Friday, December 26, 2008

Cheating with conclusions

My enjoyment of two good books, Nobodies and Violent Politics, was marred by a frequent problem in nonfiction writing. In both cases, the authors tell one story in the body of the book and then use their argument to make sweeping, not entirely supported arguments in the conclusion.

In Nobodies, John Bowe shows how globalized labor markets have made possible work conditions that amount to slavery here in the United States. He then uses the conclusion to make a number of indictments about globalization as a whole. In Violent Politics, William Polk investigates a series of insurgencies from the American Revolution to the War in Iraq, arguing that insurgencies are principally wars against foreign invaders and that they nearly always succeed. Like Bowe, Polk has a larger agenda, arguing that the United States is about to find itself in multiple insurgencies across the world and must pull back.

In neither case does the author effectively make an argument, instead they merely state them. If the point of the Bowe book was the globalization is on the whole negative, then the book should have made that argument. If the point of the Polk book is that U.S. foreign policy is overly aggressive and tending towards imperial commitments, then he should have argued that in the book itself.

The most effective conclusions are in some ways boring. For me, the best use is a restatement of the argument and addressing some potential implications. At some level Bowe and Polk do this, but they venture to far from their subject matter.

This is not a terribly important complaint, really. Conclusions are usually boring recitiations of the book's arugument that let you get the gist of the book without reading all of it. These are both good books that are just a little better if you skip the end.

6 comments:

joshua said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Sharon

http://www.autoloans101.info

Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Susan

http://www.car-insurance-choices.com

kwandongbrian said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my fifth comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kwandongbrian

http://realsubprimeloans.com

Tripp said...

Nice. I haven't seen blogspam in quite some time.

Citizen Reader said...

Well, at least it's positive spam. Might I just say? I have also enjoyed reading your nice blog, and will keep visiting also.

I enjoyed your thoughts about these two books. In an odd way I really enjoyed the Bowe because it was such a personal take on the subject, combined with reporting, and in personal takes, I somewhat expect the sweeping generalizations. (When I can tell where they're coming from I trust them much more, unlike Bush's sweeping, "Oh, the economy'll be fine" type assertions.) I've not read the Polk but that sounds very interesting as well.

Happy new year!

Tripp said...

CR,

Happy New Year to you as well! I also liked Bowe's personal approach, and I am happy he shone some light on a topic that is generally ignored.

I just wanted a more focused conclusion. Again, it is a pretty minor complaint and one that can be leveled at a lot of nonfiction books.

T