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Bronislaw Malinowski’s advice on how to decide which books are worthy of your attention

I’ve been meaning to post this for months. It’s a comment about book marketing by John Kremer that seemed to be serious:

Sometimes when you get so many books to read, look at, review, or provide testimonials for, you might have to follow the simple method used by the great Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski to decide which books are worthy of your attention.

Because he did not have time to read every new book in his field, Malinowski would take each new book he received, open it immediately to the index, and check to see if his name was cited there (and how often). The more Malinowski, the more compelling the book would be. No Malinowski, and he doubted whether the subject of the book was anthropology at all.

Kremer is well-known, I think, as a writer on book marketing, and he wasn’t being critical or ironic; this is the method, he said, he uses when sent a new book to review. I’m sure the method isn’t just used by narcissists or anthropologists, but the person I’ve known who was most similar to Malinowski was indeed an anthropologist. As the coeditor of a major encyclopedia in the field, his first question about any submission was, “Did they cite me?” And he was more than ready to demand a revision with references to even the most obscure, and sometimes discredited, work he’d done in the course of his illustrious career.

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