I have a confession to make: Sometimes when I'm reading books for my prelims, I spend more time reading the acknowledgments section than the whole rest of the book. (But shh... don't tell!) It often feels like the best way to get to know an author is not through their well-crafted analytic arguments, but through the way they express thanks to their families, friends, and mentors. I love reading these sections and imagining the personal struggles that went into the creation of every book I read, the many lives that were affected by a father staying up late typing at his computer, by a partner spending months away from home while visiting just one more archive, by the daughter who never gets to talk to her parents for quite as long as she'd like because she just has to finish one more chapter. And because I think about crafting my own acknowledgments section some day, I thought I'd begin that process by collecting some of my favorite acknowledgments here. (And it's probably no coincidence that my favorite acknowledgments come from my favorite books.) To begin:
From Aaron Sachs (of the "most disgusting pronoun" fame), in his Humboldt Current, a tribute to his wife and son:
"Christine Evans accompanied me on every step of this journey, and I am eternally grateful for her companionship--and her love. She also put in a great deal of hard work on various aspects of this project and put up with all my obsessions and compulsions, in a spirit of bemused goodwill. She's the strongest person I know. Samuel Evans Sachs came along while this manuscript was still an unfinished dissertation and I was a seemingly unemployable grad student. He immediately made it all worthwhile. Taking him on various expeditions has been my greatest pleasure in the past couple of years. Christine and Sam also provided excellent motivation to finish the writing. They are my cosmos as well as my hearth...Finally: my parents, Miriam and Murray Sachs, are the ones who got me into this mess in the first place. I can never thank them enough. And I can't help but think of this book, if it has any merits at all, as owing its existence to thirty-five years of their incredible nurturing and cultivation."
Another from Thomas Dunlap, in his 1982 book DDT: Scientists, Citizens, and Public Policy. I particularly like this one, because it reminds me of the role of secretaries in preparing manuscripts before everyone used a computer and word processor, and of how often mothers and wives and female secretaries did the grunt work for their sons and husbands and bosses:
"My wife and colleague, Susan Miller, who never typed a page for me, has my special thanks. She has been a relentless and perceptive critic of my work, a patient auditor, and an invaluable support."
This one from Sarah Igo's impressive book The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public , to her parents and husband:
My parents, John and Mittie Igo, have my gratitude for just about everything, but above all their unstinting stores of generosity, love, and confidence--not just during theses years of researching and writing but for my whole life. They provided the sturdy foundation upon which everything else was built. As for my husband, Ole Molvig, what can I say in mere words? His steadfast support, his stunning intelligence, his sustaining sense of humor, his quest for the good life, his dissection of my work but also his many and lovely distractions from it have made my life better in every way. It is to my parents and to him that I dedicate this book.
Ted Steinberg appreciating his editor, his mother, and (who I assume to be) his wife in Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America:
Susan Day was a pleasure right down to the last en dash...Helen Steinberg read over the entire manuscript and tried valiantly to save me from myself. Marie del Monaco, with her unparalleled sense of justice, is, for me, the final arbiter of all that matters in the world.
And finally, Louis Warren acknowledging the important role parents play in the graduate student's life, in his The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America:
There has been discussion in academic circles of the need to move degree candidates to completion more quickly. The best way to accomplish that would be to give every graduate student parents like mine. Throughout this endeavor, I have been the beneficiary of my parents' unstinting moral support as well as occasional, much-needed grants from the Claude and Elizabeth Warren Bank of Higher Education and Field Research. To them, a heartfelt thanks.