2023-01-13

221b: Writing, Detectives, Libraries, Leadership, Reading

Writing Advice from Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s first real writing job was as a reporter at the Kansas City Star. There, he adopted the simple style of prose with which he wrote throughout his life. That style, as Mary Dearborn explains in  Ernest Hemingway: A Biography ( notes ), was adopted from  a writing handbook The Star  issued new writers. Ernest later said the document was, "the best rules I've ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them." The guide contained rules like "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative." It also had rules for describing news events. One such rule was to never write anyone was "seriously injured" because all injuries were serious. It also said to avoid adjectives. Words like "gorgeous," "grand," or "marvelous" were not to be used. Ernest said, "[No writer] can fail to write well if he abides by [those rules]."


Devil's Disciples

The term "to detect" is derived from the Latin verb de-tegere which means "to unroof." In Victorian England, the birthplace of detectives, the public viewed detectives in the same light as journalists: crusaders for truth who uncovered all the dirty little secrets of the town. Since privacy at home was a cornerstone of the era, detectives had the unique job of “tearing off” the roof of a suspect’s home to analyze the life inside. This caused detectives to be known as "the devil's disciples" because, according to legend, the devil allowed his henchmen to peer into houses by removing their roofs as well.


Libraries

Pliny the Elder , when talking about  Asinius , the friend of Julius Caesar who would bring Caesar's plan for a library in Rome to fruition, said Asinius was, "the first to make the genius of man public property." I love that description for a library. Compliment that with Van Gogh who said, “Bookstores remind me that there are still good things in the world.”


Leadership

Each leader profiled in (https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Six-Studies-World-Strategy/dp/0593489446)[_Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy_](https://a.co/d/eTx5tlx)[ ](https://a.co/d/eTx5tlx) ( notes ) by Henry Kissinger faced opposition to their plan for the future of their country. But that's to be expected. They weren't looking for consensus, they were looking to lead, which usually brings tension. When Charles de Gaulle appeared in Paris to meet with members of the French defense establishment, a soldier told Kissinger, "whenever he appears, he divides the country." Kissinger writes, "A leader does not undertake fundamental economic reforms as [Margaret] Thatcher did, or seek peace with historic adversaries as [Anwar] Sadat, or build a successful multiethnic society from the ground up as Lee [Kuan Yew], without offending entrenched interests and alienating important constituencies." He continues, "Both during their years in government and afterwards, not everyone admired these six leaders or subscribed to their policies. In each case, they faced resistance–often carried out for honorable motives and sometimes by distinguished opposing figures. Such is the price of making history."


A Quote on My Mind...

"The intellectual is, quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book."

– George Steiner

Learn five new things in five minutes or less.
Get my weekly email that shares an anthology of ideas and stories from history, science, philosophy, and more. Read previous editions here.