Why bother writing a book?

May 2nd, 2011

David Bernstein, hiding from Volokh at the Legal History Blog, writes a post about law profs should write books (really you can run, but can’t from me).

Academic historians may find this to be a ridiculous question, as books are “the coin of the realm” among professional historians. But among the law professors, the traditional medium of academic discourse has been articles in law reviews. While publishing academic books has become far more common in recent years, it’s still the case that many prominent legal academics never write a book, and have no desire to.

David lists a few reasons.

First, if you are engaged in serious historical research, and want historians to be aware of and engage with your research, a book is a far better avenue to do so than are law review articles. . . . Second, the world of academic publishing, while certainly not completely free from bias in favor of established scholars who teach at top schools, is far more meritocratic than the world of law reviews edited by 2nd and 3rd year law students . . . Third, and most important, the process of writing a book will almost certainly make your work better and deeper (albeit at a great cost in time and energy).

I have been laboring this point for some time,with respect to Constitutional Places. I find the timeline and process of writing a book to be ridiculous. As I noted, from David’s announcement to publication, Rehabilitating Lochner took over 3 years! Further, who buys an expensive hardcover book when you can download the author’s previous articles (which probably are similar to the final book) for free on SSRN?

I am really thinking that self-publication for electronic formats (both Internet and kindle type) is the future.

Do check out my Joshcast with David about Rehabilitating Lochner.