29 August 2006

Books Not Fully Cooked

A paragraph you might have missed, from the end of a review of a recent book on Aristotelian teleology, raises indirectly a question that friends and I have wondered about -- whether standards for book production are dropping, and, if so, why.

Although the editorial production of a book is never entirely the author's responsibility, and in some cases mistakes are made that are not the author's fault at all, a significant number of editorial and typographical errata mar the overall presentation of the work and at times prove quite distracting. Throughout the book, sometimes on the same page, and in some instances even in the same line (75), the Greek for one of Aristotle's central teleological phrases—hou heneka—is incorrectly aspirated, wavering back and forth between hou heneka, ou heneka and even ou eneka. There are numerous errors of punctuation, incorrect italicization and inconsistent capitalization of titles, and accentuation of words in Greek. The capitalization and printing of column letters in the citation of Bekker pages randomly alternates between upper case and lower case; sometimes they are written in superscript, sometimes not. On the very first page of the book, the title of Aristotle Metaphysics is inconsistently italicized in the same line (p. 1 n.1). I caught over 50 typographical errors in the first 150 pages of the book, after which I stopped keeping track. Such errata seem unusual for a prestigious university press, and one hopes that this author's first book--worthy of inclusion in any research university's library--can be corrected in subsequent printings.
I must admit this baffles me. We’re all familiar with the startling experience of discovering a typo on a page that had been checked carefully in proofs by both author and proofreader. But how could multiple mistakes of this sort go unnoticed and uncorrected?

And the blame is to be shared by press as well as author: inconsistencies in citations and format should have been caught by the copy editor, even if an author might be excused for overlooking them.

Is this book, published by Oxford University Press, an exception, or is it part of a larger trend toward poor workmanship in books? And, if the latter, what could be the cause? One might have thought that modern methods of book production would have made it easier to notice and remove mistakes.


Monte Ransome Johnson said...

First of all, Let me take this occasion to thank Thornton for such a thorough, engaging, fair, and careful review. I have been very fortunate in this regard both in this case, and in the review by Thomas Johansen in NDPR.

Since this blog deals mostly with book reviews, not books, and increasingly with issues of typographical errors (2 of the last 5 posts), let me here respond only briefly to Thornton's fully justified complaint in his review about the numerous typos in the book.

Every one of the errors listed by Thronton is stylistic-- capitalization, aspiration, transliteration, italicization. I am happy that no errors of reference or translation have been found, which would have been more troubling, and possibly worthy of philosophical criticism.

The inconsistent stylization on page references (sometimes superscript, sometimes not) is due to the following. On the final page proofs, I checked every single one of the hundreds of references (mostly my own translations) against Bekker to ensure that the exact line numbers were reported. I am convinced that every reference is absolutely correct in the book, although this required correction in many cases. It seems that in every case of a correction, the typesetter reverted to regular and not superscript letters. Now this is, as Thornton points out, annoying, but at least the reader can be assured that the references are perfect down to the exact line numbers. I myself am much more annoyed by the not infrequent sight of incomplete or inaccurate citations, which can make checking the Greek time-consuming and difficult.

So I am very sorry about these stylistic errors. I think they will be easy to correct in later printings.

But I hope that readers take away from Thornton's review more than his complaint about stylistic inconsistencies. For there is a lot of philosophy in the review, and I think that forgiving people who bother to read the book will find a lot of it there as well.


J. said...

Hi Michael,

I think some character in this blog entry broke your atom feed. See for yourself:



Michael Pakaluk said...

Joel, Thanks. I think it's fixed. MP 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk