When No Higher Power was released, the advertising summary led me to believe it would be dead center in my writing niche – living Christian faith in a secular world. As soon as I received it I dived in.
The content was everything I could have hoped for. The book is well-organized. The ideas are thoroughly developed. The writing flows smoothly. The vocabulary is excellent. The conclusions are logically deduced from the evidence presented. Only one thing is missing.
My expectations were established by reading Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin and Crimes Against Liberty by David Limbaugh. No Higher Power is just as well written, but it provides no citations. When Levin and Limbaugh state that they have evidence for their points, they provide readers with the source documentation. Phyllis Schlafly does not.
I was extremely disappointed. No Higher Power is part of heated political debate during an election year. The people on both sides of this argument feel strongly. I spend a good deal of time in this debate myself. If I make a point for my position, I am usually challenged to prove myself. It isn’t enough for me to say what I believe. It isn’t enough for me to say what some public figures assert to be the truth. The only way to hold my own in this conversation is to have the facts.
I wrote to the author and the publicist and complained, more than once. The publicist told me that the editorial department was satisfied that the book was properly sourced. I made my argument for the citations and suggested they at least post them on the author website. Finally, I told them that I wanted to give the book a five-star review, but I could not do it, because of the lack of citations.
Within hours I received a note from Harry Crocker, the Vice President and Executive Editor of the publishing company. He included his phone number and his availability to talk and invited me to call. It was a delightful conversation, although I don’t think either of us achieved our first objective.
Mr. Crocker told me that the authors rejected citations at the beginning of the book project because they felt that their readers would not want to be bogged down with them. He explained to me something I was already becoming aware of: many time-sensitive, somewhat polemical books choose not to provide citations. This senior editor has worked with many projects, so I am satisfied that his experience explains his position, but it still surprised me that he and the authors thought people would find the notes annoying. I always appreciate notes, especially in controversial issues. I read them. I follow-up. I want to know if the author speaks truth.
My first question to you is, do you think that footnotes or endnotes are annoying in a non-fiction book?
I was already familiar with some of the issues in the book, and I could verify some quotations from my own research. After reading the book, searches on random points produced satisfactory evidence. Still, it was disturbing that statements alleging words or deeds of a sitting president were not cited fully.
Because of the level of verification I had already established on my own, I felt “reasonably” confident of the sourcing. That word mirrors Mr. Crocker’s assertions of his confidence in the work. Because of the editor’s gracious explanation of the process in which citations were rejected, I felt that they had not been frivolously left out. I thought the book was extremely well written and much more coherent than most of the rhetoric flying around this election season. I felt that readers would be well served by the material. I gave the book four stars.
You can read my review at http://www.amazon.com/review/R2BRBH0GN7HZPU .
Question: What do you think? If you write non-fiction about real people, what do you think your obligation is with regard to citing sources? To cite? Or not to cite? How would you decide? What would you have done in my place?
* Image credit: Anne Hellmond (Creative Commons)