee Harvey Oswald during the fall of 1963, just weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy. The book opens a window onto a fascinating time, place, and profession, and raises a lot of new questions about American intelligence operations during the Cold War and their impact on our relations with Mexico and Cuba.
Q. You’ve got cool jacket copy for this book: “Mexico City was the Casablanca of the Cold War – a hotbed of spies, revolutionaries, and assassins.” That’s gonna sell some books: “the Casablanca of the Cold War.”
A. Thanks; it does seem to have caught the imagination of readers.
Q. Other books that you wish to mention?
A. “Rumsfeld’s War: The Arrogance of Power” by Dale R. Herspring is an intriguing history and critique of the Donald Rumsfeld era in the Defense Department and the mistakes made on his watch. What sets it apart from other books that criticize Rumsfeld is that it’s written by a fellow who’s a lifelong Republican and by his own testimony very conservative. I’m also pretty keen on “The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture Since 1960” by David E. Kyvig, a Bancroft Prize-winning historian. He looks at how, before 1960, impeachment was rarely used to sanction or censure officials, but since then, starting with the John Birch Society’s effort to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren, it has become a tempting tool for the extremes of partisan political warfare, so much so that it’s often viewed as an option of first rather than last resort. The book encompasses examples from roughly 1960 to the present.
Two other books on our current fall list merit special attention. “Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Hidden Crisis in American Democracy” by Charles L. Zelden is our lead title for this season. It’s a rather sobering reminder of the lessons we never learned from the Supreme Court decision of 2000 on the presidential election. Zelden is especially well positioned in this instance because, as a Floridian and scholar in the Miami metro area, he saw firsthand the emergence, evolution, and ultimate resolution of this episode. The final book I’ll mention is also by a Floridian author – Senator Bob Graham, former two-term governor of the state and former three-term member of the United States Senate. He is the author of “Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror.” This is concise summary of what happened on 9/11 and of the bi-partisan joint-Congressional investigation conducted by the Senate and the House, chaired by Graham, which both preceded and prompted the creation of the 9/11 Commission. The book critiques the government’s failures relating to 9/11. It’s utterly fair-minded. It’s much more critical of the administration’s actions than the 9/11 Commission in its final report, which nevertheless echoed Graham’s original call for reform.
Q. Excellent. Thank you.
A. You’re welcome, of course.