Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - publishing / academia

Enemies of Promise

Lindsay Waters

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Enemies of Promise

Title: Enemies of Promise
Author: Lindsay Waters
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 87 pages
Availability: Enemies of Promise - US
Enemies of Promise - UK
Enemies of Promise - Canada
  • Publishing, Perishing and the Eclipse of Scholarship

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting look at some of what is wrong with university presses (and the tenure process)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times (Ed. Life) . 1/8/2004 Russell Jacoby
Il Sole 24 Ore . 20/6/2004 Piero Boitani
Times Higher Ed. Supp. . 9/4/2004 Andrew Robinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Anyone who attacks academic conformity has my vote, but Mr. Waters's polemic is contradictory and often too tame. " - Russell Jacoby, The New York Times Education Life

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Enemies of Promise focusses on a particular segment of the publishing industry, university presses. They are supposed to have a different mission from commercial publishers, and even other (theoretically) non-profit publishers. They are a part of academia, there to serve, supporting, and help sustain scholarship. In this polemic Lindsay Waters, himself an editor at a university press (Harvard UP), shows that academic publishing has taken an ugly turn.
       Waters notes that the output of university presses has, until recently, grown incredibly -- but he sees a future in which it looks very likely that "publishers, like myself, would go from publishing too many books to too few."
       Waters sees two major problems with university presses: the first is that, as universities have become more corporate in their culture and outlook, university presses are being treated like businesses, with the bottom-line becoming the deciding factor in how things should be run. And he sees an academic culture in which the university presses are used as gatekeepers, with editors called upon to judge the quality of scholarship, rather than those in academia proper. In addition, the tenure-track demands publication, forcing scholars to churn out books that no one reads (especially not those who decide whether the author should get tenure or not) but which university presses keep publishing. (A shift of focus from the humanities to the sciences also has contributed to the problem; Waters focusses largely on the humanities, which doesn't have the easy access to cash the sciences do.)
       It's a no-win situation, especially as libraries have moved away from spenidng money on books. He cites some of the scary statistics:

We have gone from selling a minimum of 1,250 books of each title in the humanities to 275 books in the past thirty years.
       Libraries -- once a guaranteed support system -- have become far less reliable:
In the University of California system overall library purchases have shifted dramatically. In 1980, 65 % of the acquisitions budget went for books and 35 % for journals; now, in 2003, it is 20 % books, 80 % journals. Librarians have not been protecting book budgets from rapacious commercial presses who gouge them on journals.
       Playing in the marketplace -- which is now the playing field of choice for even universities -- , the humanities don't look to have much of a chance. But Waters is also concerned about how the current system affects academia and scholarship. What he sees is a subtle but pervasive censorship, a system that more than anything seeks to preserve the status quo and stifles innovation. Stanley Fish comes in for considerable criticism, but he's only a small representative piece of an enormous quasi-conspiracy.
       Books, Waters believes, given their proper place and treatment, might just lead to salvation. He really believes in them, but that's not the fashion of the day (despite all the articles about the decline of the book and reading, etc. etc. only a very limited number of people really seem to show much concern).
       Waters also reminds readers of the brave choice of some who choose not to write and publish, for whom scholarship is something different -- though his preference is for those who do publish something, at least eventually:
There are too many people too eager to publish, and not enough people who are biding their time and letting a project grow within them.
       Of course, the world -- especially the academic world, of publish or perish fame -- isn't patient. Success is measured by tangible accomplishment, and short-term thinking (what have you published lately ?) easily overwhelms any long-term perspective (what might you accomplish over the next twenty years ?).

       Enemies of Promise is an interesting call to arms. Waters tackles quite a bit here, which confuses some of the issues, and makes it difficult to see how one might best approach the problems. His closing suggestions are worthy but sound almost unrealistically idealistic (or simply banal), such as: "In the humanities we have to root out an attitude of complacency in front of the system", or: "we have to dare look at new things and develop new theories". Still: he effectively shows that there are a lot of problems in academia and academic publishing that it behoves us to address.
       His (many) arguments are compelling, if not always convincing, and much could benefit from being discussed at greater length (this is a polemic, and comes as a polemic-sized burst, but he covers a lot of ground which is worth looking at more closely). The presentation is quite good, though there are occasional unfortunate expressions, such as the not-quite-pulled-off metaphor: "We are tired of McDonald's hamburgers. We want something that is slow cooked." But overall it's a good, thought-provoking and informative read on a sorry state of affairs.

- Return to top of the page -


Enemies of Promise: Reviews: Lindsay Waters: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Lindsay Waters is an editor at Harvard University Press.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2004-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links