The Vogue for William James

Is it just us, or are people obsessed with William James these days? It seems like there’s a new book about him every other month.

Today, Columbia University awarded one of them the Bancroft Prize for excellence in American History: Robert D. Richardson's William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Houghton Mifflin).

(Hopefully this won’t rule out the chances next year for Deborah Blum’s fascinating Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof After Death – do they give the Bancroft Prize for books about séances?)

The prize jury said Mr. Richardson’s work  “is a virtual intellectual genealogy of American liberalism and, indeed, of American intellectual life in general, through and beyond the twentieth century … the story Richardson tells is engaging, his research deep, his writing graceful and appealing.”

High praise that nevertheless somehow makes it sound like a snore.

Jack Temple Kirby also won the $10,000 prize for his book Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South (University of North Carolina Press). This book “is an ecological history of the American South, told through a series of chapters about different types of landscapes and ….Blah blah blah blah blah.” 

Bring back the ghost hunter!

Article continues below
More from Culture
Metrograph program director Aliza Ma, artistic director Jacob Perlin and founder Alexander Olch.
Behind the Screens: Metrograph’s Head of Programming Aliza Ma on New Retrospective