tv Interview with Lara Heimert CSPAN July 31, 2016 4:00pm-4:16pm EDT
>> i think up to take that risk if the issue is that important and that meaningful to you. it's worth taking a risk. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> host: so lara heimert, what are some of the books coming out from basic this fall in. >> guest: i'm very excited about the word detective by john simpson which is a memoir by former editor-in-chief of the oxford english dictionary who had been there for about 40 years until his retirement in 2013 and in that time oversaw what really is the complete
transformation of dictionaries or the complete transformation of lexicography in the english language. anyone who's read the professor in the mad men, you can remember the descriptions of what it was like to assemble a dictionary in the mid 19th century. there were read arers all over -- readers all over the world who would submit little files, and eventually those usages, wherever the dictionary was revised which was about every 80 years, would make it into the next round. so it took an incredibly long time to update new meanings of worse. of course, now it's -- of words. of course, now it's online, and now you have crowd sourcing and people reporting tweets or web sites x it's led to this kind of massive democratization of language in this really interesting way. it's also led the oed to have to go back and relearn whole words
that, you know, with all of the newspapers online now you can discover usages that no one had ever possibly heard of the last time the dictionary was revised. so it really is this kind of extraordinary revolution in language. but along the way, he introduce cans us to all of these fascinating through histories of words. like, my favorite is the word serendipity which was introduced into the language based on a story called the three princes of serendip. that's the historical word for sri lanka. that's something i had never known. i also didn't know that there was a word to describe the place on a dog's back that it can't scratch. i didn't know that the word ganja had been introduced into the english language by the duke of wellington. there are all sorts of things on every page that you learn about language, so i think it's the perfect book for word nerds, between mow and me by mary
norris, anybody who's interested in books, anyone who's interested in words. it's just a fantastic read. >> host: is mr. simpson in favor of this democratization of language? >> guest: absolutely. i mean, i think one of the things that's great about the memoir is his description of himself coming to oxford as very much an outsider. he was not an oxford or cambridge-trained lexicographer, he wasn't from that class or that world. and realizing the extent to which the dictionary had been shaped by upper middle class readers because, of course, the types of people who have time to read and send in index cards are people who don't necessarily spend a lot of time working. so the dictionary had been shaped by these people who read milton and tennyson and maybe occasionally a middle brow detective novel. but it was very white, very male and very british. he really forces, and this is long before the dictionary starts going online, forces the dictionary into the modern age. he gets interested in magazines like popular mechanics and gets
particularly interested in reggae and the language of rastafarianism. he brings a man into his office because he's trying to find the proper definition of skanking, he makes this man skank in front of him so he can take notes. this is the kind of language that a sort of old gentleman sitting in his cottage in the countryside with his hounds by his side never would have found. so it really is part of a mission, i think, for john to open the dictionary to new readers, to new writers. and then eventually to the whole world by putting it online which is his great accomplishment as the editor-in-chief. >> host: will he be going on tour? book tour? >> guest: absolutely, he better be. [laughter] absolutely. he's done a lot of public speaking as the editor-in-chief of the oed, and i think we're gearing up to have him do a lot more. >> host: how important is a book tour to selling a book? >> guest: i think it really depends on the kind of book, honestly. for fiction it remains very important. for certain kinds of nonfiction it does as well. i don't think it's essential.
a lot of kinds of books i do are review-driven or driven by npr and other radio. i think we've certainly seen tours as sort of smaller and smaller factors in the way that we, in the way that we publish and promote books. i mean, there are all of these other ways of promoting books now too like social media, of course, or people can do, you know, enter into people's homes in book clubs through these programs i know nothing about. [laughter] you know, youtube, etc. so i think the physical traveling of an author from town to town is maybe less important than it used to be. >> host: what else do you have coming up this fall? >> guest: on a very earnest note, i have a book on the history of the caliphate coming up by hugh kennedy which is particularly important right now. i think the word caliphate isn't one that we spend a lot of time talking about probably before 2001. and then suddenly it enters the
lexicon for all of us with, first, al-qaeda and now isis talk about restoring the caliphate. and hugh kennedy is an expert on arab history with deep demand of arab sources at university of london. he's written a number of books on middle eastern history, and this is his effort to establish the caliphate both as it was and the history of an idea. and i think, you know, there's an obvious reason why the caliphate holds such enormous appeal for so many young muslims particularly, because it was a time when islam ruled the world. i mean, baghdad had half a million people during the time of the call lives -- caliphs when london and paris had maybe a few thousand. this was the muslim world at the height of its power. but i think what he's trying to show is the caliphate with these incredibly heterogenous qualities. there's no one caliphate.
