Just a head’s-up: there is a wonderful new book out, a small hardcover, under ten bucks according to the Amazon. This is Richard Posner’s The Little Book of Plagiarism (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007). As always when I read writers who have both supreme intellectual gifts and great lucidity of style, I am torn between mad jealousy and a sort of finger-licking gourmet enjoyment: oh, perfect! That’s exactly the issue! If only I could explain it this thoroughly and well! The distinction and the various consequences are now perfectly clear! Wonderful! Because it is also gloriously concise and inexpensive, I’m pushing to make it required reading for our first-year graduate students. I’m even considering the ultimate act of love: to outline the book for myself. What’s wrong with me?
The book is invaluable for people interested in writing, particularly those academics who both write and evaluate student writing and research. Posner’s treatments of intellectual fraud, copyright infringement, and plagiarism as separate but related, plus the explanations of who is mislead and damaged by each, are especially welcome in an environment where “oh, who cares anyway” is a common shoulder-shrug of a disclaimer. A substantial percentage of our graduate students are foreign, and many are performers, so their native cultural mores (yes, I am defining the performance world as a discrete culture) are somewhat different from those of more traditional researchin’, readin’, and writin’ academics. This book is a splendid little reminder that certain supposedly “victimless crimes” are certainly crimes, and certainly not victimless.
That Posner is not sitting on the Supreme Court is both proof of the fallacy of a belief in meritocracy and a flaming indictment of recent American political leadership. No surprise on either count. Jonathan says: highly recommended!