TIME Books

6 Books Bill Gates Recommended for TED 2015

Bill Gates
Bloomberg—Getty Images Bill Gates

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

The business magnate shares the best business book he's ever read

Bill Gates, long an avid reader, attended the TED conference again this year and continued his tradition of recommending books to fellow attendees.

1. Business Adventures, by John Brooks

Warren Buffett recommended this book to me back in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read. Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago, he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organization, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback. (Here’s a free download of one of my favorite chapters, “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox.”)

2. The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin studies the lives of America’s 26th and 27th presidents to examine a question that fascinates me: How does social change happen? Can it be driven solely by an inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first? In Roosevelt’s case, it was the latter. Roosevelt’s famous soft speaking and big stick were not effective in driving progressive reforms until journalists at McClure’s and other publications rallied public support.

3. On Immunity, by Eula Biss

The eloquent essayist Eula Biss uses the tools of literary analysis, philosophy, and science to examine the speedy, inaccurate rumors about childhood vaccines that have proliferated among well-meaning American parents. Biss took up this topic not for academic reasons but because of her new role as a mom. This beautifully written book would be a great gift for any new parent.

4. Making the Modern World, by Vaclav Smil

The historian Vaclav Smil is probably my favorite living author, and I read everything he writes. In this book, Smil examines the materials we use to meet the demands of modern life, like cement, iron, aluminum, plastic, and paper. The book is full of staggering statistics. For example, China used more cement in just three years than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century! Above all, I love to read Smil because he resists hype. He’s an original thinker who never gives simple answers to complex questions.

5. How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell

Business journalist Joe Studwell produces compelling answers to two of the greatest questions in development economics: How did countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China achieve sustained, high growth? And why have so few other countries managed to do so? His conclusion: All the countries that become development success stories (1) create conditions for small farmers to thrive, (2) use the proceeds from agricultural surpluses to build a manufacturing base that is tooled from the start to produce exports, and (3) nurture both these sectors with financial institutions closely controlled by the government.

6. How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff

I picked this one up after seeing it on a Wall Street Journal list of good books for investors. It was first published in 1954, but it doesn’t feel dated (aside from a few anachronistic examples—it has been a long time since bread cost 5 cents a loaf in the United States). In fact, I’d say it’s more relevant than ever. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons. It’s a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. A great introduction to the use of statistics, and a great refresher for anyone who’s already well versed in it.

This article originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Here’s the Cover for the New Book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series


It may have a different author, but The Girl in the Spider's Web looks a lot like the other Lisbeth Salander novels

Stieg Larsson died before he could complete a fourth book in his Millennium Series—but its protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, lives on.

After the wild success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Larsson’s publishers and estate recruited Swedish writer David Lagercrantz to continue the series. The fourth book will hit shelves Sept. 1, and its American publisher, Knopf, revealed the cover for The Girl in the Spider’s Web on Tuesday.

If we’re judging a book by its cover, readers can probably expect book four to hew closely to Stieg Larsson’s style—the design is very much in keeping with the rest of the series, and though Lagercrantz gets the byline, the jacket specifies in not-insignificant type that the story is “continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series.” The book will once again follow the adventures of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, though this time, says Lagercrantz, it will introduce “Silicon Valley as a locale and a character from the National Security Agency in a central role.”

The Larsson novels have spelled huge profits for publishers, selling 80 million copies worldwide and 25 million in the U.S. alone since 2005. Whether a new writer can replicate the same spark remains to be seen—Spider’s Web will have an initial print run of 500,000 copies in the U.S.

TIME Television

George R.R. Martin Won’t Write for Game of Thrones Season 6

HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 5 - San Francisco Premiere
Steve Jennings—WireImage George R.R. Martin Writer/Co-Executive Producer attends HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Season 5 San Francisco Premiere

He is using the time to finish the sixth book in the series

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin announced on his blog Friday that he will not be contributing to the sixth season of the HBO show.

Martin wrote that “after wrestling with it for a month or so,” he decided that he will instead spend his time working on Winds of Winter, the sixth novel in the series.

“Writing a script takes me three weeks, minimum, and longer when it is not a straight adaptation from the novels,” Martin explained.

“And really, it would cost me more time than that, since I have never been good at changing gears from one medium to another and back again. Writing a season six script would cost me a month’s work on WINDS, and maybe as much as six weeks, and I cannot afford that.”

He’s also not contributing to season five.

