One of my favorite sections to haunt in any bookstore is the historical/current events section. Usually there is a great selection of books covering a vast range of topics, and this is especially the case with the local independent bookshops. But despite the independent stores’ advantage, I often find myself looking for books at their less expensive counterpart Barnes and Noble – which, while being very convenient, has a tendency to sell the popular and sensational over the less common and complex. This has really started to show in B&N’s selection as of late.
Yesterday, I took a trip to B&N to check if they’d stocked the latest book by Gorbachev. They had not, but I did finally notice a curious trend in the content of their shelves. Not only were sections promising large selection dominated by one or two topics, but the books on those topics were mainly superficial pop histories or purpose-oriented warning reporting meant to scare readers. I’ll leave my observations below and allow you to draw your own conclusions.
World History: World War I and II, mostly. And one huge tome which is a cross-civilization study – and is quite awesome, actually.
American History: U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
German History: HITLER!!!
Russian History: STALIN!!! GULAG!!! Also, the Romanovs. The fall of the USSR is big as well. Also, Putin is a KGB thug, as evidenced by the presence of Gessen’s Man Without a Face and Kasparov’s Winter is Coming. The New Cold War by Ed Lucas. Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True is also here.
European History: A lot of stuff about Napoleon for some reason. Also, Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Also, Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe. Glad to see they’ve already got the pro-Ukraine stuff in. (Yet they still haven’t brought in the George Orwell essay books that were demanded by the public about a year ago.)
Asia: China is coming to get us. Also, North Korea.
Middle East: Straight-up terrorist fightin’.
Current Events: Combating infectious diseases like Ebola. ‘Europe in Chaos’-type books. Freedom fighters trying to bring democracy to the Middle East, Asia, Russia, etc. Democrat and Republican books (the election is this year, after all). The Clintons are a threat to America. Trump is a threat to America. ISIS is a threat to America. The Russia-China axis is a threat to America. Books by prominent congressmen, state dept. officials that claim American power is on the decline around the world and that make recommendations for how to bring it back. Lastly, economics books; Freakonomics is usually always there.
Perhaps it’s what they think will sell,
Will shock, will awe, but ne’er to tell
Consumer ignorance is bliss.
Perhaps. But what I know is this:
At times like this I find it grand
That Amazon is close at hand.