While everybody’s been yapping about how this year’s NYTBR list of notable nonfiction seems to have an awfully high number of contributions from NYT staffers, letter-writer Bruce Baum points out a more substantial problem (and one, frankly, we all should have caught a lot earlier): Not a single title on the list was published by a university press. “Certainly,” Baum concedes, “many university press books are highly specialized and unlikely to command a wide readership. Still, university presses often publish challenging works that deserve a wide readership, but are not deemed ‘marketable’ by commercial presses.”
Indeed. So I’m trying to think of suitable books from 2005, and based on the books I’ve read, there’s Andrew Scull’s Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine (Yale UP), Maurice Sartre’s The Middle East Under Rome and Dane Kennedy’s The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (both Harvard UP). Of these, the NYTBR cast its critical eye only upon Madhouse, but Patrick McGrath gave it high enough praise. Perhaps some of you out there have sharper memories—and broader reading lists—and can make your own suggestions.