Thursday, 7 April 2016

Book reviewing by Twitter

In the spirit of pre-registering a research project so that abject failure is known to all, and no negative finding is denied publication, I am hereby making open admission of my intention to summarise Robert Tomb’s The English and Their History in a series of tweets. I aim to distil the essence, picking and polishing his pearls of wisdom, and modestly imagine I may thereby launch a new literary form, a contemporary Reader’s Digest on amphetamines for hard pressed, time-poor citizens.

On the plus side, I incline towards aphorism and have a long schooling in the arts of précis. Many school evenings were dedicated to learning the arts of brevity. On the negative, or perhaps simply realistic side, the text in question is a very closely printed 2012 pages long, subtle and measured in its evaluation of historical events and their interpretation. It will take some time. I have also lost track of the beginning of my labours, so Twitter archaeologists are invited to help me aggregate individual tweets into a coherent consecutive order (a bit like the historian’s task).

My technique is to read several chapters, making pencilled notes in the margins, and then tweet comments on earlier chapters in tranquillity. I am only on page 314 with my reading, and have tweeted no further than page 196, a task which is still in progress today. Mostly I am summarising, and sometimes editing and compressing different paragraphs and sections to present the unifying thought. It is review by selection, a notice about what I have noticed. It is in the historical tradition of history being “what one age finds of note in another”.

On a humanitarian note, should you never hear from me again, please make discrete enquiries as to my well-being.


  1. "a long schooling in the arts of précis': that takes me back. First we learnt to paraphrase, and then to précis. Did a précis differ from an epitome? Dunno.

  2. "the arts of précis": it strikes me that these arts are essentially a way of coping with two aphoristic British exclamations, to wit "Get to the point!", and "Do get on with it!".

  3. As J.J. Hunsecker might have said:
    Erudite me, Sidney

  4. Hopefully, your tweets will be epitomes of incisive precision....

  5. Oh lord, I have notifications turned on for you on twitter.

  6. Your article is very nice and attractive,