The final book in the series is currently set to come out after the television series culminates.

[h/t: NYMag]

Read next: This New Iron Throne of Westeros Is Bigger Than Ever Before

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Books

How the Harry Potter Books Might Have Had Different Titles

Harry Potter
Warner Bros.

Harry Potter and the School of Magic, anyone?

Entertainment Weekly has an exclusive excerpt of Philip W. Errington’s new book, J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography 1997–2013, and even the most ardent Potter fans will be surprised to learn a few things about the beloved series. In particular, what the books were almost called.

The first book, called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K. almost went out in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the School of Magic. And thankfully Rowling dismissed that as a possibility. But other books in the series almost had other titles, too, like Harry Potter and the Death Eaters or Harry Potter and the Three Champions for Goblet of Fire.

Head to EW.com to read the entire excerpt, where you’ll learn more about how publishers transported top-secret manuscripts and how editors kept track of every spell in the Wizarding World.

TIME Books

29 Books That Will Enrich Your Inner Literati

Getty Images

Answer by Cristina Hartmann on Quora.

Correction appended, March 31

For anyone who wants to attain the vaunted title of “being well-read,” it’s more about breadth than depth. (As for feeling well-read, read the postscript.)

To “feel” well-read in literature, it’s all about the categories, not the books themselves. Read a few books in a few different genres, time periods, points of views. I’ve thrown in a few controversial books, just so you know what all of the fuss is about.

Here’s how you can feel like a regular literati!:

Western Classics (Ancient & Modern): to give you a good foundation for the who’s who of Western literature.

  • The Odyssey (Homer): epic of a dude who just can’t get home without a little help from the gods. (Extra credit if you read the Iliad, too!)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens): the quintessential story of the French Revolution, love, and longing.
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen): the story that started the “hate at first sight turning into love” trope.
  • Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): Very long. Very melodramatic. Very Russian. Very classic!

Dystopia: the stuff of our worst fears and nightmares.

  • Nineteen-Eighty-Four (George Orwell): the book that introduced “doublethink” into our lexicon.
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): another classic dystopia. Gammas, Deltas, oh my!
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood): a feminist spin on the genre.

Science Fiction & Fantasy: we can’t overlook the geeky cousin of the classics, can we?

  • The Lord of the Rings series (J.R.R. Tolkien): this guy made the epic (also called high) fantasy genre. Be warned, it’s a bit of a dry read.
  • The Foundation series (Issac Asimov): some of the pioneering stories in science fiction, natch!
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson): here’s something a bit more modern. Plus, you just can’t beat “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” as a snappy first line.

Great American Novels: these zeitgeist works practically defined a time period of U.S. history.

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald): you can’t think of the Jazz Age without thinking of “old sport.”
  • Bonfire of Vanities (Tom Wolfe): the terrible movie nonwithstanding, this book captured the self-indulgence of the 80s NYC crowd.
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck): I dare you to get into a conversation about the Great Depression without thinking of this book. I dare you.

Literary Heavy Hitters: books that make people go “Whoa, dude!” when you say that you’ve read them.

  • Ulysses (James Joyce): stream-of-consciousness writing plus an unhealthy sexual obsession with an orphan with a limp equal literary greatness. True story.
  • Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace): fractals, man! Fractals!
  • Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon): lots of stuff happens that a lot of people pretend to understand.

Popular Fiction: those guilty indulgences that everyone has read (but won’t necessarily admit to it). Warning: this is U.S.-centric, feel free to indulge in your country’s guilty pleasures.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin): hey, there’s a popular HBO miniseries about it!
  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins): better than Twilight.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James): be torn between hilarity and despair in this BDSM spin-off of a Twilight fan fiction. Who knows, maybe this’ll spice up the bedroom.

Immigrant Experience (U.S./U.K.): ah, the magical experience of being thrust into a new culture.

  • Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri): say hello to our recent Indian arrivals! (For our tea-drinking cousins across the pond, try Monica Ali’sBrick Lane.)
  • Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan): the book that inspired a movie and furor in the Asian American community about stereotypes and Tan’s possible self-loathing. (For a less controversial read, try Ha Jin’s Waiting–and yes, there’s a lot of longing and waiting there.)
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez): how four sisters start to forget their Spanish and their native homeland of the Dominican Republic.

Non-Western Classics (Ancient): if Westerners get theirs, so should the rest of the world.

