“My First Buy”: Book Editors Discuss Their Earliest Acquisitions

The Millions asked six editors to share a story about their first buy, encouraging them to reflect on the projects themselves and what they were thinking at the time: their vision of where their list should go and the risk, fear, excitement or challenges involved. Here are their stories-

Scott Moyers, Vice President and Publisher of The Penguin PressI spoke by phone with Moyers, who recalls the sense of initiative behind his first acquisition: “I felt like I was reaching out into the world and creating something.” He had been an assistant at Doubleday for four years before making a “huge leap” to Associate Editor at Scribner. Going after projects was difficult because as a new editor, he “didn’t know many agents and didn’t expect to get a first crack at many projects.”

Sometime during this period, he read a “stunning piece of longform journalism” in the Wall Street Journal by Thomas E. Ricks about a Marine platoon’s boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina. Moyers jokingly described how he went on to pester Ricks and his agent for the book rights to a longer, “almost anthropological study” about Marine culture, its indoctrination methods, and the occasional tensions with the values society the soldiers were tasked to defend.

The pestering paid off, as he secured the floor in the auction, an anonymous baseline bid with the right to come back and beat any higher offers. There was another offer, which Moyers topped to secure Ricks’sMaking the Corps, a success he says helped to “cement [his] status as an editor.” Moyers would go on to edit more books by Ricks, sell his books when he became a literary agent, and acquire his books yet again when he returned to editing.

Over the years since that first buy and the “almost existential fear” of being a young editor — one might compare it to a kind of tweedy boot camp — Moyers says he gradually learned what can and cannot be controlled in publishing. Reflecting back on the period when he was trying to make a career, he wryly notes that “nobody necessarily cares about your success except you and your parents,” and that Ricks’s decision to go with a young editor was an “act of generosity and faith” that he has not forgotten: “We grow more protective as we grow conscious of whom we owe.”

Read the rest of the article here

longreads:

This week, we’re excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks, whose new book is The Generals, published by The Penguin Press. Chapter 21, ”The End of a War, the End of an Army,” details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War. Ricks is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

You can read an excerpt here.

p.s. You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member for just $3 per month.

Photo from United States Army Heritage and Education Center, via Wikimedia Commons


Our book The Generals is a Longreads Member Exclusive! 

(via longreads)

Wolf Blitzer and Thomas E. Ricks (author of New York Times bestseller The Generals) discuss the Petraeus affair on “The Situation Room.”

(Source: youtube.com)

"Generally Mediocre" 
TIME's Mark Thompson talks to Thomas E. Ricks about what's changed in the military since 9/11.
TIME: Is it true that privates are punished more today for losing a rifle than generals are for losing a war? If so, why?Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, it is true. I say that because privates are routinely punished for infractions. But as far as I can tell, no general has been fired for incompetence in combat since Maj. Gen. James Baldwin was fired as commander of the Americal Division in 1971. Since then, others have been relieved for moral and ethical lapses that are embarrassing to the Army, but not, to my knowledge, for combat ineffectiveness. Indeed, one ineffective general, Lt. Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez, was outraged that he was not promoted to 4 stars after failing in Iraq in 2003-04.
TIME: Why did you write The Generals? How much were you influenced by what you saw in Iraq and wrote about in Fiasco and The Gamble?
Ricks: This book comes directly out of those two earlier ones. In 2005, while I was writing Fiasco, I went on a Johns Hopkins University staff ride study of the allied campaign in Sicily in 1943.
While we were standing on a hilltop in central Sicily, one of Professor Eliot Cohen’s students related the tale of Omar Bradley firing Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, after Allen won one of the toughest battles of the campaign.
I was stunned. Here I was coming out of Iraq, where generals were failing yet not being removed, and I was being told about the firing of one of the most successful American generals during our first year of World War II.
How could that be? Why had the Army’s approach to leadership and accountability changed so much? That was the beginning of this book.
TIME: What is your favorite part of the book?
Ricks: I have several. I really liked doing researching about George Marshall, who should be better known. I enjoyed sitting in archives and reading his notes and letters, even going through the “desk litter” collected from the drawers of his Pentagon office. Some files I read had penciled letters home from generals during World War II.
But my favorite parts of the book were narratives. Dwight Eisenhower’s train journey from Texas to Washington, D.C., in December 1941, a week after Pearl Harbor, amazed me—not only did he meet the man who would help finance his presidential campaign 11 years later, he also got off the train and was asked the same day by Marshall how to win the war in the Pacific.
Another favorite section is the chapter on how Marine Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith waged the Chosin campaign in the Korean War. He’s another guy who should be better known.
His actions likely saved 15,000 or so Marines from being killed or captured—which would have been the greatest military disaster in American history, much more devastating than Custer’s Last Stand. And he had to do that while dealing with superiors—Gen. Ned Almond and Gen. Douglas MacArthur—who didn’t understand what he was doing or why.
Read the Full Interview
(Photograph of Army General Tommy Franks, via.)

