Famous Last Words: Great Book. Sloppy Prose.
Since acquiring a Kindle, I have started buying and reading books, big time. Being a World War II buff, I am continually looking to fill in my understanding of how the U.S. and our allies conquered half the world in just 4-1/2 years. More to the point, why has the U.S.—for more than a decade—spent billions of dollars with thousands of soldiers getting shot up in two third-rate Middle East countries?
Recently I glommed onto "Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War" by Paul Kennedy. The guy is a great conceptual thinker and researcher, but a truly lousy communicator, who consistently fails to think of his readers. Three examples:
Here's a line from the book:
. . . [German Admiral Karl] Doenitz relied so heavily upon his invaluable B-Dienst.
What the hell was B-Dienst? I wanted to know. The author sent me off on a wild chase all over the Kindle. It was a huge interruption. Kennedy mentioned B-Dienst 11 times. In the second usage he compared it to the British code breakers at Bletchley Park, so I was able to figure it out.
But just to be sure, I looked it up in Wikipedia, which solved the question in its lede sentence:
The B-Dienst (Beobachtungsdienst) (surveillance service) was a German naval codebreaking organization.
It's the author's job to help the reader along, not make him feel like a chump.
Find It Yourself
Another strange quirk in Kennedy's prose is that he apparently expects the reader to jump around his book like a jackrabbit. Throughout the narrative, I was told:
Phrase and No. of Times
- see Chapter [3, 4 or 5] (12)
- as noted above (6)
- as suggested above (1)
- as the narrative above (1)
- as we have seen (6)
- as has been argued ... above (1)
- as we have argued (2)
- as we shall see (10)
- in the pages below (1)
- analyzed in more detail below (1)
- will be discussed below (2)
- see below (1)
- exceptions mentioned below (1)
- the conclusions below (1)
When you think about it, nowhere does the author answer the question, "Where?"