  • Ramayana (India): this is THE Hindu epic. Full stop.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China): a bit of Chinese history, highly romanticized and dramatized. Kind of like “A World Turns.”

Non-Western Classics (Modern): the stuff that you should read to feel worldly and well-read. (More applicable if you’re from the U.S. or Western Europe.)

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): this novel single-handedly legitimatized Latin American literature in modern times. Too bad you don’t know who he’s talking about half of the time.
  • To Live (Yu Hua): getting banned in China just adds to its street cred.
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe): the sad tale of colonialism in Africa. Definitely merits a frowny-face.

Satire: throw in a little giggle into your reading list.

  • Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut): some say Slaughterhouse-Five is his best, I say this one. Also: Bokononism!
  • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller): come and see what the catch-22 is. I promise you, it’s gorgeously ironic.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): you kill two birds with two stones here: sci-fi and satire. Whee!

This is where I reach the end of my endurance. I haven’t even gotten into the non-fiction stuff, but alas … I must eat.

With this list, you’ll feel like you can dominate the Trivial Pursuit literature section! Life is good.

Postscript: since this question is more about sentiment than reality … I hate to break it to you, but if you’re truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They’re always on the lookout for their next book—that category that they’re missing—to add to their impressive list. It’s a Sisyphean goal, really.

If you feel well-read, you’re probably not.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What books should one read to feel well-read?

More from Quora:

Read next: 15 Life-Changing Books You Can Read in a Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the title of the book Things Fall Apart.


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight to Hit Bookstores This Fall

The actor returns with his third book, with details revealed exclusively on TIME

Ethan Hawke, the author of two novels, is returning to bookshelves for the first time since 2002.

Rules for a Knight, due out this fall, will cap off a year that has included Hawke’s debut documentary (Seymour: An Introduction) and his fourth Oscar nomination (for Boyhood). Per Hawke’s publisher, Knopf—who shared details of the book exclusively with TIME—Hawke originally wrote Knight, a parable, as a gift to his four children. The publisher’s synopsis further reads:

“A knight, fearing he may not return from battle, writes a letter to his children in which he tries to leave a record of all he knows. He lays out the truth of the world as he sees it in a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, patience, generosity, authenticity, and love. He presents an honest and joyful accounting of what the measure of our lives should be.”

In a recent interview with TIME, Hawke spoke about his evolution as an artist. “When I was young, I just had a tremendous amount of—joy is one word, hubris is another. I was just so excited to be a part of of anything creative,” he said. “‘I wrote 10 pages. Look! You should read it.’ And now as you get older, you’re like, ‘Okay, wait. There’s a lot of things you should read before I’ll waste your time with [my work].'”

That concern has evidently been overcome with a story that’s intended to speak to young people, and that’s explicitly intended as advice: Hawke’s publisher compares the book to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea. Like his character in Boyhood, Hawke, writing for his kids, is growing up.

After all, as the book instructs its reader: “A great knight uses his power to empower others.”

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Creators Say the Show Will Spoil The Books

"We’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place"

The power dynamics between Game of Thrones readers and watchers will soon shift.

The HBO show’s creators have revealed that the series will end before the books do—something fans have been aware of for some time given George R. R. Martin’s writing pace — and will follow the same plot. In other words, the show will be full of book spoilers.

Show runner Davide Benioff told Oxford Union:

We’ve been talking about this with George for a long time, ever since we saw this could happen, and we know where things are heading. And so we’ll eventually, basically, meet up at pretty much the same place where George is going; there might be a few deviations along the route, but we’re heading towards the same destination. I kind of wish that there were some things we didn’t have to spoil, but we’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The show must go on… and that’s what we’re going to do.

(h/t: Vanity Fair)

TIME Books

Becoming Steve Jobs Shares Jobs’ Human Side

Steve Jobs during a keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.
Paul Sakuma—AP Steve Jobs during a keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.

A new book out this week gives a fresh look at the controversial leader

Every new book about Steve Jobs will forever be measured against Walter Isaacson’s biography, which defined, for millions of readers, the man who built (and rebuilt) Apple.

But the people closest to Jobs — the people who knew him best — say Isaacson missed the mark. “I thought the Isaacson book did him a tremendous disservice,” says Tim Cook, speaking out three years later. “It was just a rehash of a bunch of stuff that had already been written, and focused on small parts of his personality.”

