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!