You can't read 'em all... that's précis talk
June 26, 2008 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Précis, outlines, abstracts for contemporary non-fiction books -- are there any sites or publications doing this?

Reviews give some sense of the substance of non-fiction books, but in an inconsistent, incomplete, and opinionated fashion. Sometimes I don't want the opinion or the greater context, I just want a fairly detailed idea of what arguments and ideas are put forth, specifically for newish non-fiction books--in other words, a précis. Any pointers to resources like this?

Bonus question: Any copyright concerns in this area? Aren't factual summaries, paraphrases, etc. protected derivative works?
posted by alb to Writing & Language (5 answers total)
You can find many sources of these kinds of summaries for business books, but I've never seen such a thing for other topics.
posted by jjg at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2008

As for the bonus question, that should be fine; no permission from the copyright holder is needed. Ideas themselves are not copyrightable; only the particular expression of ideas, so recasting the ideas in a book in your own words is OK. Strictly speaking it's not a derivative work (in the legal sense) at all; a derivative work incorporates some of the particular expression (not just the ideas) of the original. IANAL.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:03 AM on June 26, 2008

Response by poster: jjg: Yeah, I almost made reference to "those ads you see in airline magazines for business book summaries" -- but I'm looking for a much broader subject scope.

DevilsAdvocate: Gotcha--though the explanation behind your link refers to "abridgments" and "condensations" as derivative works, I read that as abridgments that retain the language of the original in what's left. IA(obviously)NAL either...
posted by alb at 8:58 AM on June 26, 2008

Dare I say it, but Wikipedia is often quite handy for this sort of thing?
posted by hatmandu at 9:42 AM on June 26, 2008

Response by poster: Wikipedia - not a bad suggestion. I checked it out. On the plus side, they have categories for books published by year, such as 2007 Books (but not Nonfiction 2007 Books). The selection of books with entries is spotty and the level of detail within the entries is very inconsistent, but overall better than nothing. For example, here's the page for How Doctors Think (pretty good detail) vs. The Cult of The Amateur (hardly anything there -- but then, that's the way Wikipedia works...). And no entry at all for the first book I thought of off the top of my head: "Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance" by Atul Gawande.
posted by alb at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2008

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