Isaacson’s not really to blame. He’s a skilled journalist, and he mastered an enormous amount of material in a very short time. But he didn’t get to spend much quality time with his subject until the last year and a half of Jobs’ life. Besides, he was hired to tell the story of what Steve Jobs did, not who Steve Jobs was.

There are only a handful of journalists who knew Jobs well enough to tell that story. There’s Steve Levy, formerly of Newsweek. There’s John Markoff of the New York Times. And there’s Brent Schlender of the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, who may have known Jobs best of all.

Becoming Steve Jobs was co-written with Rick Tetzeli, a long-time Fortune colleague, but it is told in the first person — Schlender’s first person — because it is, at heart, Schlender’s story, the story of a journalist’s 25-year relationship with a source.

The book comes richly pre-publicized. Fast Company, where Tetzeli is executive editor, has been dishing out the newsiest chunks like ice cream, one scoop at a time.

But it’s through Schlender’s stories, freshly told, often from taped interviews, that we get to know Steve Jobs as Schlender knew him. And it’s through these stories that each reader will assemble his or her own answer to the book’s central question:

How did a young man so reckless and arrogant become the most effective visionary business leader of our time?”

Jobs cultivated Schlender, gave him long interviews, called him to gossip and complain. Schlender visited Jobs at home; Jobs visited Schlender in the hospital, where they ended up together more often than either would have wished.

Their first meeting — in 1986, when Jobs was drumming up publicity for NeXT — didn’t yield the Wall Street Journal feature story Jobs was hoping for, but it did convince him that Schlender was okay, not a bozo.

“Not writing a feature was the first salvo in the twenty-five-year-long negotiation that marked our relationship,” writes Schlender in the prologue that kickstarts the book. “There was never a minute where the basic terms of our relationship weren’t clear: I was the reporter, he was the source and subject.”

And yet Schlender leaves Jobs’ invitation-only memorial service in October 2011 overcome with emotion for having lit into his source in their last phone call. Jobs had invited Schlender to pay a visit. But Schlender was in a dark mood. Not realizing how close Jobs was to death, he used the opportunity to air his grievances about their relationship. “After a few minutes, once I’d had my say, there was a silence on the line. And then he said he was really sorry.”

Schlender made a halfhearted attempt to schedule a visit but quickly gave up, to his everlasting regret.

Highly recommended.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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Want to Accomplish Great Things? Pick Great Heroes. Here’s How.

Full length of man dressed as superhero jumping in Brohm lake
Getty Images

Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, boxing champion, and humanitarian leader. This piece is drawn from his recently published book, Resilience. The founder of The Mission Continues and the author of the New York Times best-seller The Heart and the Fist, Eric was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people.

Don't feel silly. We all need heroes.

Who’s your hero?

It sounds like a childish question, and that’s a problem. You need a hero. We all do.

Heroes aren’t just for kids. Adults who want to accomplish great things—a successful business, a happy family, a beautiful painting, meaningful work—need heroes as well.

Step 1: Accept that heroes have flaws and that, as an adult, you will be able to identify them

When I was a kid, my favorite superhero was Aquaman. I loved Aquaman. I loved how he could breathe underwater, swim like a dolphin and communicate with fish. I don’t know that I’ve thought about Aquaman as an adult—and that’s a shame. Lots of kids have heroes. Kids are natural idolizers.

But in time we have to “put away childish things.” And one of the most painful parts of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that there is no perfect hero: our parents are flawed, our favorite athlete or actor might be a jerk. Comic books aren’t documentaries.

To grow up is to understand that no one owns a complete set of virtues. Those who are brave might also be impatient. Those who are patient might also be unjust. The disciplined athlete is the undisciplined spender. The courageous soldier becomes the frightened father.

When we grow up—if we grow up fully—we no longer choose our heroes in a spirit of passive, all-consuming admiration, as a child does. We can choose actively, singling out the qualities we want to emulate, leaving aside the rest without regrets.

We can admire the profound wisdom of Plato without accepting, or ignoring, his deep elitism, which held that most of us have no hope of achieving wisdom at all. We can admire the free-thinking genius of Thomas Jefferson without accepting, or ignoring, his ownership of other human beings. We can admire the audacity of Richard Wagner, a nearly self-taught musician who became one of history’s greatest composers, without accepting, or ignoring, his hatred of Jews.

I’ve chosen famous examples here because everyone will know them. Your heroes may be more personal—a friend, a colleague, parent, coach or teacher. They too will be flawed. They can still be your hero. We can admire without ignoring, because we are adults, and that is what adults are capable of. We have to put away the idea that our heroes are perfect, if only because such a view of heroes begins to limit our view of our own lives.