the idea of a time when islam was pure, when the polity was led purely by worship of god. but, of course, like any political structure, it's much more complicated than that. there were caliphs who were deeply spiritual and deeply war like. you can find a justification for almost anything, any form of political action in the caliphate. so i think this is a necessary corrective to this kind of, this rhetoric of the caliphate as a purer and better time. >> host: one more book you have coming up. >> guest: well, there's an interesting book in political science could locked in by john fath who's a law professor/criminologies and a statistician which is about why we struggle so much in america with mass incarceration and how everything you think you know about mass be incarceration is wrong. it's not about the war on drugs, it's not about private prisons, it's really about the role of prosecutors in our criminal justice system which i think a lot of people haven't really acknowledged as the major factor behind these very high levels of
imprisonment in the united states. and, i mean, one of the things that's fascinating about this book is he shows at the very time the crime rate is dropping, there's a surge in the number of prosecutors who are working for the u.s. government. and as a consequence, you just start seeing in and around sort of 1990 this incredible surge in prosecutorial zeal, asking for much longer sentences, prosecuting at a much higher level than they would have before. and this is actually the crucial factor in creating what we call the carceral state now, not necessarily issues of race or private prisons which i think people think of as conventional wisdom behind why we are where we are now. >> host: lara heimert, what kind of books does basic publish? >> guest: we publish only serious nonfiction by expert authors. so that means about 90% of our authors are academics, a handful of journalists, some statesmen and politicians. but pretty intellectually high-end books.
>> host: where is basic? is it an independent? is it part of a larger corporation? >> guest: well, that's a great question. it was until two months ago an independent publishing company, part of the perseus books group. it remains part of the perseus books group, but we have just very recently, about a month ago, been bought by hachette which is the fourth largest publisher in the united states. >> host: and so how does that affect what you do? >> guest: so far, not much. i think i have to learn all sorts of new computer systems. [laughter] but i think it's a really good fit. i mean, hachette is known in the united states for publishing a lot, a lot of fiction. perseus is all nonfiction, so i think it's a really good counterbalance. they've been really lovely. i mean, they're just taking the whole group and picking it up and moving it over. so i still have the same staff and the same books and the same boss. so it's sort of minimally traumatic as a buyout can be.
>> host: lara heimert is the publisher of basic books. you can look for some of their titles this fall. this is booktv on c-span2. >> booktv recently visited capitol hill to ask members of congress what they're reading this summer. >> right now i'm reading a book called mountain meadows written by richard turley, and can't remember the names of the co-authors. it's a historical account of an event called the mountain meadows massacre that took place on september 11th, 1857, in southern utah. it was a tragic event but one that factored significantly into the history of the tate of utah, where -- the state of utah, where i come from. and some of my ancestors lived in southern utah at the time, and one of them, my great, great grandfather was involved in the incident. so it's an interesting book to read. it's a sad, tragic book, but
it's very interesting. >> booktv wants to know what you're reading this summer. tweet us your answer @booktv or post it on our facebook page, facebook.com/booktv. >> it's interesting, though, that service the nazi ghetto that was the main ghetto that was on my mind growing up because, in fact, for most of history if you referred to the ghetto, you weren't referring to anything that the nazis did. you were referring to the ghetto in venice in 1516 which was the first ghetto that was created for the jews. and it was the first time that the word "ghetto" was used to refer to a copper foundry that the jews were actually placed in. it was, the copper foundry was known as the ghetto, the jews were placed there, and i rely here in talking about this upon another sort of monumental field of history, the field of the
early modern historians who have done painstaking work on this topic including professor benjamin ravid whose work i relied on heavily in this particular account. now, one of the interesting things about the accomplishments of the early modern historians is that they have shown that when the palace of the dodge decided to place the jews in a ghetto, they were really not trying to create a whole framework for how jews should be treated, they were really trying to solve a very particular problem at a very particular moment. and the problem that they were trying to solve was that they needed people to loan money to their lower middle classes and their working class people, and they couldn't have these, their working classes in order to get loans have to get on a boat and
travel 30 or 40 minutes or an hour away to get small loans. they needed them right there in the city. and so they created a space for them right there in this most catholic city. they were not trying to create a framework, for example, for how jews should be treated everywhere, but they created a solution for their own problem. and then that word came to be known as this place where the jews were living. and as i see it, the crucial moment was not venice which is now celebrating its 500th anniversary and in which the jews, by the way, at the very least one could say semi-flourished, right? they had, as the early modern historians have demonstrated, great accomplishments in the production of books and philosophy and drama and family life. it was not the ghetto of venice
really that was the crucial ghetto, in my opinion, but it was really the ghetto of rome which was forged in 1555 by pope paul. and according to kenneth stowe in another monumental work on this topic, was really created in an effort to try to get the jews to convert. and also at a moment in history when the counter-reformation was leading to a certain need on the part of the vatican to make rome into a more attractive space and to create an environment in which the jews should be shown as an example even of what happens when you don't convert.
but when the pope created this ghetto, he wrote it up in his papal bull x that was distributed -- and that was distributed around the world. and i see that as a very crucial moment in those years because now the ghetto becomes a cognitive framework that becomes an example of how jews should be and can be segregated around the world. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. [inaudible conversations]