"Generally Mediocre"

TIME's Mark Thompson talks to Thomas E. Ricks about what's changed in the military since 9/11.

TIME: Is it true that privates are punished more today for losing a rifle than generals are for losing a war? If so, why?

Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, it is true. I say that because privates are routinely punished for infractions. But as far as I can tell, no general has been fired for incompetence in combat since Maj. Gen. James Baldwin was fired as commander of the Americal Division in 1971.

Since then, others have been relieved for moral and ethical lapses that are embarrassing to the Army, but not, to my knowledge, for combat ineffectiveness. Indeed, one ineffective general, Lt. Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez, was outraged that he was not promoted to 4 stars after failing in Iraq in 2003-04.

TIME: Why did you write The Generals? How much were you influenced by what you saw in Iraq and wrote about in Fiasco and The Gamble?

Ricks: This book comes directly out of those two earlier ones. In 2005, while I was writing Fiasco, I went on a Johns Hopkins University staff ride study of the allied campaign in Sicily in 1943.

While we were standing on a hilltop in central Sicily, one of Professor Eliot Cohen’s students related the tale of Omar Bradley firing Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, after Allen won one of the toughest battles of the campaign.

I was stunned. Here I was coming out of Iraq, where generals were failing yet not being removed, and I was being told about the firing of one of the most successful American generals during our first year of World War II.

How could that be? Why had the Army’s approach to leadership and accountability changed so much? That was the beginning of this book.

TIME: What is your favorite part of the book?

Ricks: I have several. I really liked doing researching about George Marshall, who should be better known. I enjoyed sitting in archives and reading his notes and letters, even going through the “desk litter” collected from the drawers of his Pentagon office. Some files I read had penciled letters home from generals during World War II.

But my favorite parts of the book were narratives. Dwight Eisenhower’s train journey from Texas to Washington, D.C., in December 1941, a week after Pearl Harbor, amazed me—not only did he meet the man who would help finance his presidential campaign 11 years later, he also got off the train and was asked the same day by Marshall how to win the war in the Pacific.

Another favorite section is the chapter on how Marine Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith waged the Chosin campaign in the Korean War. He’s another guy who should be better known.

His actions likely saved 15,000 or so Marines from being killed or captured—which would have been the greatest military disaster in American history, much more devastating than Custer’s Last Stand. And he had to do that while dealing with superiors—Gen. Ned Almond and Gen. Douglas MacArthur—who didn’t understand what he was doing or why.

Read the Full Interview

(Photograph of Army General Tommy Franks, via.)

With respect to foreign policy and the military, what have the candidates not been talking about?

With tonight’s presidential debate in mind, Thomas E. Ricks (Fiasco, The Gamble, The Generals) talks to Steve Inskeep on “Morning Edition" about Obama and Romney’s defense plans, and the cognitive dissonance between what the candidates say the military wants and what the military itself has requested.

Should we reinstate the draft? Pulitzer winner Thomas E. Ricks (Fiasco, The Generals) makes a compelling argument in the New York Times: 

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.
And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.
Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription. A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.
“Let’s Draft Our Kids”

Illustration by Ross MacDonald

Should we reinstate the draft? Pulitzer winner Thomas E. Ricks (Fiasco, The Generals) makes a compelling argument in the New York Times

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription. A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.

Let’s Draft Our Kids

Illustration by Ross MacDonald