If we believe that our heroes are flawless, we begin to believe that we, being flawed, are incapable of heroism. In this way, a belief in the perfection of others can inhibit our own growth. Sometimes people poke holes at and tear down heroes as an odd way to comfort themselves. If no one is heroic—the thinking goes—then why should I try? Yet flawed heroes—even fatally flawed heroes—are still heroic. Every Achilles has an Achilles’ heel.

Your hero is flawed. So are you. You have that in common.

Step 2: Recognize how heroes help you

We need heroes, because all of us have to do things that are hard.

What is difficult, painful, confusing, chaotic and worrisome in our lives can feel—because it is happening to us—as though it is unique. It’s easy to imagine that because you’re a unique person, your struggles are unique too. And it’s easy to become isolated, especially when things are hard.

Most heroes are heroic only because they have struggled heroically.

A hero can serve as a model. And a model might teach us how to deal with the death of someone we love, how to rebound from being fired, how to coach a loved one through a disabling accident, how to lead a team or how to raise a child.

Over time, we keep growing; the challenges in front of us change, and our sense of self changes with them. The model who taught us courage may be ill suited when the times demand patience. At each stage of our life, we pursue different dreams, learn different ways of living a good life and pass through different trials. We will, therefore, need different heroes.

Your hardship is real, but it is not unique. Learn from your heroes. Emulate the best in them.

Step 3: Be Heroic

Now, make yourself similar in another way: Go be heroic.


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

This Surprising Literary Trend Is Experiencing a Golden Age

Raymond Chandler
Ralph Crane—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty The writer Raymond Chandler, in 1943

Literary brands, delineated characters and franchises have existed since ancient times. Why is the continuation novel enjoying a golden moment now?

History Today

This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at HistoryToday.com.

When asked recently why he wrote his most recent novel, the author John Banville answered: ‘Because I was asked to’. The book in question, The Black Eyed Blonde (published by Pan Macmillan in paperback this February) was written by Banville under his pseudonym Benjamin Black in blatant and acknowledged imitation of Raymond Chandler at the request of Chandler’s estate. It’s a setup that might inspire a film noir script: a decorated author (Banville) with a penchant for pseudonymously writing crime thrillers is approached by the estate of a long-deceased author. His task? Imitate one of the defining stylists of 20th-century literature. The reward? A best-selling novel and a substantial share of the accompanying spoils. The appeal for the Chandler estate is obvious: Chandler’s copyright will expire in the UK in 2029 and the value of characters – in this case Chandler’s famous PI Philip Marlowe – often exceeds the value of an author’s original texts.

The concept of one novelist ‘writing as’ another, usually to expand or continue a literary franchise, is known as a continuation novel, and is an increasingly familiar feature of the contemporary literary landscape. My copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory doesn’t include an entry on the continuation novel, but future editions probably will. In recent years Sebastian Faulks has written as P.G. Wodehouse, William Boyd as Ian Fleming, Sophie Hannah as Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz as Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. ‘When you read Anthony Horowitz’ new James Bond novel in September, you will think it is a lost Ian Fleming’, tweets literary agent Jonny Geller, who acknowledges that ‘the past five years has seen a significant rise in this model’ when I ask him about the popularity of such novels. We might be living in the second ‘golden age’ of television, but this is also arguably the first golden age of the continuation novel, which is arguably a less impressive development. It prompts various questions, such as: is literary publishing eating itself?

Homage, parody, pseudonym and forgery are commonplace throughout literary history, a potted survey of which might include the following key moments: in antiquity, a whole school of poetry was ‘written as’ Anacreon, referred to as the Anacreontea. In the late 18th century, children’s author Sarah Trimmer, who wrote the popular Fabulous Histories (1786), complained of being pirated on multiple occasions. Henry Fielding supposedly wrote a parodic sequel to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela titled Shamela. Later still, in 1907, Joseph Conrad had a breakdown while writing Nostromo and his friend (and later collaborator) Ford Maddox Ford wrote some of the book for him to ensure Conrad met serialisation dates. The 1913 novel Sherlock Holmes saving Mr. Venizelos, written by an anonymous author, is thought to be Sherlock’s first reincarnation (and also the first detective novel in Greek literature). Not all the above examples are nefarious in intent, but all in some way attempt to obscure the act of literary ventriloquism that is occurring.

