Is this the best book acknowledgement ever?

Scholar's anti-thank you has got the HE world talking, says Scott Jaschik

January 12, 2016
Reading glasses lying on open book

“I blame all of you. Writing this book has been an exercise in sustained suffering. The casual reader may, perhaps, exempt herself from excessive guilt, but for those of you who have played the larger role in prolonging my agonies with your encouragement and support, well…you know who you are, and you owe me.”

This was the unusual book acknowledgement found by John Fea, chair of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, while browsing an exhibit at the American Historical Association's annual meeting last weekend.

It was written by Brendan Pietsch, assistant professor of religious studies at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan, whose book Dispensational Modernism was published in July by Oxford University Press.

Via email, he told Inside Higher Ed that a blog post that Professor Fea had since written about the acknowledgement turned out to be good publicity for the book.

“I'm a bit surprised anyone noticed, and the recent attention to a book that has previously had about nine readers has been a little crazy,” Dr Pietsch said.

So, why did he write the acknowledgement in his book?

“I could give lots of reasons for it,” Dr Pietsch said. “I thought it was funny. The book was a dissertation project first, and after almost 10 years of working on it I couldn't possibly come up with a full list of all the people who had helped.

“Also there was also a lovely account in Jonathan Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant of a book in which B. S. Johnson somewhat belligerently invited readers to write their own name in the acknowledgments if they thought they deserved to be [there], and it made me think about what it might mean to invite readers (of which I expect few, most of whom I already know, this being a typical scholarly monograph) to take credit for their help without describing either my labour or others’ as a commodity.

“Although mostly I suspect it was because my mother raised me badly, so I didn't have the good manners to show proper gratitude in a normal way. Definitely my mother's fault, one way or another.”

Has anyone seen better acknowledgements in a scholarly book?

Scott Jaschik is editor of Inside Higher Ed.

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