Found a hidden gem on the free book truck,” a former student tweeted me recently. He attached a picture of the cover: C. Wright Mills’sThe Causes of World War Three (1960). As glad as I was that someone was listening when I taught about the sociologist’s influence on the New Left a few years back, I also recognized the thrill of discovering a mind-blowing primary source—for free. All historians have their quirks, including this recent BA.
If he goes to graduate school, and he just might, he’ll experience the mercenary buzz that comes from looting the bookcases of retiring faculty members’ offices. He might tweet or Instagram more covers from those hauls. If so, I’ll find a way to calmly relate my role in the ultimate, most legendary book pillaging of all time, when I was a graduate student myself.
The great cultural historian Warren Susman taught at Rutgers before his untimely death. His widow, Bea, was a devoted supporter of Rutgers for many years. Upon her passing, she bequeathed all of Warren’s books to the history grads. It was awkward at first, poking through her house. I picked up three titles from the living room and turned to leave. “Have you seen the basement?” asked Bea’s executor. I hadn’t.
It was dark and musty, with light leaking in from the window wells near the ceiling, but because of Warren’s interests, it resembled nothing so much as a world’s fair. If I were tweeting book covers, they would include first editions of Against Interpretation, Madness and Civilization, The Raw and the Cooked, and Learning from Las Vegas.
In this way, legacies pass. We read and write knowing that what is cutting edge to us might someday end up on a free book truck, but we read and write nonetheless. Because we know, too, that the free book truck is never the end of the line.
—Allison Miller, editor
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