The continuation novel differs from fan fiction (also enjoying a purple patch, which is unlikely to be a coincidence) chiefly in its ‘official’ nature. The books are commissioned by the deceased author’s estate, written with its approval, and marketed using both author’s brand associations. They are, in a sense, the logical conclusion of the familiar marketing tool of comparing a new author to an established author: ‘For fans of…’ or ‘Author A meets Author B’. The first well-known example of this model of publishing with an established author ‘picking up the torch’ on official business does not occur until the post-war period, when, in 1968, Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun, a ‘new’ James Bond novel under the pseudonym Robert Markham at the behest of Ian Fleming’s estate. Tantalisingly one reviewer of Amis’ book noted that while it was unusual for an established author to continue a franchise in this manner, it was not unprecedented, though my search for an example predating 1968 has proved fruitless thus far. Continuation novels have detractors. ‘The posthumous pseudo-sequel never amounts to more than a nostalgic curiosity’ wrote, ironically, Kingsley’s son Martin Amis in a review of Perchance to Dream, Robert B. Parker’s authorised attempt to resurrect Chandler in 1991.

Why is the continuation novel so prevalent now? Literary brands have existed in some form or another since Homer. Why did no enterprising literary agent – a profession that has its roots in the late Victorian era – encourage a young, struggling George Gissing to ‘write as’ his idol Charles Dickens following the latter’s untimely death? Dickens was no stranger to franchising out his name: George W. M. Reynold’s Pickwick Abroad (1838) borrowed its titular protagonist from Dickens. Famously, Dickens and Wilkie Collins would write parts of each other’s books. EM Forster admired Jane Austen above all other writers, and today she is among our most rewritten authors. Why not expand her oeuvre in the early 20th century? The changing nature of intellectual property rights has much to do with the answer of course: they were less clear in the past, and more short-lived making forgery and plagiarism viable options. The literary brand, today, is a managed and controlled phenomenon. A dead author’s reach on social media (managed by their estate or publisher) can be vast. The person or people who control Socrates’ Facebook page have access to nearly 1.5 million people.

Aside from copyright, however, two interesting factors might be considered when explaining the present rise of the continuation novel, one recent and one not. Post-war publishing saw the paperback revolution, a change that according to Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘set book publishing upon a bolder and more adventurous course, turning it from a minor industry into one of sufficient growth and profitability to attract professional investors’. Arguably the eBook ‘revolution’ is a comparable growth area for the industry, ushering in a period of new potential profitability and markets. ‘Publishing’, says Jonny Geller, ‘is all about finding shorthand ways of capturing the reader by reducing intricate and complex narratives to bite size signifiers’. Few literary forms fit that bill like the continuation novel.

A more interesting theory might seek a precedent in the ancient world. In Edith Hall’s forthcoming Introducing The Ancient Greeks, (published by The Bodley Head in April) she describes how, following Alexander the Great’s death and the Wars of the Successors, Ptolemy I embarked on turning Alexandria into the world’s supreme center of civilisation. Central to this was the construction of the Library of Alexandria. Construction commenced around 297 BC, and Ptolemy imported the most acclaimed experts money could buy as well as bank-rolling a book-buying program that sent scouts to Rhodes and Athens with limitless money. Ptolemy’s venture was a success. Among those he brought to Alexandria was Callimachus who ‘knew more about ancient Greek literature than anybody before or since’, and changed the course of Western poetry by breaking with the literary culture amassed at the library with dense, erudite and cryptic poems. This period of literary experimentation was not to last. One of the detrimental effects of the library was to ensure that the past Hellenic literary tradition weighed heavily on the city’s poets and writers. ‘Almost as quickly as Ptolemy had brought the finest poets of his empire to its headquarters in Alexandria, innovation in Greek poetry ceased almost altogether’, writes Hall, who suggests that the recent resurgence in the popularity of the ‘pseudo-archaic Hymns of Callimachus or the whimsical, gothic response to Homer in Apollonius’s Argonautica’ is a due to our own age’s same ‘obsession with recycling inherited artifacts’.

The classics weighed heavily on Ptolemy’s Egypt just as their ‘modern’ incarnations do on our own. Does a period of widespread knowledge, readily accessible information and quick literary canonisation like that of Ptolemy’s Alexandria – and, with the internet, like our own – stifle creativity and innovation? If so, the rise of the continuation novel might be among the symptoms.

Rhys Griffiths is Publishing Assistant at History Today.

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