Brian Kent '04
Dickey/Class of 1966 Intern
March 29, 2003
This past winter I worked as an intern at I.B. Tauris & Co. Publishers under Dr. Lester Crook, the commissioning editor for history and international relations. Dr. Crook assigned me widely varying tasks. Over the course of the first two weeks I became acquainted with the administrative functions of the office through such tasks as letter writing, filing, answering phones, email maintenance, and organizing the remarkably scattered and jumbled mass of manuscripts in Lesters office. Organizing this collection was Dr. Crooks most pressing need and my first major task. I catalogued all the scripts, sat down with Lester to determine which ones he was no longer interested in pursuing for publication, contacted the authors of these scripts, asked them if they wanted their texts back, and usually ended up discarding the scripts in the recycle bin, much to the gratification of both Dr. Crook and myself. Throughout my stay at I.B. Tauris I continued to do a lot of administrative tasks, especially contacting potential authors or scholars who had submitted scripts to update them on how Lester had decided to proceed. There was a small amount of photocopying involved throughout, but fortunately the copier was advanced enough to do all the difficult stuff for me. Lastly, every once in a while Dr. Crook or the production editor, Henry Alban Davies, would ask me to searcg for potential book cover illustrations, a job which proved to be simultaneously frustrating and entertaining. Often the whole office would get involved in a wild goose chase for the perfect image, an occasion that would add a large dose of comic relief to the already healthy atmosphere of camaraderie. At one point Henry given up looking for a cover illustration for a book on the working class in Britain between the two world wars, so he passed the job onto me. I came up with a half dozen choices, but they were all rejected by Jonathon McDonnell, the managing editor. So he in turn found a bunch of prints, but Iradj Bagherzade, the publisher, wasnt happy with this selection, and on it went.
As I became familiar with the office and its workings, I asked Dr. Crook if I could read some of the scripts and proposals that I found interesting. Based on the experience of previous Dartmouth students working in Lesters office, I assume this is what he had in mind all along, and he of course happily agreed. As far as my duties at I.B. Tauris went, this was far and away the most enjoyable and enriching aspect. I read several complete works, including Fareed Zakarias book The Future of Freedom (already slated for publication in the U.S., IBT was interested in buying the UK and European rights) and Peter Fraenkels manuscript Bwana Yid (he chose the awful title, not me), and around ten proposals that consisted of a synopsis and two or three sample chapters. For each text or proposal that I read I summarized my comments and opinions into a two page review, which I gave to Dr Crook to read. I tried to answer several questions for each script concerning the originality and quality of the scholarship, the organization and style of writing, the intended audience and likely readership. In the end I recommended that IB Tauris either pursue the project or politely decline, although more often than not my recommendation fell somewhere in between. Often the content of a proposal seemed promising but the style was weak, so I would recommend publication if IBT would be willing to put in a great deal of editing effort. Other times a highly scholarly proposal would have a very narrow scope, suggesting limited readership and sales, so I recommended that Lester request a considerable contribution from the author, to help defray the costs incurred by IBT.
The best description of I.B. Tauris is their own: "I.B. Tauris is an independent publishing house, producing about 175 new books each year, both general and academic. We are now seen as the world leader in the field of Middle East Studies, but we also have a strong list in History, Politics, International relations, Film, and Visual Culture. Our general publishing programme concentrates on history, travel, biography, rt, architecture and archeology". The relatively small number of books published a year is an indication of the type of publisher that I.B. Tauris seeks to be a small, close-knit organization with a reputation for very strong scholarship, especially in Middle East studies. In talking with Dr. Crook I learned that the company is trying to expand slowly, mostly through a broader history list. Dr. Crook, for example, is currently seeking strong academic advisors to help him commission texts on United States history.
The small scope of I.B. Tauris' operations also offers a clue as to the atmosphere of the office. Iradj, the publisher, and Jonathon, the managing editor, deal with management and late-stage editorial duties, while five or six commissioning editors deal directly with authors and suggest most of the content changes. Once the final draft is submitted the publication staff (i.e., Henry Alban Davies) take over, and the five or six marketing people go to work promoting the book through I.B. Tauris' own catalogues, newspaper and magazine reviews, and book fairs, while the distribution people ensure that the distribution contractors receive their stock from the printer.
As I mentioned above, Dr Lester Crook is the commissioning editor for history and international relations, which gives him substantial responsibility. He, like the other commissioning editors, shepherds his chosen manuscripts through the entire process, and has to sell Iradj, Jonathon, and the other editors on the worth of every project in a monthly meeting. Throughout, everybody in the office works closely together, which fosters a strong sense of teamwork and upbeat professionalism, which made my adjustment to the office environment much easier. Everybody was more than willing to talk with me and to answer questions if I was confused, from Iradj and Jonathon to Henry, the secretary.
Not only were the employees friendly and helpful, but everybody in the office is exceedingly intelligent. Iradj, Jonathan, Lester and the other commissioning editors especially, never ceased to amaze me with the breadth and depth of their knowledge. As my time with Lester progressed I often found the submitted material sparking conversations between the two of us about politics, history, and historiography on topics from Trinidad to Britain to Hong Kong.
I also became good friends with several of the marketing staff in particular, and my discussions with these relatively younger people gave me a perspective very different from the older, intellectual outlook of Dr Crook. My discussions with the marketing folks would flow freely from the latest football results to the latest British political developments, such as the London congestion charge, university cost raises and illegal immigration policy.
My time at I.B. Tauris was valuable to me for many reasons. From a purely intellectual standpoint, the experience was meaningful to me as a new angle from which to view the academic process. After the Dartmouth classroom, progressing to American University in Cairo, working with Dr. Crook at I.B. Tauris allowed me to see how ideas and flashes of inspiration flow from the mind of a thinker, perhaps in some place like Cairo, to the books and blackboards of Dartmouth classrooms. Dr. Crook and his co-workers and industry peers are essentially a sieve for the ideas that reach society at large. It was a powerful revelation to see how Lester reasoned through his decisions about whether or not to publish; to see the influences of the business side occasionally clashing with the influences of the intellectual and scholarly side, ending in the sentiment "this is a book that should be published, but . . . . "
Secondly, I was fortunate to meet some amazing people at I.B. Tauris and in the neighborhood where I lived. I mentioned the kindness and intelligence of all the I.B. Tauris staff, but speaking and interacting with them was also an inherent challenge to think outside of a United States perspective. Previously sequestered within U.S. cultural and political mindsets, it was almost an epiphany to viscerally realize for the first time that the United States is just another country. They say that if you live your whole life seeing only shades of red, then you have no concept of the color red. Only when you see blue, do you realize what red is. In a way, my time at I.B. Tauris and n London at large (combined with my Cairo experience, of course) allowed me to really look back on the United States from outside
Brian Kent '04 is and eonomics major and government minor from Fairfax, Virginia. He spent the past summer working in the office of Congressman Tom Davis and studying arabic at the Middle East Institute. Prior to that, he spent last Fall studying at the American University in Cairo, followed by his Dickey Center internship at I.B. Tauris publishers of London. On campus Brian trains in traditional japanese martial arts and participates in the Dickey Center War and Peace Studies program. He plans to attend graduate school in economics at some point in the future.