As I type this, Ivanka Trump’s latest book, “Women Who Work,” is doing kinda sorta okay as one glances at the Amazon.com bestseller list. It is certainly outselling my latest book, “The Ideas Industry.”
I, for one, blame the most prominent review of my book to date, by Noah Millman for the New York Times Book Review. In his review, Millman asks a pointed question:
The question Drezner doesn’t ever ask explicitly is: What is the ideas industry’s real product? If the plutocrats who dominate the market demand ideas that are already congenial to them, then they aren’t evaluating ideas based on their efficacy — as, indeed, they have little incentive to do if they are insulated from their consequences. It’s probably not an accident that the industry Drezner describes frequently sounds like a luxury brand of entertainment, the ideas akin to the witty confections served up by Louis XVI’s courtiers in the French film “Ridicule.”
I have never seen “Ridicule,” so I fear I cannot fully answer his question. By way of an explanation, however, let me describe what a typical day has been like for me in the six weeks since “The Ideas Industry” was officially released. In fact, let me choose the day of my first book talk: Friday, April 7, 2017.
6:50 a.m.: Wake up, fumble around to make coffee, assist spouse in getting the children out of house to school and her to her Friday tasks. Alas, modestly successful public intellectuals cannot afford manservants to tend to the younglings.
7:30 a.m.: Because it’s a Friday, I neither teach a class nor do I need to write something for Spoiler Alerts. So this is ordinarily the day when I can read scholarly articles or attempt to write something of substance. Of course, because “The Ideas Industry” has come out, it means I need to prep for a book talk. It might sound weird to type out notes for a book that I’ve spent the last three years on, but it’s an important exercise in figuring out what points to make, what points not to belabor, and how to appropriately organize everything so it’s engaging. This task requires concentration and diligence.
7:35 a.m.: Check Twitter.
8:30 a.m.: A dear friend texts me out of the blue and says, “Drezner! Can you be in Boston in an hour to speak cogently on Trump’s use of force in Syria in front of 200 attendees at the Harvard German American Conference?” As it turned out, five-sixths of the original panel had failed to make it to Boston for various and sundry reasons. My friend had little choice but to scramble to find replacements.
I hadn’t even showered yet and had barely digested the news of the Syria attack, so this was a bit of a shock. But I also realized that this was, in fact, a public intellectual 911 call!! How could I, an author of a book on this very activity, not come to the aid of a friend in need?! So I quickly made myself presentable and motored into Boston.
9:25 a.m.: I arrived at the convention center five minutes before the panel was supposed to start. A few minutes later, Stephen Walt arrives wearing a look of bewilderment that I am quite sure I shared.
9:30 a.m.: Miraculously, we managed to gin up a fun conversation about the meaning of the Syria strikes. As a result, this dear friend now owes me big time. I feel like Marlon Brando in the opening scene of “The Godfather.”
11:30 a.m.: The public intellectual emergency has passed and I head back home to prep my book talk. In the meanwhile, I get pinged by a CNN producer asking me if I can go on one of their evening shows to talk about Syria. I say yes without much enthusiasm. This is not because I’m reluctant to talk about American foreign policy, but because I’m in the category of guest commentator that gets easily bumped as the day moves along.
11:45 a.m.: Check Twitter.
1:45 p.m.: Arrive at the Harvard Bookstore before my book talk. The part about giving book talks that I hate, hate, hate is the need to show up early to it. I totally understand why the bookstore or other venue wants you there early. It’s just that no one shows up to a book talk early unless the author’s name is “J.K. Rowling.” And arriving early to a near-empty room can be so depressing. Fortunately, the bookstore squirrels me away in a green room where I can chill until it’s actually time. A watched audience never fills up.
2:00 p.m.: Thankfully, by the time I present, there are many people in attendance to hear me speak! Every time this happens I find it damn near miraculous.
Given that it’s the first time I’ve delivered this version of it, the talk goes well. Book talks are like concert tours, in that one quickly learns which parts work and which parts need to be altered. This book talk will not require much in the way of editing going forward.
3:30 p.m.: CNN cancels the evening appearance. The world does not end.
4:00 p.m.: When one media door closes, another opens! The BBC reaches out to ask if I’ll be on their show via Skype later in the evening. I agree, and then immediately panic that I will become the next BBC Dad. Fortunately, my home office is way too messy for my children to ever want to enter.
9:00 p.m.: BBC hit goes well, no child interruptions, and I did not even need to wear pants for it. That’s my kind of public engagement!
9:30 p.m.: It’s been a long, hard day of intellectualizing. I decompress by hate-watching “Iron Fist” and wonder whether anyone will actually read “The Ideas Industry.” Pledge to intellectualize better tomorrow.