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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Still relevant today 11 April 2015
By Genevieve DeGuzman - Published on Amazon.com
Reading How to Write a Thesis by Umberto Eco, even an ‘updated’ version in this MIT Press edition, felt like a sweet exercise in futility. There’s something folksy and quaint about being told how to put notes on index cards and properly organize them and being given tips for using the library and talking to librarians. (Not too surprising, as Eco wrote this in the late seventies—almost forty years ago!) But with over twenty-three editions and countless translations, there’s something to be said about this just-won’t-die thesis-writing guide. It endures, even in a world of Dropbox and Evernote and Endnote and online style guides and, of course, the oracle of information—the internet.
The reason for this is that Eco’s book actually has a lot more to say to people outside of academia, to those no longer writing long tracts of academic esoterica or using words like ‘juxtaposition,’ ‘asymmetricality,’ or ‘reconfigurations’ in everyday writing.
How to Write a Thesis could be easily re-titled ‘How to Live a More Realized Life’ or something along those lines—tongue-in-cheek, of course, as this is Eco and despite all the rhapsody in his prose is actually quite funny. What Eco’s classic tome gives us is the kind of advice you might get from an inspiring college graduation speech. It resonates with wisdom about being more curious, about being more engaged in the world—which is wonderful advice, especially for those who stand on the precipice of maturity, where on one side is youthful idealism and optimism still, and on the other side, lingering over the horizon, is the embittered resignation and indifference of. middle age? Just because you’re not a hot young thing in your twenties anymore doesn’t mean you can’t experience that revelatory process of discovery in other aspects of life.
Eco takes on the usual mechanics of the thesis-writing process—coming
up with the right research question; outlining; collating notes—and expands on it so that it becomes a jumping off point to exploring the notions of creativity, originality, and attribution. There is a section on developing core ideas and then using those ideas to explore more peripheral ideas; often, the true thrust of a thesis comes in those minor works and footnotes. I also liked his ideas on how to approach the work of others. My favorite rule of thumb from the book is: “Work on a contemporary author as if he were ancient, and an ancient one as if he were contemporary … You will have more fun and write a better thesis.” Eco also has much to say on the obsession with spending too much time compiling information (he calls it the “alibi of photocopies”); it makes for a watered down, unfocused, blurry project. We’re all guilty of this in some way. How often do we bookmark and save articles we come across on the Web and never really get to? Eco is basically saying, ‘Don’t be a hoarder.’ Don’t do the equivalent of bottom trawling and hoping that there will be a prize fish in all the bycatch. One solution: Better outlining and a read-now attitude (don’t stockpile; read soon, and then decide to keep or toss).
I know it’s weird to think this but reading How to Write a Thesis felt very homey. It was very much a feel-good book; like being treated to home cooking. It reminds the academic to not be so insulated and narcissistic (reality check: odds are, only a handful of people will ever read your work in its entirety). And it reminds the rest of us of the worth of slowing down and digesting information thoughtfully, with care and consideration (no skimming), and of the the worth of committing to a task.
[Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest and candid review.]
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Educational, albeit outdated 17 Mar. 2015
By Christian Tietze - Published on Amazon.com
It's an educational read, and it's great to reflect upon the workflow of a scholarly writer.